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Citrus or Tart Herbs - Bee Balm - Monarda didyma

DK PublishingDK Publishing 2/07/2014 DKBooks
© Provided by DKBooks

© Provided by DKBooks

Bee Balm - Monarda didyma

Native to North America, the genus Monarda is named for the 16th-century Spanish physician, Nicolas Monardes, whose Joyfull Newes Out of the Newe Founde Worlde was the first American herbal. It is commonly called bee balm because the flowers attract bees. Another name, bergamot, probably derives from the similarity of the plant’s aroma to that of the bergamot orange.

Culinary uses

Use only fresh, young leaves and flowers for cooking. Add shredded leaves and petals to green and fruit salads. Bee balm goes well with duck, chicken, and pork; it can be chopped into yogurt or cream for a sauce, or added to a salsa. Flowers are good in sandwiches with cream cheese and cucumber.

Bee balm is also known as Oswego tea – named for the Oswego river and valley in the northeastern US, where Native American tribes made a tea from it, a practice that was adopted by early European settlers. Try adding a few fresh or dried flowers or leaves to a pot of tea, to homemade lemonade, or to summer punches for a lightly scented taste.

Good with apples, chicken, citrus fruits, duck, kiwi fruit, melon, papaya, pork, strawberries, tomatoes.

Combines well with chives, cresses, dill, fennel, garlic, lemon balm, mint, parsley, rosemary, thyme.

Other monardas

Wild bee balm, M. fistulosa, also known as horsemint, is less handsome and has a stronger and coarser fragrance than cultivated varieties. Use sparingly.

Another variety, M. f. var. menthifolia, resembles oregano in aroma and flavor and is sometimes used as a substitute for oregano in the southwestern US.

Tasting notes

The whole plant has a distinctive citrus aroma. The flavor is citrus with an added warm, spicy note. Flowers are more delicately flavored than the leaves.

Parts used

Fresh and dried leaves; flowers. Dried leaves are used for teas.

Buying and storing

Plants are available from herb nurseries and garden centers. Flowers and leaves wilt quickly and are best used soon after picking. They can be chopped and frozen. Spread leaves and flowers on trays to dry, or hang bunches of stems in a dark, well-ventilated place. Store when dry in an airtight container. Dried bee balm can be bought as an herbal tea.

Grow your own

A perennial of the mint family, bee balm thrives in most situations, but does best in a fertile, moisture-retaining soil, in sun or partial shade. Every 3 years, dig up the plant, discard the center, and replant the young outer parts. Pick flowers when fully open, and leaves throughout the summer.

Fresh leaves

All the cultivated varieties of bee balm, with their showy whorls of different colored flowers and slightly different scents, can be used in the same way.

Bee-balm salsa

A salsa of chopped bee balm leaves, parsley, and orange is delicious with pork kebabs or barbecued fish.

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