wild bee balm blooming
in the meadow, nectar for
Monarda, also called wild bergamot, bee balm, horsemint or Oswego tea, is blooming in pinkish-lavender clumps all over the meadows and sunny swaths along the roads. The tiny tubular blossoms clustered at the tip of the stem look like a tasseled head out of a Dr. Seuss story. The flowers attract pollinators able to extract nectar and pollen from the long tubes, such as hummingbirds, butterflies and bees. My apiarist neighbor is happy that her honeybees are foraging on these pesticide-free flowers. The crushed leaves exude a spicy, fragrant oil that tastes like a slightly bitter blend of spearmint, peppermint and oregano. When my Potawatomi friend came for a visit, she was delighted to find bee balm growing in my wildflower garden. She said the plant has long been used by Native Americans as a seasoning for wild game, as well as for medicinal purposes, such as an antiseptic poultice for skin infections and minor wounds, an infusion for headaches and fevers, and a tea for mouth and throat infections. Not just a folk herb, the antimicrobial ingredient of bee balm, thymol, is used commercially as the primary active ingredient in modern mouthwash formulas.