My first home in Vermont had a huge patch of bee balm growing right outside my bedroom window. I’d wake up to a flurry of hummingbirds in the summer, arguing over the nectar inches from my window glass.
There was never a need to put up a hummingbird feeder, the bee balm took care of it for me and provided for endless hours of entertainment in the summer.
But bee balm doesn’t just feed the birds and the bees. It’s a potent medicinal and a tasty edible too.
There are two main varieties, Monarda didyma, or scarlet bee balm is what you’ll see most commonly in garden perennial beds. Monarda fistulosa, or wild bergamot, is the wild version native to the United States.
Both species are edible and medicinal and have similar properties. They also both grow readily from seed, and you can purchase Scarlet Bee Balm Seed Packets (Monarda didyma) as well as Wild Bergamot Seed Packets (Monarda fistulosa) easily online.
Medicinal Properties of Bee Balm
Bee balm is antimicrobial and soothing, so it’s often used to treat colds and flu. It also has a soothing effect on the digestive tract and helps to treat indigestion, bloating and nausea. It’s more than just soothing on the digestive system and its antispasmodic properties also help it treat menstrual cramps as well as coughs.
Externally, it’s used to treat scrapes, stings and rashes.
Bee balm is also nervine, that has a gentle calming effect on the nervous system, similar to lemon balm. It’s used to treat anxiety and stress, especially in sensitive patients like children.
Bee Balm Tea
The individual petals of bee balm flowers pull out easily and can be dried to make a beautiful bright red tea. In season, the petals can also be used fresh.
Bee balm tea is a digestive aid that helps relieve nausea, upset stomach and gas.
Like most herbal teas, it takes a bit longer to steep than a standard black tea, around 15 minutes. Try 1 tablespoon of dried flower petals or 2 tablespoons of fresh petals to every cup of water. The water should be just below the boiling point because herbal flowers are a bit more delicate than teas made with roots or stems.
Bee Balm Oxymel
Oxymels are a mix of herbs, vinegar and honey that’s used like a raw cough syrup or taken by the spoonful as a herbal remedy. The effects vary by the herb chosen.
We make an elderberry oxymel every year to fend off colds and flu. Bee Balm Oxymel is antimicrobial and is used as a treatment for colds and congestion.
Bee Balm Salve
Since bee balm is naturally antimicrobial, it also makes a great herbal salve. Start by making a herbal infused oil using bee balm, and then use that infused oil to make a simple salve by thickening it with beeswax. The basic ratio is 1 ounce of beeswax to 8 ounces of infused oil.
Bee Balm Herbal Steams
Not only does bee balm smell wonderful, but a herbal sachet used to make a herbal steam can help clear your nasal passages. Bee balm has a lot of thymol, the same constituent that makes thyme a natural decongestant.
Adding some of the dry herb to a bath can have the same effect.
Bee Balm Poultice
A poultice made from boiled bee balm leaves were “historically wrapped in cloth for sore eyes, headaches, muscle spasms, fungal infections, and under bandages to slow bleeding” according to the herbal academy.
Bee Balm Tincture
Since bee balm has nervine properties that help calm the nervous system, an established way to reap the benefits is as a tincture. Fill a jar with bee balm and cover with a neutral alcohol such as vodka. Store in a cool dark place for at least a month and then strain.
Bee Balm Mouth Wash
Used as a mouthwash, bee balm is a treatment for sore throats and mouth sores. The leaves were chewed on battlefields and used for this purpose. To ensure it keeps, add a bit of bee balm tincture to prevent spoilage.
Bee Balm Jelly
You can bring out the natural sweetness of bee balm by making a floral jelly for use on toast or muffins. A herbal hedgerow jelly can be made using a mix of edible flowers and herbs from your yard. It’s a great way to add a bit of terroir or “taste of place” to your breakfast.
Bee Balm Salad Toppers
To add color, nutrition and flavor to summer salads, try adding a few bee balm petals. The delicate herbal flavor compliments microgreens and mesclun salads beautifully, but might not be as appropriate for a romaine lettuce-based salad.
Bee Balm Vinegar
Quick and easy, infuse some bee balm petals into raw apple cider vinegar to use as medicine or simply add it to salad dressings and marinades. It’s supposed to be particularly good on game meats.
Bee Balm Mead
A simple bee balm tea could be quickly converted to a small batch mead in a quart jar. Just add 1 cup of honey to 3 cups of bee balm tea, along with a yeast packet.
Allow it to ferment with a mason jar fermentation kit for 6 weeks and bottle in flip-top Grolsch bottles. If you need more convincing, here are some great reasons to make small batch mead.
Bee Balm Bread, Muffins or Cookies
I love the idea of making bread or muffins with edible flowers. I’ve run across a simple yeasted bee balm bread recipe, but I’m hoping to make some simple bee balm muffins or bee balm shortbread this summer. I’ve made thyme shortbread cookies before, and bee balm has some of the same flavor compounds to add a bit of herbal intrigue to cookies.
Thank you for this! My friend just gifted me with three bee balm plants. I couldn’t get over how reminiscent the aroma is of oregano.
I had no idea you could use it for so many other things.
Lynn Marie Weed
Very good information. Ty
It’s also known as Wild Bergamot so those leaves have an Earl Grey tea scent/flavour.
So excited to find all of the amazing uses for Bee Balm! We have a pretty big patch of her along a trail line. Thanks for all the great info!!
Bee Balm is also known as “Oswego Tea” because the Oswego Indians here in NY taught the settlers to use the dried leaves as a tea substitute, So apparently it’s not just the flowers that are useful.
This is wonderful information! I can’t wait to put this lovely plant to good use!
Thanks for the useful information about bee balm. I just gathered some of the first of the season; I can’t wait to try out the recipes.
Thanks for explaining that bee balm has a gentle calming effect, so it can be used to treat anxiety or stress in patients like children who may be more sensitive. My daughter has been suffering from social anxiety at school, so I’ve been doing some research online about natural remedies that might help her. I’m glad I read your article because now I’m excited to shop for monarda essential oil and see if it helps ease her anxiety.
Just planted my first bee balm plants excited to see future blossoms and growth. Hope to be able to harvest some next year to dry for tea for my 5 girls and I.
A leaf of bee balm chewed and placed by a toothache stops it from hurting.same goes for yarrow
I find the study of the medicinal uses of monarda is fascinating! Another one of God’s gifts!
every year i gather bergamot here in ok. and useually just ground it up and use it for seasoning my food, it has a great flavor! then i came across this info and i made tincture, and oxymel with the bergamot. well, i have been taking a shot of the oxymel daily and i cut myself 4 days ago pretty deeply (most anyone would have went to the ER for stitches) and i cleaned the cut and covered it every day and it is conpletely healed!!! i daresay it is due to the wonderful oxymel i have been consuming. also, my friend who has diabetes and has nerve damage in his feet had punctured his foot very deeply without even realizing it and i took some oxymel to him and after 3 days he said it looks almost completely healed!! almost unheard of. i am a firm believer in this medicine. thank you so much for sharing!!!!
i am collecting and growing anything edible so when the SHTF we will be self sufficient. I have a lot of health issues and the pain causes me naseau all the time. As i was reading the uses for bee balm it said it was good for this so i ate some leaves raw as i was reading all the comments and guess what. No more naseau. amazing. thank you so much for this info. cant wait to do more. God bless
Are you using the petals and leaves in the oils, tinctures and such or just the petals? This was a most interesting article. Thank you.
I just use the petals, but I imagine the leaves would work as well for tinctures. (But I don’t know for sure about the leaves, all references I’ve read have been about the flowers.)
I use the whole thing. Clip whole, dry whole, use whole, crunch stalk & all for tea in a teaball. 1 tsp. Per cup tea. I absolutely love this stuff! I’m new to foraging & have MS. Trying to help & heal myself. Time to get back to basics.❤🇺🇸🙏🏼
I just planted my first Bee Balm plant and after reading these reviews, and seeing the beautiful red flowers I must get a few more starts to plant.
Happy plantings!! Margo Oberer
It spreads like wildfire!!!! It will choke out the rest of your plants….it is related to the mint plant… If I ever plant them again, it will be in a pot…
Growing in a container is a great suggestion. You could also have a dedicated patch just for the bee balm.
Do you use whole flower head or just the petal for tincture?
You can use the entire plant when making tinctures.
You used a whole packet of yeast for the monarda tea mead?
I have lavender bee balm can this be used the same as the red bee balm. Thank you for your help
I absolutely love it in beef stews and roasts. I cut off a step with 5-6 leaves and just toss it in. So much depth to the dishes. And yes, you can eat it raw.
Can it kill noseeums they keep multiplying and biting
It’s doubtful that it would kill them. There are plants that might help repel them but I am not sure if Bee Balm is one of them.
I bought 3 small plants at a Asian market here in southern CA. It said cucumber lol. Grew into huge bushes in my garden. So delicious. I Identified it with an app. I love the unique taste and just graze on it a little everyday. It is calming.
I’m so glad you’re enjoying your bee balm, Lisa!
I purchased 2 bee balm plants from my local Lowe’s hardware and when they bloomed one bloomed scarlet and the other bloomed lavender, are they both okay to use in herbal recipes.
That’s very interesting. My guess would be that the one with the scarlet blooms is Mondarda didyma. This is what you’ll see most commonly in garden perennial beds. My guess is that the lavender one is Mondarda fistulosa, or wild bergamot. This one is the wild version native to the United States.
Thank you so much! The article is great. Monarda is very helpful with asthma symptoms: tea and inhalations. I collect the wild one, whole plant. The tea is very nice with a spoon of evaporated milk. Antibacterial/fungal properties are so strong that let the tea stay on top for weeks. Sincerely thank you again!
So glad you enjoyed the article.
This is great info! I’m thankful for all of your helpful posts!
One thing I would find more helpful on these posts about foraging- give more detail about which part of the plant to use. Like, for the tea, I would guess it’s the leaf you use, but maybe for the others it appears to be the flower petals. I know that some plants have edible and inedible parts, so I just want to make sure I get it right!
The instructions for the tea indicate to use 1 Tablespoon of dried petals or 2 Tablespoons of fresh petals per cup of water. Other applications may use different parts of the plant as you mentioned. This post is more of an introductory post to give you some basic knowledge about how bee balm is typically used. I would highly recommend that you do some additional research. I always try to get information from at least 3 different sources to make sure that you are getting reliable information and it’s also a good idea to research to see if there are any contraindications that you need to be aware of.
It sounds to me like you are searching for reliable information and not posting from any sense of experience then? Have you made the things you are recommending or are you speaking from the point of view of “research”?
Just because I have experience with something doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do your own research. Any reputable herbalist will recommend that you do your own research and consult multiple sources.
II was so happy when I planted my bee balm plants last year. Today I spent all day trying to get them out of my beds!!!!they spread & choke out everything…..VERY INVASIVE!!!!
They certainly can become invasive. They can be kept under control by simply pulling up the new shoots that spread from the mother plant. Many people divide them up and just plant the new plants elsewhere but you can also dispose of them if you aren’t interested in growing more. For most people who are using the bee balm in the ways described in this article, this is a good problem to have. You could also consider growing it in a container or giving bee balm its very own bed and just grow a large patch. I did this with my mint and I am never in short supply of mint.
This is so cool! What a great way to use this plant! What do you use this vinegar for?
Herbal vinegars are often used for medicinal purposes. You can also incorporate it into salad dressings or marinades. It is supposed to be especially good on wild game.
Thanks for sharing! What does the mouthwash taste like?
It will depend on the exact recipe that is used but bee balm itself is often described as very herby like a mix between basil, oregano, and mint but not as strong.
I’ve tried growing bee balm in the different places that I have lived over about 20 years with zero success so I gave up. Then in my new home I was out foraging and found a 2 acre field completely taken over with it!
Thank you so much for all this info! I’m going to start a few batches of mead tomorrow, and harvest a bunch to share with a friend as well as create some amazing medicines!
You’re very welcome. What a wonderful find.
I was so excited to find this page! I had found these gorgeous flowers growing in my neighbors yard by the back porch, and I asked her if I could put some in my yard. So I have some planted next to my front porch. I just LOVE the scent! I was even more excited to find it was Bergamot!!! Could a person put the petals in a carrier oil like almond, to use on pressure points? I am so excited to learn about all of the uses of all of the different flowers and plants! My other neighbor gave my daughter and I echinacea and black eyed susan plants and I have been saving the petals from the spent heads. I knew they have medicinal properties but wanted to make sure I knew how to use them and which parts were safe. 🙂 I look forward to learning so much more!
You can use both the flowers and leave of Bee Balm in an infused oil.