Saturday, July 16, 2011

Wild Bergamot ..Bee Balm.. easy natives

 The north side of the fields we have a meadow of  bee balm (Monarda fistulosa). 

  These happily are also dwelling in the forest understory and highlight the way to my wild black raspberry patch. It is hard to explain the scent these give off when we walk through them, kind of lemony with spice notes. 

 This plant is a native and is also found pretty much across the US. It is also considered a "honey plant" as it puts out decent amounts of pollen and nectar. The humming birds and bees are constantly all over them making the forest hum.

 Monarda fistulosa is the species we have and it is in peak bloom right now. It is a perennial and although it spreads more often by way of rhizome, it does also offer viable seeds. The seeds from this species needs cold stratification. I'll be collecting seeds from these to start patches closer to the farmhouses.

 The flowers and the leaves can be used fresh or dried to make tea. The best time to pick any herb is very early in the morning when it has the highest levels of essential oils. Essential oils are very volatile and exposure to heat and light will cause them to dissipate. This also would be why you want to dry herbs in an area that has good air flow, is cool, and out of light.. so you retain the flavor.

 While some opt to use this plant as just a decorative addition to landscape, it can offer more than just eye candy. The tea made from this is rather refreshing and it can help if you have issues with heartburn or gas. There are other "issues" it is said to help.. but I have yet to try using it to relieve headaches , stomach aches or acne. Frankly.. I just find the tea lovely.

 This plant is in the mint family... and like it's cousin.. it can sometimes spread. Once established, it requires almost no care. Along the edge of a forested area, or where there is an opening in the canopy these plants take off. They can handle partial shade and seem to thrive when getting a break from the scorching summer sun. 

 I guess if you were to do a native planting.. they get along with sumac, black caps, gooseberry and black walnut.  


  1. I put in a small planting of it this year. I almost killed it off by leaving it out in the sun while at work but it came back.

    Another good use for it is to distill the leaves down to an oil and use it as a scent lure for bee swarms. The lemony scent attracts the swarms and kinda mimics the queen scent.

  2. We have some bee balm growing in our gardens but I was not aware that the seeds needed cold stratification which explains the shoddy germination we have had.

    Very interesting that you use it in teas, we had not really looked into what to do with the plants yet and I am glad to hear that the flowers and leaves can be used for

    Those are very beautiful flowers and how neat that they are established in the wild where you live.

  3. Oh wow.. did not know about it being able to lure swarms.. nice!

    It takes a ton to distill for oil, but if it potentially attracts swarms.. I'm so adding it to my to do list!

    There are a lot of different types of Monarda.. some annual, some perennial.. (M. fistulosa just happens to be what I have around), and there is a range of their scents.

    Although I am on the hunt for white bergamot (basil balm/ Monarda clinopodia).. and want to add several others eventually.

  4. @ Mr. H.. after drying they need a couple of months in the fridge. Although once you have them going they will in time spread mainly by rhizomes.

    M. fistulosa is native to most all of the US. Your neck of the woods too!

    I guess it is a summer time thing.. I tend to drink a lot of iced herbal teas. Cold brewed.. just tossing the herbs right into a pitcher of water and then into the fridge.

    lol I figure if someone is going to stock up on beans.. they may want to consider also plants to counter the wind effect.

  5. Over on one of the bee boards I read that bee keepers have used lemon grass oil, bee balm and even liquid pledge as scent attractors in their swarm boxes.

  6. Gorgeous pic of the bee balm/bergamot! I love Earl Grey tea, doesn't that have bergamot? May I have some of those seed? I can trade you for something of mine, if you're interested! I've heard the lemon grass extract used to lure bees from my apiary friend as well.

  7. I found hives near by the farm! I think I know who owns them too...