There are two different plants that bear the common name bee balm: Monarda Didyma and Monarda Fistulosa. Both are grown for their scent, color, and usefulness. M. Fistulosa, the lavender-colored Wild Bergamot – also known as Oswego tea and Horsemint – grows in open, airy fields and has flowers that attract bees and other pollinators. Its flavor is sharper and mintier than M. Didyma. Native Americans used wild Oswego Tea medicinally for stomach ailments and bronchial problems. It was also used as a food enhancement or flavoring. Oswego tea was a staple for early settlers in New England. It was used in place of English Tea after the Boston Tea Party, when the settlers dumped the tea into the harbor. M. Didyma has scarlet and deep purple blooms that are long and tubular. While bees have a hard time getting nectar from them, they are very attractive to hummingbirds and butterflies.
Growing Bee Balm
Both varieties need good air circulation and won’t do well if crowded. Also, if the soil is allowed to dry out, it may develop powdery mildew. Make sure to choose a location that is kept fairly moist to avoid this problem. You should also avoid watering the leaves, making sure to only water the soil. If mildew does appear, cut it back, removing all of the infected stems. It should come back in better health next season.
If you deadhead – remove the dead blooms – you will get another set of blossoms toward summer’s end and into autumn. If you are collecting leaves and flowers for tea, this will be easy. They can be used fresh or dried. Tear the flowers apart and remove any green parts. Add these small green leaves in salads and save the larger leaves for tea. Hang the larger leaves in bunches or place them on screens in the sun to dry. Add a leaf or two with your favorite black tea for a nice flavor.
Externally: Use for a calming aromatherapy treatment. Place a handful of fresh leaves in a cheesecloth or piece of linen, tie into a bag, and place under hot water while running a bath; breathe the steam in deeply. This can help sooth cold symptoms, sore throat, fever, and congestion. Bee balm can also be used as an antiseptic and antibacterial by soaking a cloth in the tea and applying as a compress. It can be made into an ointment for use as a pain reliever and to speed the healing of minor wounds, insect bites/stings, eczema, psoriasis, cold sores, and acne.
Internally: Bee balm – like all members of the mint family – is good for improving digestive issues like general digestion, gas, poor appetite, colic, bloating, nausea, and vomiting. It has also been used to lessen menstrual cramps. Oswego tea can be used as a calming agent for the nerves or to relax one in preparation for sleep. It can be used solo or mixed with other herbs like chamomile and valerian.
Those who have thyroid issues should use caution when ingesting bee balm; also, those who are pregnant should not take it internally. While rubbing the leaves of bee balm can be a repellant for insects – especially mosquitoes – for some people, this may cause sensitivity to the sun, so don’t use undiluted without testing on a small area of the skin. As with any new treatment, check with your healthcare provider before using.
Bee Balm Iced Tea
Place ¼ cup bee balm leaves and flowers in a teapot or glass bowl. Pour one quart of boiling water over them. Cover and steep until cool – about an hour. Strain and discard leaves and flowers. Sweeten as desired. Chill and serve over ice.
Place ¼ cup dried chamomile flowers, 4 teaspoons dried bee balm leaves, 2½ teaspoons dried rosemary leaves and flowers, and ¼ cup apple or pineapple mint leaves in a Mason jar. Cover and shake well. Use 2 teaspoons of this mix per cup of boiling water for hot tea. Steep five minutes and strain. Serve with honey or sugar if desired.
- 1 cup sugar (or stevia)
- 1 cup fresh lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 1 cup bee balm leaves
- ¾ cup raspberries (or other berries)
- 3 cups cranberry juice
- ½ cup mint leaves (any variety)
- 47-ounce can chilled pineapple juice
- 3 liters lemon-lime soda (diet or regular)
Mix sugar, lemon juice, and lemon zest in saucepan. Heat over low heat until sugar is dissolved. Add bee balm and berries. Simmer, stirring to break up the berries. After fifteen minutes, strain out leaves and berries. Add cranberry juice and mint, stirring well. Chill twenty-four hours. Prior to serving, pour into a punch bowl and add pineapple juice and lemon lime soda. Serve over ice.
©2012 Off the Grid News