I was visiting my family’s cabin in Michigan a few years ago, and I noticed a spicy oregano-like scent whenever the kids and dogs would run through a certain field. The field was covered with beautiful purple flowers on plant stalks that were almost as tall as me! Once I went to get a closer look, I found a stand of gigantic wild bee-balm (or wild bergamot). I had never seen bee balm in Colorado that tall. Here locally, it tends to grow only 1-3 feet tall, depending on its access to water.
Bee balm is a fun plant friend native to North America. Its purple flowers are like fireworks that explode right around the end of June or beginning of July and last through August. It is said to have been enjoyed by the Oswego Indians in a tea, and later used by American colonists when the tea trade was cut off after the Boston tea party. Bees gravitate to this plant as well, which is why it’s called bee balm. Butterflies and hummingbirds enjoy these festive and fragrant flowers as sustenance. Even if you don’t grow bee balm for any other reason, you can cultivate it for the bees and know you are making a difference to our pollinators!
In addition to tea, this spicy herb makes a wonderful addition to soups and stews. It tastes like a mixture of oregano and thyme, and has many of the same medicinal benefits as these two well-known herbs. Like oregano and thyme, it can be dried and used throughout the year. Bee balm is a go-to for my family when we start coming down with the crud, especially as seasons change.
I hope you enjoy our issue on bee balm, and learn something new about this pretty little mint-family plant.