Anna Fialkoff continues her medicinal plant series with an article on Monarda spp.
by Anna Fialkoff
There are two New England native Monarda - Monarda fistulosa (wild bee-balm) and Monarda punctata (spotted bee-balm). M. fistulosa is native in all six New England states in fields, roadsides, forests, clearings, and forest fragments. M. punctata is native in CT, MA, and VT in fields, roadsides, and clearings. Other Monarda spp. exist in the wild in New England but are considered exotic. Monarda was named in honor of Nicholas Monardes, a Spanish physician and author of the 1569 book on the herbs of the New World.
In the Civil War, bee-balm was used as a powerful medicine to expel intestinal worms. Oswego Indians taught colonial immigrants to use the minty smelling leaves of Monarda as "Oswego tea." Later it became one of the “liberty teas” used during the Revolution as a substitute for the imported British product and to protest the tax after the Boston Tea party. Native Americans also used it as an appetite stimulant and for general digestion. Bee-balm has also been considered helpful for flatulence, insomnia, fever, heart disease, increasing urine flow, and staunching blood.
The corolla of Monarda fistulosa is light purple (rarely purple to red-purple or white), softly puberulent on the abaxial (i.e., outer) surface as well as densely villous near the apex of the upper lip with hairs that have pale septa; calyx densely hirsute within with erect hairs ⅓ to ½ as long as the calyx lobes (short-villous within in var. rubra); leaf blades lanceolate or triangularlanceolate to narrow-ovate, 15–38 mm wide.
M. fistulosa performs well in sun to part shade, from dry to moist soil, and has medium drought tolerance and good heat tolerance. It attracts birds, butterflies, and hummingbirds throughout the season and is considered a good nectar source. Propagation is through either root division or seeds. Bee-balms have been found to be highly deer resistent.
Find it in the Meadow, Herb Garden, and Wildlife Garden.
Please note: This article is for historical information use only. New England Wild Flower Society does not advocate the use of any native plants for medicinal purposes.
New England Wild Flower Society is part of the community of non-profits in Framingham, MA, which is collaborating on a town-wide celebration of the role the citizens of Framingham played in the Civil War for the 150th anniversary of that conflict. New England Wild Flower Society will offer several special tours of Garden in the Woods in April and August with particular emphasis on herbal plants used for medicinal purposes during the Civil War. In the fall of 2010, Anna Fialkoff, horticultural apprentice, constructed an herb garden including an herb spiral in the Idea Garden. Her notes are the basis of this series of articles.