Back to Your Roots: Monarda and its many uses

SARAH SHEPHERD PHOTO | Beautiful and beneficial Monarda

SARAH SHEPHERD PHOTO | Beautiful and beneficial Monarda

Monarda is a popular perennial plant used in bee and butterfly gardens. Fragrant patches of it emerge throughout my yard and landscape. I pick a leaf off of the square stem of the plant, crush it between my fingers and release the citrus-like aroma. I am reminded of why the plant is also called bergamot, due to its rich aroma reminiscent of bergamot oranges. I put the leaf in my mouth and savor the pungent, spicy tones. 

I begin gathering more leaves and gently place them in my harvesting basket. Fresh or dried the leaves, stems and flowers can be made into a refreshing tea. North American tribes knew how to use the herb to ease the pain of mild abrasions, burns and stings by crushing the plant and rubbing it onto their skin. A plant native to the northeastern portions of the United States, it was an important herbal tea to the upstate New York Oswego Indians, and Oswego Tea is another common name for this plant.

After the Boston Tea Party, when English tea was tossed overboard as a protest against British taxes, Monarda was used as a black tea replacement by the early colonists.

Monarda is easy to grow in ordinary soil. Loving sunny locations and doing well in partial shade, this plant is extremely versatile. The first short, creeping rootlets I was given took over a shady patch in my garden, offering scarlet colored blooms on a three to four foot tall stem.

The bright, tubular flowers that bloom in shades of red, pink and lavender attract hummingbirds, butterflies and bees, also giving this plant the common name Bee Balm, as bees do absolutely love it.

Cultivating plants with a diversity of uses is important in the work that I do. Allowing  room for plants in the garden that support our pollinator friends and ecosystem with food, medicine and beauty complement the habitat I hope to support.

I hope this offers you an bit of inspiration  in your garden.

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