“Until man duplicates a blade of grass, nature can laugh at his so-called scientific knowledge. Remedies from chemicals will never stand in favour compared with the products of nature, the living cell of the plant, the final result of the rays of the sun, the mother of all life.” – T. A. Edison
One of the benefits of writing about herbs for the last few months is I have found that herbs have many more uses than just culinary. And many herbs have been used or eaten throughout the centuries to cure all sorts of illnesses. I have especially grown to appreciate many of the so called “common herbs” even more. I am happy to welcome them in my garden, and want to use them in new and unusual ways.
June is prime time in the garden and favors us with many plants whether they are herbs or flowers. And many that we find growing as native wildflowers are also herbs, and have been used as such for hundreds if not thousands of years.
One such plant is growing right now in my garden, Monarda didyma (pictured here), with its bright flowers and heady scent. As I profile this plant, I am combining two posts, Simply The Best and Wildflower Tales. I am linking in with both Diana@Elephant’s Eye on False Bay for her meme, Dozen for Diana, and Gail@Clay and Limestone who hosts Wildflower Wednesday.
Monarda didyma is both an herb and a local native plant.
Linnaeus named the genus Monarda in honor of a 16th century Spanish botanist, Nicolas Monardes who studied New World medicinal plants in Spain.
One of the common names refers to the Native American tribe and area where it is found in abundance. It is an area just a few miles down the road from me, Oswego, NY.
The plant earned its common name ‘Bergamot’ because the lovely, spicy fragrance of the plant is similar to that of the bergamot orange which is the the source of bergamot oil used to flavor Earl Grey tea.
Monarda is also called ‘Bee Balm,’ as bees are very fond of its nectar rich blossoms.
Monarda didyma is in the Lamiaceae or Mint Family as you can easily tell by its minty scented foliage. I find it interesting that many of our culinary herbs are also part of the mint family.
Monarda grows from 2-4 feet depending where it is growing in my garden. I love seeing that mound of scarlet red tubular flowers sitting atop square stems that are lined with fine dense hairs. Monarda blooms through summer here in the northeast from Maine west to Ohio and south to Georgia. In the wild you will find it in moist open woods, ditches and meadows.
Monarda will grow in many conditions from sun to part shade and moist to wet humusy soil. If planted in sun, make sure it has moisture throughout the summer as it does not like to dry out. Also deadheading will prolong flowering. If planted in light, moist soil in part sun it will be as aggressive as other mints so beware. A colony will readily establish itself. I keep it controlled by pulling out plants that have crept too far.
It is susceptible to powdery mildew, but you can choose a mildew resistant cultivar. I like the fact that monarda resists deer, rabbits, voles and will grow under black walnuts and in my clay soil. And it is a great plant to use in wet areas.
Monarda is propagated by rhizomes which will easily root like all mints. Of course you can take cuttings or let it seed.
Monarda is grown as an ornamental plant. It has naturalized further west in the United States and also in parts of Europe and Asia. Several cultivars are grown for different flower colors.
Monarda has a long history of use as a medicinal plant by many Native Americans. The Blackfeet Indians used poultices of the plant for skin infections and minor wounds. An infusion was also used to treat mouth and throat infections. The Winnebago used an infusion as a general stimulant. Other uses for monarda were for expelling worms, treating gas, fever and stomach ailments.
The name Oswego Tea came from John Bartram an early American botanist. The Oswego Indians showed the Colonists how to make tea from the plant after the Boston tea party in 1773.
Drinking this tea, after the Boston Tea Party was considered very patriotic. Colonialists grew these plants in their kitchen gardens for medicinal properties like taking the sting out of bee stings (beebalm) or for making tea. They also used the flowers to flavor jelly, salads, and fruit cups. The flowers and leaves were also used in potpourri.
The leaves are also used in salads along with the red flowers make an attractive garnish. And the leaves are used as flavoring in cooked foods.
Monarda is a natural source of the antiseptic/antibacterial thymol also found in thyme. Thymol can be found in mouthwash, and is also used as a wash for minor cuts and scrapes.
Monarda tea is said to be used today for relieving fever and stomach problems, and can be used as a sleep aid. It is also known to relieve colds, headaches and sore throat.
To make medicinal tea, take 1 tsp. of the dried leaves or a tbsp of the fresh leaves, add 1 cup boiling water, steep 10 minutes and sweeten to taste.
Hummingbirds, butterflies and bees are attracted to the blossoms of Monarda. Monarda didyma is also known to have a calming effect on bees, and is said to be another reason it is called Beebalm
This plant adds color to the perennial garden, native plant garden, meadow or herb garden.
A fun use is to gather edible leaves and flowers in bloom, dry them in small bundles and use them in sachets.
Language of Flowers
Monarda has it’s own meaning- Your whims are unbearable. I find this rather humorous. Why would someone give a flower this meaning….
Mint on the other hand means virtue a much nicer meaning.
…A potency to inhale
night-long if you could,
sensuous, drenching – but sharp
with that other world,
astringent as moonlight.
Sally Carr (excerpt from, Planting Monarda)
The three winners of the Save The Bees seeds from Botanical Interests are:
Kathy@The Violet Fern
Donalyn@The Creekside Cook
Thanks again to Susie Troccolo@ Life-Change-Compost for her generous donation of these seeds. Please check out Susie’s awesome blog, and all these wonderful winners’ blogs as well.
Check out other posts in the series, Wildflower Tale:
Check out other posts in the series, Simply the Best-Herbs:
Next up on the blog: June is ending with the start of summer and the garden shifts. I will be wrapping up June next Monday on my Gardens Eye Journal post.
I am linking in with Michelle@Rambling Woods for her Nature Notes meme. It is a great way to see what is happening in nature around the world every Wednesday.
As always, I’ll be joining Tootsie Time’s Fertilizer Friday.
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