Saturday, May 23, 2009
A New Look at an Old Favorite~
There are two bee balm plants (or "beebalm") that are my favorites. One is for visual and the other for culinary and medicinal. They are both useful for the same purpose, I just favor the "red" bee balm)for culinary-it is often referred to as the "Oswego tea" plant. Meanwhile, bee balm plants with lavender flowers are also popular; classified as Monarda fistulosa, we usually know this plant as "wild bergamot."
Bee balm plants are herbaceous perennials and considered herbs by all culinary and medicinal standards. Bee balm plants are members of the mint family and impart a minty fragrance and taste.
Red bee balm plants produce clusters of scarlet, tubular flowers in mid to late summer. These long-blooming perennials reach 3 feet or more in height and can grown in zones 4-9.
Plant bee balm flowers in full sun to partial shade and in a moist but well-drained soil. Use soil amendments such as compost to enrich the soil for your bee balm
plants. I have great success growing this in large whiskey barrel planters.
If you simply enjoy beautiful flowers, this is a must for your garden. If attracting wildlife is your aim, yet another reason to grow bee balm. Bees of all kind, (pollinators) butterflies and hummingbirds are steady diners to the beautiful flowers.
Bee balm is used as a skin wash for rashes and other irritations." The pulverized leaves truly can be used as a "balm" to treat bee stings (thus the primary common name).
It's best to divide the plants every few years to prevent aggressive spreading. Beware..it can be susceptible to powdery mildew, especially in late summer; if your bee balm plants succumb to powdery mildew at this time, it's best to trim them back to the ground and properly dispose of the cut growth. Deadhead bee balm flowers to promote re-blooming.
All in all regardless the care they might command the bloom, the aroma, and the "tea" is so worth the time and effort.