Bee Balm (Monarda didyma) has been called Oswego Tea, from the Indians that used it to show its effects as a tea to the immigrants from the Boston Tea Party. This same plant is found in many potpourri collections. There are those that call it Bergamot, but it isn’t the lemony bergamot used to flavor teas (which is Citrus aurantium ssp. bergamia). Bee Balm, while having many different common names, is best seen by its scientific name of Monarda didyma.
While it is a decorative addition to gardens and landscapes with its fire blooms, it has a long history as a healing remedy. It has even been kept as an antiseptic in modern times, so there was something to its folk heritage. It is an herb, but is very ornamental and makes a great addition to the bog garden. It is native to the eastern part of country, but has been naturalized to the west.
How to Plant and Grow Bee Balm
Monarda didyma is a fragrant herb that gets to four feet in height. It is from the mint family. It is plentiful in the eastern part of the U.S. There are bright red flowers on this plant, and it can be called Scarlet Bee Balm from the blooms. It likes really moist areas, and can be found in ditches and stream banks during the summer season. For optimum growth it needs to be in full sun but can still grow with a little shade. There are varying colors other than red; there are even white and purple blooms that can be grown.
Old Folk Remedy
The Native American Indians used Bee Balm in many healing remedies and they varied depending on the tribe. It was part of the Blackfeet and the Winnebago heritage, along with many others. However, they were all used for antiseptic or antibiotic affects. There were poultices made for skin afflictions and topical wound care. Mouth and throat infections were given a tea made from Bee Balm, as well as for cavities and bad breath as an antiseptic. Other healing remedies from Bee Balm include flatulence remedies and stimulants. In today’s times, Thymol is made from Bee Balm naturally which is the ingredient that is found in most commercial mouthwashes as the antiseptic.
Scientific Classification for Bee Balm
Kingdom Plantae – Plants
Subkingdom Tracheobionta – Vascular plants
Superdivision Spermatophyta – Seed plants
Division Magnoliophyta – Flowering plants
Class Magnoliopsida – Dicotyledons
Subclass Asteridae –
Order Lamiales –
Family Lamiaceae – Mint family
Genus Monarda L. – beebalm
Species Monarda didyma L. – scarlet beebalm
This article originally appeared on December 29, 2008 on Suite 101.