Bee balm is a relative of mint and grows easily in most locations. A native North American flowering plant found in meadows and open woodlands across large swathes of the continent, this herb is easy to grow and amazingly beneficial for attracting pollinators to your garden and yard. Serrated leaves are borne in opposite pairs, and flowers are tubular in shape, growing in clusters at the tops of stems. The mint-flavored leaves offer several medicinal and culinary uses and can be used to make an essential oil.
The Wild Bergamot variety, M. fistulosa, has large and attractive white to light pink flowers which bloom in the summer. A perennial plant, it will send out underground roots known as rhizomes, forming a large clump that can reach heights of up to 3 feet. The stems of the plant are covered in fine hairs.
Seed Depth: Press into soil.
Space Between Plants: 18–24″
Space Between Rows: 18–24″
Germination Soil Temperature: 55°F
Days for Germination: 7–21
Sow Indoors: 4 weeks before average last frost date.
Sow Outdoors: After average last frost date when soil is at least 55°F.
Vegetative: Easily propagated by taking stem or root cuttings or by dividing mature plants. Division is best done in early spring by digging up plants as soon as the new shoots emerge and replanting divided sections.
This plant is adaptable and will do well in most areas. Its native range is broad, spanning from Mexico to southern Canada and from Maine to Minnesota. It prefers a dry, open, sunny area and will do well in disturbed habitats like roadsides.
Natural: Full sun to partial shade. You’ll get the maximum flowering from plants grown in the sun.
Artificial: Grows well under a variety of artificial lighting, including fluorescent, HID, and LED lamps.
Soil: Prefers a well-drained to dry soil, and anything from sand to heavy clay can be fine for this easygoing herb. An alkaline soil pH will keep plants healthy and nourished.
Soilless: Root cuttings or start seeds in a soilless mix, perlite, vermiculite, sand, coco coir, or a mixture. The best medium will be fast-draining.
Water: Requires low levels of water and is fairly drought tolerant. It will do best with consistent moisture: poor drainage or long periods of dry soil will both cause damage.
Nutrients: Requires low levels of nutrients. An annual topdressing of compost will provide everything this non-finicky plant needs.
Pruning: Deadhead to prolong flowering and prevent this mint family plant from taking over. In late fall, prune the whole plant back to within a few inches of ground level to prepare it for winter dormancy. When new growth sprouts in spring, pick the tips of growing shoots once they’re above the first few sets of leaves to get a bushier plant. Divide plants every 4–5 years, removing and composting the older, central growth.
Mulching: Use mulch in the spring to suppress weeds and conserve soil moisture.
Pest(s): Rarely bothered by pests.
Disease(s): Rarely susceptible to disease. This species has resistance to powdery mildew, but you should still provide it with adequate space and good air flow.
Deficiency(s): A calcium deficiency could lead to slow growth and reduced health. Amend soils with a source of calcium every 2–3 years.
Rotation: As a perennial, it will re-sprout in the same area each year. It’s a good idea to dig up and divide plants every 5 years, at which time you can move them to a new area of the garden.
Companions: Grows well with swamp milkweed, black-eyed Susan, yarrow, and geraniums. Growing near vegetables, it attracts important pollinators. Unlike many plants, it’s tolerant of the toxic compound emitted by the black walnut tree and can be planted nearby.
Harvest: Pick flowers in the summer at the height of blooming. Stems can be cut above a node at any time, just don’t take more than 1/3 of the plant’s leaves except when pruning the whole plant back at late fall.
Storage: Use fresh leaves and flowers right away if possible, or you can store the leaves for 3–5 days in the refrigerator by keeping cut stems upright in a glass of water and covered with plastic. Dried leaves and flowers should be kept in an airtight container in a cool, dark place to retain the most flavor.
Pollinators: The nectar from the flowers is a food source for bees, butterflies, and humming birds. You can expect their visits to increase in frequency during the summertime blooming season. It is even used as a nectar source in honey production.
Preserve: Make a tincture of leaves and flowers by soaking them in a jar of vodka for about a week, stirring regularly. Strain out the plant matter and use the remaining liquid. Leaves and flowers can also be dried in a well-ventilated area for use as an herbal tea. Drying will cause the loss of some flavor.
Prepare: Both leaves and flowers are edible. Leaves are used raw or cooked, as a flavoring for salads and dishes, or as a tea. Flowers are mostly used as a garnish in salads but can also be made into teas or used in desserts.
Nutritional: Provides vitamin C and dietary fiber.
Medicinal: Eating leaves is said to be good for digestion and may relieve nausea and bloating and improve appetite. This herb is also reputed to be calming when inhaled as an aromatherapy agent or consumed as a tea, which is also used to treat colds. Topical treatments of infused ointments, tinctures, or compresses are mildly antiseptic and antibacterial and can be used to relieve pain and speed healing of minor wounds, stings, cold sores, acne, eczema, and other skin ailments. It it also considered an insect repellent.
Warnings: Consult with a medical professional before consuming bee balm if you’ve got thyroid issues or are pregnant or nursing. Additionally, it can cause sensitivity to the sun when applied directly to the skin.
Make a soothing, tasty Bee Balm Tea with fresh or dried flowers or leaves. Simple!