“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 [email protected]Elephant’s Eye on False Bay for her meme, Dozen for Diana, and [email protected]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.
Other names for the plant are : Scarlet or crimson beebalm, Oswego tea, Red bergamot, scarlet monarda or bergamot.
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 aromatic leaves are used today for teas particularly in Earl Grey tea. And the fresh or dried leaves also make a minty tea.
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:
[email protected]Southern Meadows
[email protected]The Violet Fern
[email protected]The Creekside Cook
Thanks again to Susie [email protected] 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 [email protected]Rambling Woods for her Nature Notes meme. It is a great way to see what is happening in nature around the world every Wednesday.
I hope you will join me for my posts once a month at Beautiful Wildlife Garden. See my most current post now. Most recent post is up.
As always, I’ll be joining Tootsie Time’s Fertilizer Friday.
Please remember, to comment click on the title of the post and the page will reload with the comments section.
84 Replies to “Simply the Best Herbs-June”
Monarda is one of our favourite perennials, we have Cambridge Scarlet at the moment which seems to be very mildew resistant. I am keen to try out one of the purple varieties. (Until man duplicates a blade of grass, nature can laugh at his so-called scientific knowledge.) Duplicating and making it edible to the human species, now wouldn’t that be something!
That is great to hear. What a great color too! I have a couple of the purple varieties, and they do well but are shorter…I really loved the quote especially now with all the GMOs and such.
I love your choice for this month; I was thinking I should have Monarda in my garden but after reading all about its requirements I don’t think it would be very happy. Christina
There is one that would be very happy Monarda punctata. It thrives in dry sun…you can read about it here:
One of my favorites too! I love plants that do double/triple duty in the garden. It is crazy how many names this one herb has! I didn’t know it was a main ingredient in Earl Grey tea…cool!
Apparently lots do use it in place of the real bergamot…it would be fun to try it!
I bought the seeds and they are still in the pack – seeing yours am now wishing I’d planted them. Seem to need a lot of room but interested in their part shade abilities Donna. Have recently turned on to Earl Grey – it’s not a passing whim!
I have mine in part shade and they love it. I love Earl Grey and hope to try a bit of this in with tea to see how it stacks up to the real bergamot.
I love Monarda for the bees and hummingbirds it attracts and have three varieties in the garden. The only downside to the plant is it will run and pop up everywhere. It needs to be kept in check and is best planted in full sun, otherwise the plants do not remain erect and lean to seek the sun. Like you noted, it really is an important plant with many uses.
I know you like this plant from many wonderful posts….I will say I have some in part sun (afternoon) and it grows the best but it also has lots of moisture and is in a wall where it run rampant. I agree you better be prepared to keep it in check!
Bee balm is part of my butterfly garden and I even have a dwarf variety. It’s not doing that well this year because of all the rain. Years ago I purchased an older variety called ‘Blue Stockings’ and it has been hardy in the backyard.
Interesting that monarda would not deal well with the rain. I have mine in wet areas, but those that do best are in constant moist not wet. That ‘Blue Stockings’ sounds lovely.
Hi Donna, I enjoyed your post. I expanded my use of monarda in the garden after visiting someone’s garden where she used repetition of monarda and Shasta daisies throughout. It looked beautiful.
Beth that sounds lovely…I have so much monarda I could and should move it around a bit…thanks for the idea.
It’s just beginning to bloom in my garden. I like this plant a lot!
Not quite ready here yet but soon now that we have all this heat…I love the scent and flowers!!
Great information about Monarda didyma and wonderful shots of this beautiful flower.
Thanks Carver…it is such a great plant!
I always learn a few things and are reminded of other facts that I have forgotten in your posts Donna. I have red Monarda and love it so much that I have branched out into other colors. The hummers arrive the moment my Monarda goes into flower.
Those hummers are clever little critters…my monarda is still not open but I think soon. Then all the pollinators will be having a party. So glad Jennifer you enjoy the posts!!
Whenever I see photos of hummingbirds, they are usually sipping from a monarda. Maybe that’s why I thought that we couldn’t grow them in the UK, but I just saw the comment from Alastair.
Oh you should try them…they are so easy to grow but be warned as they love to take over or just move from their original plot.
Lots of lovely details Donna – thanks. My Monarda often struggles in my hot garden, but this year looks promising. The German names will surely interest you: Indianernessel – Indian Nettle, and Goldmelisse – Gold Balm. I must try using some for tea as I love the scent. Beautiful photos!
Oh Cathy I love the German names. So glad monarda may flower nicely for you this year.
This is an essential plant for a wildlife garden. I have quite a bit, mostly the cultivar ‘Raspberry Wine’. I also just planted some ‘Purple Rooster’. Also I have a lot of M. bergamot, which has smaller lavender flowers.
I agree Jason it is an essential native plant. I love ‘Raspberry Wine’ and M. bergamot is in my meadow…such a delicate flower. I am hoping to plant M. punctata in the drier areas.
Fun to read your take on Monarda, Donna. Mine looks like it is quickly winding down. I must try your deadheading tip to see if I can extend its bloom time. Thanks, Susie.
Susie we are just about to bloom here so I will have more pictures to share. The more moisture I find the longer mine bloom. Raining like crazy here.
Interesting to learn more about Monarda didyma. Thank you for the info. By the way how do I join in with the Wildflowers on Wednesday Donna?
Catharine just write a wildflower post, put a link to Gail’s post in your post and then on Wednesday go to her blog and she will have a Mr Linky where you can put in your name and the url of your post. The link is in my post to Gail’s blog.
I have one of the species monarda which is light pinky-mauve. Quite pretty. Unfortunately mildew is a common problem with the species plants.
Agreed Patty even with the mildew resistant ones unless I thin the herd…so far we are OK here which is surprising given the crazy weather. Your flower color on the monarda sounds quite lovely.
I have many of these plants in my garden now 🙂 — planted about 8 or 9 new plants this spring, and they are growing nicely. I didn’t know that it calmed bees :). That’s so cute and interesting fact. I wondered about bee balm name and then thought that they provide soothing effect for bee stings that we might get.
Apparently native tribes used it for stings as well. Watch out though as this plant will either take over an area like other mints or jump around to strange new spots.
I always enjoy yout posts and learn something new!
It’s fun for me too Karen as I too learn as I research and write…thanks for the kind comment!!
Thanks for all the great information – I did not know that colonists drank tea made from monarda after the Boston tea party! I am pleased that monarda has sprouted in my wild flower area after I thought it had died out. I hope it will spread!
Glad you enjoyed it Deborah…and I am pleased to hear that it has appeared in your wildflower area…such a great flower.
I have one that didn’t do anything…. I think…will have to look at my notes….love the comments too…. Michelle
Oh I have lots so if you need more I am happy to send some.
Monardas are such fabulous pollinator flowers. I didn’t realize this species had been used traditionally in teas as well. Here I do grow Monarda lambada as it seems a little more tolerant of our dry summer climate, and I love its lavender colored flowers too. I never thought to add the flowers to salads though, which is silly, as they’re growing next to some borage that I grow on purpose for their edible blooms! I’ll have to try them!
I am growing M. lambada in drier areas as I love the flowers too. I hope to try the Monarda flowers once they open. Let me know what you think.
Such a wonderful information about herbs.
Thanks Edwin…glad you could stop by!
I am patiently awaiting the first blooms of our own Monarda. Keeping my fingers crossed that the buds open tomorrow for our celebration. I planted them last year in the Hummingbird garden… thank you for teaching me all about this plant… wonderful to know the folklore… I’ll pass it along to my grand-kiddos.
That makes me so happy when we can pass down the stories…it means so much more to me that you will do this!!! Thanks Carolyn and I am saying a little prayer of thanksgiving for your garden and this lovely family wedding!
It’s really a wonderful plant with many virtues…Usually it just spreads runners around my garden but this year it’s blooming! Of course we’ve had a lot of rain! I am puzzling over that plant meaning! Happy WW!
That is great news as the scent of the blooms is great…love the spiciness of the scent. Which meaning is puzzling? It has so many names…Happy WW Gail and thanks for hosting.
The scarlet flower is so striking and it has so many good uses. Our weather is too dry for that one though we do have a native horsemint which is very pale pink.
Isn’t it great to have so many different varieties of a native plant so we can each grow what works for our area. There are several kinds of monarda we can grow here as well and I grow 3 although M. didyma is the flashiest one. Thanks for dropping by Shirley!
Wonderfully informative. I’ll try growing this in my own garden.
Vicki how wonderful…it will be a little aggressive so give it some room, but good news it can be tamed. And the critters will love it.
I love Monarda but it does’nt love me. Tried it several times and it always died out after the first year.
Oh Bridget that is too bad. Monarda likes at least part sun and moist soil in my garden…of course there is one that loves drier soil. Wish it would grow for you.
PS It was the “Your whims are unbearable” that had me puzzling!
Yes that was a puzzler!
I saw some Monarda growing at the edge of the woods last year. I must go check on it.
Happy Wildflower Wednesday!
Oh Lea what a special find to see monarda in the wild!! Happy WW indeed…
I’ve got M. didyma and M. fistulosa (just planted that one last fall) and both have similar qualities. i was kind of hoping the M. fistulosa…the pinkish/purlple one, would be less aggressive than the red one…but from what Ive read it’s about the same. I’m pulling constantly in order to keep a fairly decent garden area where I can actually see the other plants! Othewise they’d be completely hidden by the monarda! But i do love it…despite all I’ve said…! I’m going to write a post on the M. fistulosa for ww…still contemplating it…Not as quick as i used to be…
Jan, I planted M. fistulosa in the meadow and M. didyma in the garden beds. I would love for you to post about M. fistulosa. Mine has not gotten aggressive in the meadow but every year is different.
A long and interesting post full of information about this native plant. It does have the most pretty flowers, lovely shots too.
Thanks Karen. I am glad to introduce you to a most beloved wildflower.
This is a plant that is unknown to me. Your post makes me wonder why. It seems to be well worth growing!
It is a very unusual and lovely plant that is native here so perhaps it has not been cultivated much outside the U.S.
I shall think of your Monarda/bergamot/beebalm when I step out of the kitchen and startle a sunbird in my pineapple sage. The experience the same but the details changed by the Atlantic Ocean dividing us.
Playing catch up with an uncooperative internet – thank you for a delightful and fascinating plant!
A lovely thought Diana. Glad you liked my June plant for your wonderful meme.
I love monarda and my very large patch of it disappeared over the winter. I will have to replant. Is all monarda native including all the species and cultivars? I want to choose a native variety.
Oh Carolyn that is too bad. The cultivars that I have seen are from either M. didyma or M. fistulosa. I believe all the monarda is native to somewhere in the US but not all are native to the NE. The 2 I mentioned will take some shade and like moist areas. Monarda punctata, is native to us but likes sun and dry conditions. Hope that helps.
Hi Donna, that Monarda is lovely, even if i am not so fond of herbs it can be grown as a lovely ornamental. My real herb favorite is rosemary, but not for use in cooking but just to give me the scent whenever i touch it. Now i am reminded to have a small plant in my small 5th Flr Window garden, so i can always have its scent when i want to. And your last reminder is Clay and Limestone’s Wildflower Wednesday, which i always forget.
Andrea so many of our native plants also are classified as herbs and have been used for hundreds of years to heal. It os quite fascinating. I too love rosemary and grow it in pots so I can bring it in during the winter.
I am growing Mondarda for the first time this year so learning all about it is timely for me. I will have to try some leaves in a salad!
Glad the post could help…let me know what you think of the leaves in your tea!
Love the quote at the beginning of the post, and your first photo is my favorite, what a bright and cheerful wildflower and herb. Happy Sunday 🙂
The quote has become a favorite as it says what I feel as I create my garden. Glad you enjoyed the monarda.
I do so love Bee Balm…and am the proud gardener of two plants, and hoping to add more each year.
It’s such a lovely well behaved plant, and after reading your post I realized it has so much more potential then I knew.
So happy to hear your bee balm is such a beloved plant in your garden…
I love bee balm!!! I’m so happy you shared your knee story with me, I’m hopeful and will check into massage and acupuncture! Thank you!!
Oh Sue I am so happy…I hope it helps you!! And how lovely you adore bee balm.
a lovely interesting post Donna, your photos are lovely and the first beautiful, I have tried to grow this before and am trying again, I bought a plant last autumn but it has not growing much, I think I am perhaps too far north and it needs strong sun which we do not get here, thanks for all the info, Frances
Frances I am glad you found the post helpful. It may be that it just needs some time to develop. As long as it has a moist spot and sun it should develop nicely. Mine puts up with lots of cold and snow.
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