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.
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.
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.