Bee balm (Monarda didyma, also known as Oswego tea and bergamot), is an absolutely gorgeous flowering perennial herb that attracts hordes of bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. An absolute essential flower for any serious butterfly garden, bee balm is even edible—it’s actually the flavoring in Earl Grey tea. One of the truly unique—and wonderful—things about it is how easily it releases its gorgeous fragrance. Just brushing up against bergamot’s flowers is enough to free a kaleidoscope of aroma into the air (which is why they make fantastic border plants).
Growing Bee Balm in Your Garden
When it comes to bergamot, beauty comes with a price: it’s not the easiest perennial flower to maintain in your garden. While bee balm isn’t exactly high maintenance (and what little care it requires is definitely worth the effort), it does have some quirky needs that must be seen to. When growing bergamot, remember that:
- Rich, moist soil is essential. Fertile soil is so important in fact, that if you can’t fertilize where your bergamot lives, you might want to consider rotating it every few years to more fertile digs.
- A fall rebloom requires cutting back plants right after they bloom.
- Underwatering can lead to mildew and fungal issues. If your beebalm falls prey to mildew, cut diseased stems to the ground. (New growth should be healthy and disease-free). Note that there are mildew-resistant varieties available (like Gardenview Red and Marshall’s Delight).
- Bee balm is also susceptible to powdery mildew, so don't plant it near vegetable gardens that have squash and beans (as those plants are susceptible to powdery mildew as well).
Harvesting Bergamot (for Tea and Edible Flowers)
If you can bear harvesting this gorgeous herb (and denying your bees and butterflies their fair share!), harvesting bee balm is relatively easy. Ways to harvest bergamot include:
- Strip leaves from stems, arrange in single layers on screens, and store in a warm, dry and dark place for about 3 days.
- Hang bee balm bunches upside down in a dry, dark spot. (Over an old-school radiator works wonderfully well.)
- Harvest leaves while they are young, and harvest flowers as they open.
Do you grow bee balm? How do you use it? (Images couresy of Gramody and wackybadger. Thanks!)