17 Jul 2011

Saturday Snap: Bee Balm Bergamot

Bee Balm Bergamot
:: Monarda growing next to my fennel which is currently over 8 feet tall! ::

I'd hate to think I was falling into a pattern here but, yes, this is another herb! Edible, medicinal, beautiful, this plant was named for Nicolas Monardes, a Spanish physician, who wrote a book in 1574 describing new world plants, of which this is one.  Today Monarda (aka Bee Balm, Horsemint, Oswego Tea) is identified as being part of the Lamiaceae family, a huge group of plants which includes many of the culinary or aromatic herbs. So my little bergamot flower is related - amongst many others - not only to sage, mint, rosemary, lavender and thyme but also, bizarrely, teak and coleus. (Amazing what you can find out on the internet!)

I've grown this from an unpromising looking little seedling, bought for pence at a plant sale in May last year. It came from a Victorian garden I like to visit (or, at least, from one of the volunteers who keep that garden looking so inviting). They hold a plant sale every year to raise funds for the National Gardens Scheme and a few Monarda cuttings had been brought along for the sale. I was unfamiliar with the name Monarda when I bought it but a quick Google search revealed that I had a plant that would be very attractive to bees. Excellent! and the photos of what it might look like were very exciting. A very happy purchase indeed!

I had just the one fragile little plant and lots of concerns about its survival but, by surrounding it with a cut-down 5 litre water bottle - and staking the 'cloche' in with bamboo skewers - it was protected from buffeting winds and inquisitive fox cubs and has thrived in my herb bed. It spreads, so I now have a clump of monarda, a fact which I'm delighted about - especially now it's flowered.

On a more factual note, the flowers are edible, making an attractive addition to a salad.  The leaves and shoots can be cooked and added to salads but it's not the same plant that gives Earl Grey tea is citrus flavour: that's Citrus Bergamia.  Naturally antiseptic, a poultice of the leaves can be used to treat skin infections and wounds and an infusion of crushed leaves is said to be good for headaches and fevers as well as being both a stimulant and carminative. Apparently the leaves can taste bitter, (think spearmint, oregano, thyme), so I'm unlikely to be enjoying a cup anytime soon ... although with a spoonful of honey, it might make a refreshing alternative to paracetamol for the occasional headache!  It grows up to 3 feet (1 metre) tall and the leaves can be cut down in the Autumn when it's finished flowering, ready to start again in Spring.  It can be propagated by seed or cutting or dividing. It's also reputed to improve both the flavour and health of tomatoes when planted nearby.  Awesome! I'm more than a little bit in love with this plant.

I have no idea whether this is M. fistulosa or M. didyma - if any of my more knowledgeable friends could advise on this, that would be most appreciated!

Shall we just have a close up?

Monarda, close up

I'm a little late in posting this so I'll wish you all happy Sunday gardening with hopes for dry spells (we've had a fairly soggy Saturday here in London).


  1. I've never grown monarda, but I should as I like plants which attract bees and butterflies. Hope the weather's improved for you today, we've got a soggy Sunday.

  2. Jo, if I can seed save I'll be very happy to send you some. I always feel that we have nothing to lose by sowing free seeds! Caro x

  3. Lovely healthy looking plant - I used to have one, but as usual, it disappeared, never to return. We are having a sunny/showery Sunday.

  4. Love Monarda but it does'nt like our wet heavy soil.

  5. Elaine, why not try again with Monarda? I think it would be great at the back of a border because of it's height. Mine's happily growing in the shade of the horseradish leaves and has reached over 4 ft!

  6. Bridget, hello and welcome! Lovely to have found your blog and I've commented there. I like the look of your turquoise dustbin - perhaps you try growing monarda in a similar container?

  7. Interesting post about yet another plant that is on my must grow list!
    I know that Fistulosa/Wild Bergamot grows taller up to 4ft whilst Didyma/Bee Balm doesn't generally grow over 2 1/2 feet. Either way they're all lovely plants. Flighty xx

  8. Ah, thank you Flighty! It's height makes Fistulosa the most likely ID. I hope to be growing this plant for years to come, it's quite lovely and has changed again since these photos were taken a couple of days ago. Caro xx

  9. Thanks, Caro. I think it's a little tall for my border though. Perhaps I can get hold of some seed of the smaller variety.


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