Bee Balm

by Christian Rodrigue

600px-Monarda_didyma_00.jpgThe Monarda, named after the famous botanist Nicolas Monardes, is in the family Lamiaceae with about 16 species.  It is a herbaceous perennial with a ultimate height of 0.5-1 metres, which takes two to five years to reach, and a ultimate spread of 0.1-0.5 metres. It needs exposure to the sun and is easily grown during autumn and summer but needs special care with very cold climates during winter. It is home to many insects, butterflies lay their eggs on the plant, and is also heavily pollinated by bees and hummingbirds. Some species of the Monarda are used for medicinal purposes, such as for antibiotic and skin infections, and also used for cooking because of its fragrance and color. Many Native tribes were the founders of the useful purposes of the Monarda and even passed it on to the settlers.


MONAR.pngThe Monarda needs exposure to the sun to grow. While leaving a Monarda in partial shade is also acceptable, it thrives best when it has full exposure to the sun (“Monarda…”). Soil has to be moderately fertile and humus-rich (“Monarda…”). Humus is a product of the decomposition of vegetable or animal matter and is usually black or brown colored (Rutledge). It can be any combination of acid, alkaline or neutral, with chalk, loam, clay or sand (“Monarda…”). In terms of water, they need enough for the soil to be moist but drained so its best to have a pot that has holes in which excess water can seep out through because over watering can harm the plant (“Monarda…”). The Monarda does not do well in extreme winter conditions because there is less light, and if the water freezes it can kill the plant (“Why Do Plants…”). During the summer, it is important to not let the soil dry out because of the intense heat so it’s best to water it frequently. The way to propagate Monarda, to make new plants from existing ones, is to use division (“Monarda…”). Division is one of the easiest ways to grow more plants and has one of the highest rates of success (“Propogation”). You take the Monarda from the soil and separate it into different pieces using your hands or a sharp tool (“Propogation”). Division, the removal of dead or fading flowers, helps the Monarda grow more flowers (“Propogation,” “Deadheading”). In autumn the stems should be cut down to the ground to insure proper growth (“Monarda…”). TheMonarda may be attacked by slugs, which eat away at the plant and can cause major damage if not taken care of properly (“Monarda…”). Also, the Monarda may suffer to powdery mildews; a fungal disease that affects stems and flowers. It can be treated be fungicides or getting rid of infect leaves, mulching and watering so that it makes them less prone to infection (“Powdery Mildews”).


531px-Monarda_pollination_2012.jpg Many species of insects are pollinators for the Monarda. The very best pollinator for the Monarda is the Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Whitten). When they go to search for the nectar, the pollen is deposited on top of the bird’s head which usually leaves a yellow spot so it’s easy to tell if it has been eating from the plant or not (Whitten). Clean stigmas are completely covered with pollen after a single visit from the hummingbird, which is what makes them such effective pollinators (Whitten). The bumblebee is the most common visitor and one of the major pollinators for the Monarda because of its efficiency of pollination (Whitten). The amount of pollen gathered is based off of the size of the flower they are choosing to go to. Honeybees occasionally forage for pollen in the Monarda but the length and size of the Monarda’s corolla tubes, the petals of the flower, prevented them from getting a great amount of pollen (Whitten, “The Parts of a Flower”). The halicticandrenid, and megachilid bees also collected pollen from theMonarda but avoided old or empty flowers and the stigmata, the organ that receives the pollen (Whitten, “The Parts of a Flower”). This causes them to be ineffective pollinators because they do not spend much time looking for pollen (Whitten). Syrphid flies were also found to exhibit this behavior also (Whitten). Cerambycid beetles and lygaeid bugs visit the Monarda but do not make contact with any of the anthers, where pollen is produced, or the stigma; making them extremely bad pollinators (Whitten). All species of butterflies visit the Monarda, usually during the mid afternoon, but do not spend much time gathering nectar (Whitten). They do get a significant amount of pollen due to their large bodies, so pollen can be found on their wings and legs (Whitten).

The Monarda is used as food for the larvae of many Lepidoptera species, mostly moths and butterflies, hence why moths and butterflies visit the plant often (Whitten). The Coleophora monardae, a moth, feeds only on theMonarda plants while the Coleophora heinrichella and Coleophora monardella only feed on the Monarda fistulosa(Whitten)



The Monarda fistulosa and Monarda didyma are the species most used for medicinal purposes. The Blackfoot Indians were the first to recognize its antiseptic properties; it has been used for skin infections, wounds, and mouth sores by cutting a small portion of the stem and applying the liquid that is inside to the wound (Keifer). It’s extremely useful because of the compound thymol, which is found in mouthwashes we use today (Keifer). The Ho-Chunk Nation used a tisane, herbal tea, as a stimulant. In general, theMonarda is used as a carminative, which prevents the formation of gas or to facilitate the expulsion of it (Keifer). Also, Monarda tea is used to treat headaches and fevers. The oil in Lemon Beebalm contains citronellol, which helps repel insects and work especially well to drive away fleas and mites (Keifer).


monarda puffball purslane pizza.jpgThe lemon beebalm is used for salads and teas. It is also used to season meat and seafood dishes, and to flavor cakes, cheesecakes, sauces, and pies. The Monarda is greatly used for teas because of its overall strength in helping with upset stomachs.


Tangy Monarda Sauce

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon butter
¼ cup minced shallots or sweet onions
1 cup orange juice
¼ cup dried cranberries or once can whole berry cranberry sauce
¼ cup fresh young bergamot leaves
½ teaspoon orange zest
1 tablespoon cornstarch

Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Sauté shallots or onions until soft. Add orange juice, cranberries, bergamot, and zest. Simmer 5 minutes, stirring often. Grill chicken or pork chop until partially cooked. Brush with sauce. Continue to cook so that cooking occurs but the sauce is not burned. Turn. Baste. Complete cooking. To serve, garnish with fresh bergamot flowers if available.

Monarda Vinaigrette

¼ cup fresh Monarda leaves, chopped, plus 4 sprigs for garnish

  • ¼ cup lemon or orange juice
    1 tablespoon honey
    2 small garlic cloves
    1 teaspoon salt
    1 teaspoon cayenne pepper or ½ teaspoon dried red chili flakes
    2/3 cup olive oil
    ¼ cup parsley, freshly chopped

    Pour juice into a large mixing bowl. Crush garlic cloves, Add to bowl. Press garlic into juice to release oil. Add salt and chili pepper. Stir with whisk.
    Add olive oil in a thin stream, stirring with whisk. Stir in chopped bergamot and parsley.

  • § Monarda Punch1 cup granulated sugar (to flavor)
    1 cup fresh lemon juice
    1 cup beebalm leaves
    ½ cup raspberries (or strawberries)
    2 cups cranberry juice
    ½ cup lemon verbena or lemon grass leaves
    1 47-ounce can chilled pineapple juice
    1 large ginger ale or other bubbly

    Dissolve sugar in the lemon juice over low heat. Add beebalm and raspberries. Bring to a simmer. Stir to break up the raspberries. When sugar is dissolved, strain leaves and berries out of the liquid. Add cranberry juice and lemon verbena. Stir well. Chill up to 24 hours. When ready to serve, pour into a punch bowl. Add pineapple juice, ice and ginger ale.

  • § Monarda Iced Tea½ cup monarda flowers and leaves
    6-8 cups boiling water

    Pour the boiling water over the monarda. Cover and steep until cool for about an hour. Strain and discard monarda. Sweeten if desired. Chill until ready to use and serve over ice.


Web Sources

“Crimson Bee Balm.” Sevier County Area Master Gardeners Association, n.d. Web. 14 Apr. 2014.

“Deadheading Plants.” Royal Horticultural Society. Royal Horticultural Society, n.d. Web. 14 Apr. 2014.

“Monarda ‘Violet Queen’ AGM.” RHS Plant Selector / RHS Gardening. Royal Horticultural Society, n.d. Web. 14 Apr. 2014.

Gilmore, Melvin R. “Uses of Plants by the Indians of the Missouri River Region.” The Southwest School of Botanical Medicine, 1919. Web. 14 Apr. 2014.

Keifer, Lorraine, and Debra Knapke. “The Herb Society of America’s Essential Guide to Monarda.” The Herb Society of America, n.d. Web.

Kindscher, Kelly. “Huron Smith’s Ethnobotany of the Hocą (Winnebago).” Economic Botany 52.4 (1998): 352-72. JSTOR. Web. 14 Apr. 2014. <>.

“Powdery Mildews.” Royal Horticultural Society. Royal Horticultural Society, n.d. Web. 14 Apr. 2014.

“Propagation.” How to Propagate Plants: Organic Gardening. Organic Gardening, n.d. Web. 14 Apr. 2014.

Rutledge, Kim. “Humus.” National Geographic Education. National Geographic, n.d. Web. 14 Apr. 2014.

“The Parts of a Flower.” The Parts of a Flower. Plant Morphology, n.d. Web. 14 Apr. 2014.

Whitten, W. Mark. “Pollination Ecology of Monarda Didyma, M. Clinopodia, and Hybrids (Lamiaceae) in the Southern Appalachian Mountains.” American Journal of Botany 68.3 (1981): 435-42. JSTOR. Web. 14 Apr. 2014. <>.

“Why Do Plants Not Grow so Well in Winter.” Gardening Answers. Wikia, n.d. Web. 14 Apr. 2014.