Bee Balm: beloved by gardeners, hummingbirds and butterflies
Tehachapi Gardener's Choice
July 8, 2023
Bee Balm is a wonderful flowering perennial with big attractive blossoms that attract hummingbirds and butterflies to your garden. Also known by the genus name, Monarda, and as Oswego Tea, Horsemint, or Bergamot, this plant was used medicinally for hundreds of years by Native Americans for its strong antiseptic qualities.
It is also valued for use as a tea, and during the period of the Boston Tea Party, colonists reportedly switched to drinking Oswego Tea rather than paying import tariffs on black tea to the British. Originally Bee Balm was noted for its brilliant crimson flowers, but now there are a variety of colors to choose from, including pink, purple, violet and more.
One of the many great things about Bee Balm is the fact that it will prosper in a variety of garden locations, tolerating different soils and light conditions, but it is happiest in sunny locations with rich soil. The flower heads themselves are actually shaggy, mop-top clusters of the slender tubular flowers that hummingbirds and other nectar-feeders find so irresistible. The whole plant emits a bracing, pleasant scent, and the leaves and flowers of Bee Balm are often added to potpourri and sachets.
Herbalists find many uses for Bee Balm, including using an infusion of leaves for coughs and sore throats. Because Bee Balm has a citrusy scent and taste, the leaves complement many fruits, like melons and strawberries, and are sometimes combined with mint. The flowers are edible and can be added to salads or used as a garnish.
Whether you actively utilize Bee Balm leaves and flowers, or merely enjoy the eye-catching blossoms in your garden, this is unfussy plant that you will quickly grow to love – and you'll want more than one.
Botanical name: Monarda sp.
Size: 1 to 3 feet tall.
Exposure: Full to partial sun.