A Balm for Bees (and Humans, Too)
A perennial favorite native to North America, bee balm is a member of the mint family with vibrant beauty and longevity. It is valued in flower beds for its beautiful blooms and fragrant foliage. In recent years, as interest in planting beautiful and functional American natives has increased, bee balm has surged in popularity. Also known as monarda, bergamot, horsemint, and oswego tea, bee balm is certainly beautiful and has many uses.
Medicinal Uses of Bee Balm
Commonly seen in perennial gardens, the main variety of bee balm, Monarda Didyma (or scarlet red bee balm), is both edible and medicinal. The plant is antimicrobial so when turned into a tea, it can be used to treat colds and flu. It also has a soothing effect on the digestive tract and helps to treat indigestion, bloating and nausea. The resin derived from the plant may be used externally for healing and soothing bee stings, scrapes, and rashes.
The brilliant red flowers of bee balm are a magnet for butterflies, honeybees, and hummingbirds. The seed heads, if not deadheaded, will attract birds in the fall and winter. Pink and purple bee balm are even more likely to attract bees than the red variety.
Gardening is a total joy when sharing it with these delightful and very beneficial pollinators!
How to Grow Bee Balm
Bee balm couldn't be easier to grow. Select a sunny site with soil rich in organic matter for moisture retention and good drainage. You can grow bee balm from seed, but it establishes more quickly when planted from divisions. Try and start with a small plant, taken from a friend’s garden or purchased from your local garden center.
Like other herbs in the mint family, bee balm can be a bit invasive, but it's easy to dig up and divide. Divide in the spring when the growth first emerges. Then be sure to share the plants with friends and neighbors!
If you give bee balm plenty of room in your garden, you will be rewarded with a beautiful display of bright blooms each year.
How to Press Bee Balm and Create Art
Pressing bee balm is much easier than one would think. When you press the flower using a Microfleur microwave flower press, the bud flattens and dries, but the vibrant color stays.
Simply lay the flower sideways on the wool felt pads topped with cotton liners, clamp the press together and zap in the microwave. (See How to Pressed with a Microfleur for more detailed directions.) In just a minute or so the flower, leaves and stems will be dried and ready to use.
Add Color to Your Walls
Once the flowers are pressed and completely void of any moisture, they can be used in a variety of ways: cards, coasters, bookmarks, decorative candles, trivets, or wall art are just a few! The pressed bee balm art (pictured here in a 16 x 20 frame) is sure to add a punch of color to any room in your house.
This spring, when planning your garden, be sure to consider bee balm. The hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies will love it and so will you!