HERB OF THE MONTH
Last month we talked about the International Herb Association’s Herb of the Year Elderberry. This month we are talking about the Herb Society of America’s “notable native herb” of the year, Monarda.
As I have researched Monarda I have found that it has no edible restrictions. It is an edible herb and famous for teas. Also known as Oswego Tea, Bee Balm, Blue Balm, High Balm, Low Balm, Mountain Balm and Mountain Mint. This is a beautiful plant with flamboyant flowers. It is wonderful for decorations and has distinctively fragrant flowers. The flowers are very attractive to bees, hence the common name “bee balm”. It is a native to North America and now is grown in many countries through out the world
The species name Monarda was named by Carl Linne’ honoring the Spanish physician and botanist Dr. Nicholas Monardes of Seville, who in 1569 wrote an herbal on the flora of America. The common name, bergamot, is said to have come from the sent of the crushed leaf, which resembles the small bitter Italian bergamot . The species that the IHA has chosen for their HERB OF YEAR is Monarda fistulosa, but another popular variety, and one that I grow, is didyma. Fistulosa is a light lilac lavender. Didyma is the raspberry flower. Monarda fistulosa was used in many of the same ways as the sometimes more familiar Monarda didyma, but with a broader growing range and availability to great numbers of people and proved far more useful as an herb. It was used as a personal and home fragrance, was valued as a flavoring for food and beverage, and as a preservative for meats. The chemistry of wild bergamot gave rise to the many medicinal uses over the years.
The Indians used it for colds and bronchial complaints, as it contains the powerful antiseptic, thymol. They also made tea from it. This was the tea that replaced Indian Tea in many American households after the Boston tea Party in 1773. It was given the name Liberty Tea. Monarda is an important pollinator habitat plant. Nectar feeders include butterflies, moths, hummingbirds, bee’s, wasps and flies. Deer and rabbits avoid this plant due to its strong flavor.
Divide in early spring. It should be dug up and divided every three years and the dead center discarded. It grows well in moist, nutrient-rich soil, preferably in a semi-shade spot: deciduous woodland is ideal. However, will tolerate full sun provided the soil retains moisture. Pick leaves as desired for culinary use. Pick the small flower petals separately and scatter over green salad at the last moment. Put fresh leaves in China tea for Earl Grey flavor, and into wine cups and lemonade. The chopped leaves can be added sparingly to salads and stuffings, and can also be used in jams and jellies.
Cut flowers to dry as soon as fully opened. They dry beautifully and keep their color, and because the dried monarda flowers keep their fragrance and color so well, they are an important ingredient in potpourris. It is only worth collecting seeds if you have species situated well apart in the garden. If near one another, cross-pollination will make the seed variable unpredictable yielding mixed colors.
Pests and diseases – Monarda is prone to powdery mildew. At the first sign remove leaves. If it gets out of hand cut it to the ground. Young plants are a bonne bouche for slugs. You can also use the tip that Tina Lynn gave me-spray with wettable sulphur. Tina’s tip has worked for me. But, be sure and spray at the first sign of powdery mildew. She who hesitates loses her bee balm/bergamot/monarda.
The word from Madaline Hill, author of Southern Herb Growing…Bee Balm is among the loveliest of the flowering herbs. Beloved by hummingbirds and bees. A beautiful versatile plant, bergamot deserves greater attention from the Southern herb gardener.
The oil from monarda is sometimes used in perfumes, but should not be confused with the similar smelling bergamot orange (citrus bergamia).
Herbs for the Home Jekka McVicar