Grit Blogs > Blooms and Spoons

Growing Bee Balm

Taking advantage of a day off of work and some fabulously sunny weather, my husband and I took a short jaunt up to Calgary’s Nose Hill Park yesterday.  We didn't see the deer and coyotes that frequent the Hill (although tracks were everywhere!), but we still found a ton of interesting things to look at and photograph. 

Wild bergamot in winter 

One of my subjects was a dried clump of wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa). They grow everywhere on the Hill, and I especially adore watching the bees go absolutely mad for them in the summertime.  One of my biggest goals for my garden this year is to plant more pollinator-friendly plants, which will definitely include a cultivated Monarda variety.  They don’t sport the common moniker of “bee balm” for nothing!   (Butterflies and hummingbirds love them, too!).   

Bee balm is practical in other ways, as well:  A quick check in Linda Kershaw's guide to Alberta Wayside Wildflowers (2003, Lone Pine Publishing, Edmonton) gives a bit of insight into the plant's historical uses:  

“European settlers and Native peoples gathered this aromatic plant for flavouring salads, cooked vegetables and stews and for making a pleasant minty tea. Dried, powdered leaves were sprinkled on food to keep flies and other insects away and were rubbed onto hair, skin, clothing and even favourite horses as perfume.”  

Bee balm’s flavour is reminiscent of the fruit bergamot, which lends its common name.  True bergamot – Citrus bergamia - is the flavouring you usually find in Earl Grey tea, although bee balm is occasionally substituted.  Indeed, tea made from bee balm was famously used by the citizens of Oswego during the Boston Tea Party in 1773, when black tea could not be obtained.     

A few varieties of Monarda that are tough enough for my zone 3 climate include M. didyma ‘Beauty of Cobham’ (pale pink flowers and burgundy foliage), ‘Marshall’s Delight’ (bright pink flowers), and ‘Gardenview Scarlet’ (red flowers).  I’ll need to plant my bee balm in compost-amended, moist soil, in a sunny location.    

Apparently bee balm is quite deer resistant.  While I don’t usually have to worry about the long-legged herbivores, I have to contend with the long-EARED ones, so I hope that the rabbits are turned off as well!  

 Wild bergamot flowers 

Do you grow bee balm in your garden?  Do you use the leaves in tea or for cooking, or the flowers in floral arrangements?

laura devo
2/12/2013 4:42:35 AM

I planted a couple of bee balm and they didn't make it through summer...I suspect my ground squirrels. I ordered traps this winter. They went from 6 to about 66 just over this last summer and ate most of my flowers and half the garden. I don't have even one tree squirrel, deer, wild turkey, or any other wild animals to worry about. I do have to keep my chickens in check. LOL!


sheryl normandeau
2/12/2013 3:14:29 AM

Oh my, wild turkeys, groundhogs, opossums, and raccoons!? And here I worry about the rabbits and the deer! (Well, and, like you, the squirrels). I will never complain about our pests again! :) Well, I'm not sure about the rest of them, but you should be safe from deer if you plant bergamot. Thanks again for your comment, and I apologize for taking so long to reply. Cheers!


nebraska dave
1/5/2013 4:19:18 AM

Sheryl, did I hear deer deterrent and possible rabbit deterrent and bee attraction. I may have to look into planting some around my garden. You got anything for groundhog, wild turkey, raccoon, or opossum deterrent? :0) Oh, yeah, and who could forget the squirrels. The winter landscape does have a magical look, doesn't it. Have a great winter bee balm day.