Monarda (Beebalm) is a perennial herb that is native to North America and belongs to the mint family. Monarda is a traditional favourite for the perennial border or herb gardens, providing a striking display of richly-coloured flowers through the summer months which the bees adore. Cut plants down to 3cm from the ground after flowering; this will promote new growth and a second flowering. Foliage is delightfully fragrant.
Monarda prefers partial shade but tolerates full sun. Plant where there is good air circulation to prevent powdery mildew which can hit leaves in late summer. It is important to take care when watering the plant, water directly at the roots ensuring the leaves stay dry.
Grow Monarda in moist but well-drained soil rich in organic matter. Monarda prefers a soil pH of 6.5 to 8. Mulch Monarda in winter to protect roots from cold.
Cut back plants periodically to keep them compact. Divide plants every 3 or 4 years as this will help keep plants compact and control spreading.
Growing Monarda from Seed
Seeds are best cold stratified for three months before sowing. If you are in a warmer area, place seeds in a container to keep them dry and place in the refrigerator for three months. Seeds require direct light to germinate properly. So gently sprinkle seeds on the surface of good quality potting mix. Water and keep damp but not wet. Germination takes 14 to 28 days after sowing. Grow plants to a height of around 10cm and transplant them into the garden.
Monarda flowers are excellent fresh or dry cut flowers. Cut flowers for drying when blooms are almost fully open and air dry for around 3 weeks. Dried flowers and leaves are used in potpourri.
Cooking with Monarda
Monarda tastes and smells like mint with citrusy undertones of orange and lemon. Pick bee balm flowers when they are newly opened. The petals taste like oregano or marjoram . Use them to sprinkle on salads or on pizza just out of the oven. Leaves and flowers are used in herbal teas. Harvest leaves as needed. For best flavor, harvest leaves before flower buds open.
- Fresh petals for a soft pink ice tea
- Dried for hot tea.
Fill a clean jug with water and add monarda petals. The flowers from red varieties are better. Depending on the size of the jug and your taste buds add fresh washed petals, stir and place in the fridge.
Cover the container and leave for 24 hours. Stir every couple of hours.
Strain the tea and serve. You may wish to add some sugar.
Cold tea will last up to a week.
Hot tea can be made from the dried leaves. Sweeten with honey.
Also known as: Bergamot (as the scent is similar to the orange variety bergamot) and Oswego tea (the Oswego Indians made tea from the leaves).
Monarda 'Jacob Cline' features enormous vibrant red flowers (around 7cm across) and excellent disease resistance. Height 120cm.
Monarda didyma 'Blue Stocking' ('Blaustrumpf') features bright violet-purple flowers, arranged in large, shaggy heads that are approximately 6cm across. Height 120cm.