Bee Balm is a member of the mint family.
Bee Balm forms bushy, leafy clumps that grow 11/2- to 4-feet tall. The oval, dark green leaves have toothed edges, and have a strong scent of mint with overtones of other herbs, some rose-flavored, some lemony. Like all mints, stems are distinctly four-sided but they Bee Balms are not as invasive in the garden. In summer and fall, tight clusters of long, tubular, and nectar-rich flowers appear atop stems. Depending upon the variety, flowers are pink, white, blue, violet, purple, or scarlet.
Knowledge of bee balm’s virtues stretches back to Native Americans. Early European settlers learned how to treat colds with a tea made of equal amounts of spotted horsemint (M. punctata) and boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum). In fact, from 1820 to 1882, spotted horsemint was listed in the U.S. Pharmacopoeia, the 19th-century equivalent of today’s Physician’s Desk Reference. Catawba Indians used bee balm tea to treat backaches. Cherokees combined the leaves and flowering tops of M. fistulosa (wild bergamot) and M. didyma to treat colds, stomach complaints, colic and gas, measles, flu, and heart troubles. Many tribes made a poultice of the leaves to treat headaches.
Current research reinforces the traditional wisdom. Dr. James Duke, retired United States Department of Agriculture ethnobotanist, notes that bee balms, like several of their mint family relatives, are rich in antioxidants (nutrients that protect human cells from damage caused by highly reactive and destructive “free radicals”) and thymol (a chemical compound used to treat bacteria, fungus, and intestinal worms, and a key ingredient of Listerine mouthwash and similar antiseptic preparations). Duke recommends drinking a cup of bee balm tea each day to ensure a healthful supply of antioxidants.
Make bee balm tea by adding 1/2 cup of fresh (or 1/4 cup of dried) bee balm leaves and flowers to a tea bag or tea ball. Pour in boiling water and allow to steep for 4 to 5 minutes. Flavor to taste with honey.
Note: You can also use leaves and flowers of bee balm to flavor fruit punch. Use the fresh flowers to add color to salads, or use either dried flowers or leaves to flavor turkey, chicken, or pork.