The plant known by the name of red bee balm is a perennial herb. It is a member of the mint family, the oregano family. In addition to being of Mediterranean origin, it is also cultivated by indigenous peoples of Mexico, Cuba, Argentina and California. It was probably brought to the New World via French explorers.
Plant Physiology of Red Bee Balm: Monardaedia species plants are herbaceous perennial perennials. They are regarded as scavengers by many birds, particularly nuthatches, towhees, starlings and doves. They are in the mint genus; their leaves possess a pleasant fresh minty scent. The flowers are flesh colored, quite fragrant and in clusters on tall stalks. As perennials, the flowers are reproduced every year; new shoots spring up from the roots in late spring. The long pointed tubular flowers rise up for a time in late spring and fade in late summer.
Uses and Benefits: The edible herb has numerous medicinal uses, the most common of which is in the preparation of teas. Tea made from the flowers and leaves, and even the fruit can be consumed as tea. Some people favor eating the flowers and leaves raw, while others enjoy the flavor of the herb. It is said that Queen Victoria of England loved the flavor of red bee balm, although some sources say she never ate the flower buds or leaves. In any case, the flavor is rather pleasant.
It is interesting to note that bee balm is sometimes incorrectly called red bee balm. The actual species is brunostris bergamot, and bergamot is the generic name for the herb. Other varieties are known as charcot-marie-basil, charcot-marie-paeoniflorum, and charcot-marie-rubor. All these herbs have different names, and the most common in culinary teas is usually some variation of one of those names. Bergamot is part of a family of herbs called the comfrey family, and it is related to comfrey and lavender. Lavender and comfrey are also members of the mint family, which contains many healthful qualities, so it may be reasonable to refer to bee balm as simply mint.
The edible portion of the plant comes from the flower heads, which are short, feathery plants about one inch tall. To cook, these plants must be thoroughly washed before use. As with many members of the culinary herbs family, red bee balm plants are used fresh, however to preserve them longer it is necessary to dry them carefully. To do this, they should be placed in an airtight container with an additional layer of newspaper or cardboard. They should then be placed in an airing cabinet for two or three days, then placed in a cold location for up to six weeks.
Because it is so delicate, the seeds should be kept separate from the flowering leaves. They should also be stored away from competing herbs because the tiny flowers can easily get dislodged. Once they are fully developed, it is possible to dry them for storage, but to encourage blooming, the best way to use them is freshly harvested. The dried flowers should be plucked from the garden each spring, plucked directly from the plant, and allowed to bloom. If there are any remaining flowers, they should be removed before the plant blooms.
The blooming period is from late summer through early fall. In a very shallow root system, the leaves do not exceed 1.5 inches in diameter. Because this type of plant blooms later in the season than most other flowering plants, it is rarely sown in spring. It is most common to be sown in the fall when the weather is warm and the ground is moist. However, it can be sown in early spring or late summer if the weather is cold.
Like other members of the rose family, the Red Bee Herb can be used to add flavor to foods. Because it is a low-growing perennial, it is an ideal grass for starting a garden in the fall. It will grow to be about three to four inches tall, with purple flowers that bloom during late summer through late winter. The herb grows best in acidic soil with lots of sunlight.