Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), as well as other bee balm plant species, offers us so many benefits! The gifts of bee balm include promoting digestion, helping you recover from colds and the flu, fighting fungal and yeast infections… That’s just naming a little of what bee balm can do. (Really, bee balm can be some of our most potent herbal medicine against infections and stagnant conditions.)
One of my favorite ways to enjoy wild bergamot is as a tea, so I’ll be sharing my bee balm tea recipe with you as well! (Be sure to download your free, printable recipe card below.)
Speaking of bee balm tea…
Feeling chilled? Brew a mug of bee balm tea, settle in with your favorite comfy throw, and prepare to be amazed as you sip.
Need to treat a minor burn? Try a wash of cooled bee balm tea.
Gut feeling heavy and uncomfortable after a meal? Say it with me… bee balm tea.
These are just a few of the potential applications for spicy-hot bee balm tea… This episode goes into many more.
Besides benefiting us medicinally, bee balm makes a delicious addition to many savory dishes. And to say the bee balm plant is beloved by pollinators might just be the understatement of the year.
As you make bee balm’s acquaintance, I’m sure you’re going to fall in love with this beautiful plant, too!
After listening in to this episode, you’ll know:
► Why bee balm is such a powerful, one-stop pharmacy for the cold and flu season
► Who should NOT take bee balm in medicinal doses
► Why bee balm is an herb to consider growing yourself
► Why taste informs how to work with bee balm
► When to combine taking bee balm internally with external application
► My favorite combination of herbs for soothing an inflamed urinary tract
► and much more…
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Wild Bergamot is a plant by many names. Some call it bee balm while others refer to it by its botanical name, Monarda fistulosa. However you name this spicy plant, it’s a beautiful treasure in our fields and gardens! In this episode I am sharing bee balm plant benefits, including its gifts for digestion, colds and the flu, and other infections. One of my favorite ways to enjoy wild bergamot is as a tea - so I’ll be sharing my bee balm tea recipe with you as well!
Depending on the species, bee balm’s flowers explode in a colorful display ranging from soft lavender and white to dark pink and brilliant red.
The species, Monarda fistula, is specifically a soft lavender color.
Although bee balm is easily grown in the garden, this spicy mint is endemic to North America and can be found growing wild throughout the US and Canada. It has been used as medicine extensively by many different Native American tribes, including the Cheyenne, Cherokee, Choctaw, Navajo, Lakota, and Ojibwa.1
Bee balm has many gifts to offer. It can find its way into your culinary spice cabinet, yet can also be some of our most potent medicine against infections and stagnant conditions.
Do you have experience with wild bergamot and bee balm plant benefits? I’d love to hear about it in the comments on YouTube or at the bottom of this page. Your comments mean a lot to me! I love cultivating a community of kind-hearted plant-loving folks! Plus, it’s always interesting and insightful to hear the experiences of plant lovers out there. Your suggestion may also help others!
Okay, let’s dive in..
Bee balm is spicy, warming, stimulating, and diffusive. While its taste is similar to thyme and oregano, it has its own special flavor. The flavor can also vary widely between species or even within the same species growing in different locations.
One of the most common questions I get about bee balm is, “Can I use all the species similarly?” My answer is, “Yes and no.” While the species are worked with in similar ways, their wide differences in flavor show us that specific use and dosage will vary between plants. This is the perfect example of why it’s so important to taste herbs all the time. It’s only by consistently tasting and getting to intimately know them through their taste profiles that we can really begin to understand the nuances between the species and between individual plants.
There’s another reason to taste bee balm. Bee balm is a wonderful plant to taste to experience the quality of diffusiveness.
Diffusive herbs break up stagnant energy and move it throughout the body. Examples of stagnant energy in the body include stuck mucus in the lungs or sinuses, sluggish digestion with bloating and belching, and a feeling of coldness in the hands and feet.
Drinking a strong tea of bee balm shows you exactly how the diffusive action feels. You can feel warmth spread from your core to your periphery, and you can feel stagnant energies (such as mucus or digestion) begin to release and move if applicable. I’ll share my bee balm tea recipe in just a bit.
If you’re new to the concepts of herbal energetics and understanding if a plant or a condition is hot or cold or damp or dry then I highly recommend my first book, Alchemy of Herbs.
This has been a popular book with well over 100,000 copies sold and many thousands of five star reviews! It shows you exactly how to choose herbs that are best for you, based on how an herb tastes and herbal energetics. You can find Alchemy of Herbs at your favorite bookstore or library.
Wild Bergamot or Bee balm is a powerful plant for many different types of infections. The general term we use for this is “antimicrobial”. Here’s some examples of bee balm’s antimicrobial gifts…
A tea made from bee balm, or a tincture of bee balm diluted in water, not only freshens the breath but can also address infections in the mouth and gums. In regards to chemical constituents, bee balm is closely related to thyme and oregano, all of which contain high concentrations of thymol, which is a strong antimicrobial.2 Thymol is a major ingredient in many commercial mouthwashes, but with bee balm we have a source that can grow right in our backyard.
Thymol has been shown to inhibit oral cancers in vitro.3 It would be interesting to see human clinical trials using the whole plant medicine of bee balm.
Bee balm is strongly antifungal, lending itself to combatting topical infections as well as imbalanced gut flora.
Bee balm hydrosol was shown to be effective against filament formation and growth of Candida albicans.4 For topical fungal infections, try a wash made from Monarda tea, in addition to taking it internally as a tincture or tea.
Seborrhea is a chronic skin condition that commonly effects the sebaceous glands. It can manifest as dandruff or cradle cap and may partly be due to a yeast overgrowth.
One study showed that Monarda essential oil is a prospective medicine for these conditions.5 But be careful with this essential oil! It’s very potent and needs to be carefully diluted and I don’t recommend using Monarda essential oil on small children.
Bee balm’s strong antimicrobial actions make it a fabulous remedy for urinary tract infections or UTIs. I like to combine wild bergamot with a mallow like marshmallow root to soothe the inflamed urinary tract.
A preliminary in vitro study showed that when cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon) was used in conjunction with thymol, there was an increased ability to disrupt the Escherichia coli (E.coli) biofilms that are often associated with UTIs.6 I find a blend of bee balm, cranberry, and marshmallow to be a lovely and healing tea for the urinary tract.
One in vitro study of one species of bee balm, Monarda punctata, showed that the essential oil exhibited a broad spectrum and variable degree of antibacterial activity against three different strains of bacteria that often infect the upper respiratory tract.
The researchers also stated, “The essential oil even caused serious morphological damage to the drug-resistant Staphylococcus aureus which is very encouraging.”7
Ever feel like your digestion is stuck? As if food simply sits in your stomach weighing you down? As a spicy carminative herb, bee balm can promote healthy digestion and relieve discomforts such as indigestion, bloating, cramping, and excessive gas. It is especially helpful when there are accompanying signs of coldness, for example a white coating on tongue, abdomen feels cold, general feelings of coldness.
Historically bee balm was used against cholera and is still used today to address diarrhea.
In 1919 Finley Ellingwood, an Eclectic herbalist wrote:
“[Bee balm] soothes gastric and
intestinal pain in the absence of inflammation, especially in Cholera
Morbus and overcomes nausea and vomiting. It controls diarrhea from
debility with relaxation of the mucous structures of the intestinal
Remember that bee balm is a diffusive herb? It brings heat from the core of the body to the periphery and can move many of the stagnant conditions associated with an upper respiratory infection.
This warming diffusive quality makes bee balm a powerful, one-stop pharmacy for the cold and flu season. Reach for it especially when there are any signs of coldness, which can be as simple as feeling chilled at the onset of a fever.
The hot tea can ease the discomfort of a fever with chills. Herbalist Matthew Wood recommends it when there is a fever with clammy and cold skin.8 The tea or inhaled steam can loosen congested mucus in the nose and lungs. Infused Monarda honey can soothe a sore throat.
One of the ways bee balm helps to break up stagnancy through its diffusive actions is by promoting delayed menses and helping to reduce the spasms of menstrual cramping. This is called an emmenagogue action.
Bee balm is considered safe for most people, but because of its ability to promote suppressed menstruation, it should not be taken in medicinal doses when pregnant.9
Bee balm is a wonderful remedy for burns. It can be infused in honey or vinegar, and used as a tea wash or even as a spit poultice. Once the heat has left the burn, it can be applied as an infused oil or salve.
Bee balm has many common names, but they are all referring to some type of Monarda species. There are about 16 different species of Monarda and as far as I know, all can be used interchangeably, with the taste of the plant giving us insight into its potency. Monarda fistulosa, M. punctata, M. menthifolia, and M. didyma are the ones most commonly used as medicine.
Bee balm grows readily in the garden as well as in the wilderness. All species of Monarda are endemic to North America.
You can differentiate the species through flower color and growth patterns.
Bee balm is a perennial plant that can grow up to six feet tall but can grow anywhere from one to six feet at maturity.
Being a member of the mint family, bee balm has many mint family characteristics. It has square stems and opposite lanceolate leaves.
Its flowers are tubular and have the typical “lipped” appearance. The color of the flowers can vary between species.
Monarda fistulosa has light purple colored flowers.
Monarda didyma has red flowers.
Monarda punctata, or spotted bee balm, is a beautiful flower with some light pink and yellow colorings. The individual flowers are spotted
Bee balm is hard to find to buy, but it is a beautiful and easy plant to enjoy in the garden. Its beautiful lavender, red, white, or pink blooms are easy to love. Plus, it attracts many pollinators, including hummingbirds. I can easily grow a year’s worth of bee balm – plus leave flowers behind for pollinators – from one stand of plants. Bee balm can be susceptible to powdery mildew, so avoiding overhead watering is important. Look for which species may grow near you and consider cultivating them.
A study in the Great Lakes region showed that Monarda fistulosa was one of the top three plants for being most attractive to bee communities.10
All species of bee balm can be used in a similar manner; however, once you taste various species, you can easily see how much difference there is between them. Some bee balm plants are super-hot and spicy. Others tend to be milder. The particular qualities of the bee balm you have will help to determine dosage as well as use. I personally prefer the spicy hot nature of Monarda fistulosa. Others prefer the milder aspects of M. didyma.
The taste can even vary between individual plants within the same species. The flowers are often milder than the leaves. Bee balm gives us lots of tasting opportunities to really understand that nature is never standardized. And why it’s so important for us to taste and assess the plants we work with regularly.
I know that you’ll succeed the most when you work with the herbs themselves! That’s why I love to make things practical and I share recipes with every episode.
This Bee Balm tea is a great way to simply taste and experience this potent plant, so that you can better understand it’s many gifts.
To make this tea, you’ll need 1 tablespoon of finely crumbled dried bee balm leaves and flowers and 12 ounces of water.
To make this, boil the water and then pour over the dried bee balm. Stir well, and then cover for five minutes.
After five minutes, strain off the leaves, and enjoy while warm. You can also add a sweetener of your choice; but before you do, I recommend that you take a few sips of the pure tea, just to get to know it better.
Spend a few moments to reflect on the taste as well as how it makes you feel. Can you feel the diffusive properties?
A tea is just one way to enjoy bee balm plant benefits.
Bee balm makes a great alcohol extract (tincture) and can also be extracted into honey (fabulous for sore throats), vinegar (great salad dressing or added to honey for an oxymel), and oil (wonderful for making salves).
It also makes a great culinary spice. Consider adding it to dishes where you would normally add oregano or thyme. Eggs, pizza, marinara sauce, and even vegetables and steak all combine well with this spicy plant.
If you’re interested in learning how to make potent herbal medicines in your kitchen - with my direct support and guidance - then check out our course, Rooted Medicine Circle. This ten-month course shows you how to make strong herbal remedies from plants that you grow, gather, or buy. This live course enrolls each year in January but you can sign up on the waitlist now.
Don’t miss out on your free printable recipe card for this bee balm tea recipe above this transcript!
If you enjoyed this video on wild bergamot and bee balm plant benefits and you value trusted herbal information, then I hope you’ll stick around! The best way to get started is to subscribe on YouTube and your favorite podcast app.
One of the best ways to retain and fully understand something you’ve just learned is to share it in your own words. With that in mind I invite you to share your takeaways with me and the entire Herbs with Rosalee community. You can leave comments on my YouTube channel, at the bottom of this page, or simply hit reply to my Wednesday email. I read every comment that comes in and I’m excited to hear your herbal thoughts about this spicy plant!
Okay, you’ve lasted to the very end of the show which means you get a gold star and this herbal tidbit…
Wild bergamot is endemic to North America and is has many reciprocal and interdependent relationships with the landscape where it naturally grows.
Interesting, many mammals avoid the plant, probably because of its hot and spicy flavor.
But this doesn’t stop many pollinators from visiting the flowers! Here’s an impressive list of some of bee balms frequent visitors…
The tubular flowers attract long-tongued bees, butterflies, skippers, and hummingbird moths. The site, Illinois Wildflowers, say that wasps will grab bee balm nectar by biting into the nectar tube.
Hummingbirds like the ruby-throated hummingbird also love to visit the flowers. I love sitting quietly nearby the bee balm in my garden to watch the bees, butterflies and hummingbirds delight in its gifts. At times the bee balm flowers can be hosting so many pollinators, the entire plant seems to vibrate.
Rosalee is an herbalist and author of the bestselling book Alchemy of Herbs: Transform Everyday Ingredients Into Foods & Remedies That Healand co-author of the bestselling book Wild Remedies: How to Forage Healing Foods and Craft Your Own Herbal Medicine. She's a registered herbalist with the American Herbalist Guild and has taught thousands of students through her online courses. Read about how Rosalee went from having a terminal illness to being a bestselling author in her full story here.