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3 Reasons to Grow Bee Balm

Bee Balm Closeup

Why add bee balm to your garden plan?  Aside from its lovely architecture, I can provide three solid reasons why this summer bloom will benefit your landscape.  

  1. It is a pollinator powerhouse.
  2. It has culinary and medicinal uses.
  3. It is not mosquito, rabbit or deer-friendly.
Bee Balm Flower Head in Garden

What is Bee Balm?

The variety in my garden is Scarlet Bee Balm (Monarda didyma L.).  It is an aromatic herb and a member of the mint family.  It’s also known by other names, such as: Wild Bergamont, Bergamot, Crimson Beebalm, Scarlet Beebalm, Horsemint and Oswego Tea.  

Bee balm is a perennial plant that grows from runners or rhizomes that spread underground. It multiplies and travels easily, but new shoots can be severed, dug up and planted elsewhere should they become too aggressive.  

Although native to North America, bee balm is considered to be an “escaped cultivar” that has been introduced to the Northeast where I live.  Flower colors include white, pink, red, purple and lavender.  The native variety is described as sky blue.  There is quite a bit of folklore associated with the scientific and common names of this plant.   By legend, it is known as a balm to soothe bee stings, to carry the fragrance of bergamont oranges, and to have been brewed as a tea by early Oswego Native Americans.

My particular patch of this perennial serves as a floral love note from my niece, who gifted me the plant and introduced me to its wonder.

Bumblebee on Bee Balm
Bee Balm Blossom

Pollinator Powerhouse

Bee balm attracts a variety of beneficial visitors to the garden.  Honey bees, bumble bees, specialist bees, predator wasps, moths, butterflies, (including the monarch), and hummingbirds adore it.  Flowering begins in late June/early July and can continue into late August.  The flower heads change from green to their specific variety’s bloom color and finally turn brown.

In addition to pollinators, the seed heads attract birds in winter and fall migration season.  Sparrows, finches, and juncos are specifically benefited by the seed heads (or nutlets).  This makes it a wonderful addition to a pollinator garden as well as a natural support for local wildlife

Bee Balm Seed Head

Bee Balm as a Culinary and Medicinal Herb

Dried bee balm leaves can be used as a substitute for dried thyme or oregano.  Its flower petals can be used as garnish for salads, desserts and beverages.

Philadelphia Orchard Project describes the leaf and bloom flavor as slightly sweet and minty.  My niece recommends the mild spiciness of its petals on a salad.  Tea is also another common use for flowers and leaves.  As with any wild or cultivated plant, do your research for safe consumption.  Fine Gardening and Forager Chef offer inspiration on adding this aromatic herby perennial to your culinary repertoire.  

Bee balm is also reported to contain antifungal, antibacterial,  antiseptic, analgesic, and  antioxidant properties.  It is also associated with treatment of digestive disorders.  You should always seek advice from a professional, however, before using a plant medicinally.  


Garden Pest Deterrent

Due to its strong, minty fragrance, deer and rabbit largely leave this plant alone.  While no vegetation is truly deer or rabbit-proof, they tend to naturally shy away from foraging it.  Planting bee balm near plants that deer and rabbit do enjoy will act as a natural deterrent/barrier.

Bee balm also repels mosquitoes.  Again, because of its strong fragrance.  The scent confuses insects by masking odors given off by humans.  Consider planting this perennial around a back yard deck.  You can enjoy observing the hummingbirds and pollinators that visit while surrounding your outside seating area with a natural mosquito repellant.

Bee Balm Flower Head

Enjoy the stunning beauty and useful benefits that bee balm brings to the summer landscape!

Additional Resources

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