Bee balm, a summer favorite

Bee balm, a summer favorite

If you were to look out the back window of my mother’s house you would see gardens that are endless, claiming territory as they edge into the grass and fade back into the forest.  It’s unclear where her garden ends and the native wildflowers begin, particularly because of the native bee balm (botanical name Monarda) that grows in shocks of purple, pink, and lavender everywhere.

 While bee balm flowers are spectacular with their fireworks of color, it’s the intoxicating fragrance and history as a medicinal flower that excite me most.  I collect thee flowers all summer to throw into teas throughout the year.

red Monarda Didyma flowers

red Monarda Didyma flowers

Many Indigenous Americans worked with Monarda to break fevers and aid digestion, and used the leaves externally as an antiseptic.  The sharp and spicy flavor, oregano-like, indicate it has a high volatile oil content, making it naturally antimicrobial. It's potent and gentle and the flavor is delightful-- wonderful in tea hot or iced.

pink Monarda fistulosa

pink Monarda fistulosa

If you examine a Monarda plant closely, you’d find it has a square stem, characteristic of plants in the mint family. Any above-ground portion of the plant can be used in a tea, though I’m partial to the color and magic that using flower petals brings to any tea or medicine.  I have found that they do well regardless of whether they’re growing in full sun or in the forest, so no excuse if your garden has been too shady for flowers in the past.

The flowers also have the distinction of driving bees mad with pleasure.  Monarda will draw and excite the butterflies and bees you want pollinating your garden.  Plant this native medicinal wildflower to become a steward of the land.

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