Tea of the Bee! Bee Balm, that is.🐝☕

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Have you heard of bee balm? This versatile and fragrant plant can be dried for tea or an aromatic bouquet, used fresh for salads or herb butters, and is delicious even sprinkled over steamed vegetables! Bee balm (or bergamot) flowers are the part of the plant best used for tea, as the leaves have a more oregano-like, spicier flavor. Very calming and soothing, this herbal infusion is also a wonderful sleep aid. For a relaxing bath option, consider placing some fresh leaves in a teabag or cloth and running them under hot water for a lovely, lemony-scented soak!

Some refer to bee balm or Monarda (its botanical name) as oswego tea or horsemint. It is native to North America and was used by the Oswego Native Americans for medicinal remedies in addition to its use as an infused beverage. The tea was embraced by the early American settlers; however after the Boston tea party in 1773, it was boycotted like other Native American teas that were traded by the English.

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Spanish medical botanist Nicolas de Monardes identified the bee balm as bergamot. The name bergamot is derived from its similarity to the aroma of the bergamot orange (Citrus bergamia).  You may be familiar with oil of the bergamot orange as it is used as one of the flavors in the classic blend that creates Earl Grey.

Available to plant in the spring and fall, bee balm does best in full sun with well-drained soil. It can grow in partial shade, but has a tendency to stretch and become leggy over time in shaded areas. Boggy soil or soils that will dry out for a long period of time don’t make for a happy bee balm! Evenly moist, rich soil (amending with organic matter makes it even better!) is best. Space plantings 18 – 24 inches apart. In the fall, consider trimming the bee balm’s foliage back a bit to encourage it to spend more energy on establishing stronger roots to prepare for the cooler weather.

Hailing from the mint family, bee balm will spread via a mat of underground stems over a season just like other members in its family but can be kept manageable by regular digging and dividing.

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Medically, it has been noted for easing the symptoms in colds, reducing fever, soothing sore throats, assisting with headaches, insomnia, and relieving menstrual pain. Inflamed mucus membranes can be soothed by inhaling steam from bee balm, and poultices and compresses can be used for faster healing of bruises and skin infections.

Thymol (also found in oil of thyme) is a phenol that contributes to the healing properties of the plant, which also include antiseptic qualities that fight bacteria, parasites, and fungi. However, some pregnant women have reported complications after using bergamot as it can sometimes stimulate contractions in the uterus. As always, research your natural remedies and consider your specific situation when introducing a new herb or plant into your life.

All photos in this post today are by our owner John Coghlan, as this is the bee balm grown this summer by his family on their homestead on Vashon Island! If you’d like to follow their adventures more closely, be sure to check out our Vashon-specific branch of HomeGrown Organics, where we are loving our new projects and getting to work in such a beautiful and diverse natural landscape. Stay tuned for more exciting updates on projects out of our beloved home base in the Central District and surrounding Seattle areas, including a rain garden we recently completed at Shoreline Community College!💧🎍

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