Bee Balm , the most popular of three names this plants is known by, is also called Monarda and Oswego Tea. Monarda, after the Spanish physician and plant collector Nicolas Monardes who studied medicinal plants of the New World. The Oswego Indians drank a tea from Monarda and taught the early European settlers about its benefits. Oswego Tea became popular after the Boston Tea Party lead to a shortage of tea.
Several Bee Balm species have a history of use by Native Americans that predates the arrival of Europeans. Monarda didyma was reported used by Native Americans to create a tea to treat oral infections. The Blackfeet Indians used the plant's strong antiseptic properties to treat minor infections and wounds. The Native Americans were onto something because M. didyma and M. fistulosa are natural sources of thymol, an active ingredient in modern mouthwashes.
The leaves of all species, when crushed, exude a spicy-fragrant oil, that may taste bitter because of the thymol content, that makes them good ingredients in homemade potpourri.
Bee Balm, as the name implies, attracts bees (mostly bumblebees) but the long, tubular flowers are better suited for hummingbirds, Ruby-throated in particular because it passes through our area. In the vegetable garden you can plant Bee Balm to attract pollinators and predatory insects that prey on garden pests. In kids gardens plant Bee Balm as a food source for caterpillars to teach kids about the cycles of life.
With so many uses for Bee Balm it is easy to understand why people think it is the bee's knees.
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