What is Bee Balm?

Mary McMahon

Bee balm is an umbrella term for perennial flowering herbs in the genus Monarda. In addition to attracting bees, bee balm is also very popular with butterflies and birds, making it an excellent choice for a garden which is designed to encourage animal visitors. Bee balm is in the mint family, and shares some characteristics with other plants in the Laminaceae group, but it does not smell minty. Instead, bee balm has a rich lemony aroma which can be quite pleasing, especially when the heat of the day brings it out.

Bee balm plants are susceptible to mildew and rot.
Bee balm plants are susceptible to mildew and rot.

North America is the native territory of bee balm, but it has been carried to other parts of the world as well. Monarda didyma is one of the most frequently cultivated species, since it has high concentrations of the aromatic oil which makes bee balm smell so distinctive. All of the species in the family have elongated leaves and clusters of tubular flowers, in colors such as red, purple, and white. The flowers grow on long upright stalks which protrude slightly above the leaves.

Bee balm is often used to make tea.
Bee balm is often used to make tea.

A bed of bee balm can be an excellent garden accent, and the plant can also be used as an herbaceous border. Bee balm does have a tendency to take over, so it should be planted and trimmed with care to keep it from getting too aggressive. It is also subject to molds and rots, and should be planted with plenty of surrounding space for ventilation, as well as mulched to reduce mold. The plant thrives when left largely alone, as long as it is in well drained soil and it is watered infrequently. This last trait makes bee balm a popular choice for low water gardening.

The plant is hardy in most USDA zones, although it may die back in extreme cold and frost. Bee balm should be cultivated from cuttings or divisions of the root ball, since the seeds do not always breed true. Most gardeners encourage divisions every two to three years to keep the plant healthy and to ensure that there is plenty of space in the flower bed.

In addition to smelling good, bee balm also tastes good. It can be used as an herbal accent on salads, or as a flavoring for olive oil. Bee balm has also historically been used to make tea, and is known in some parts of the United States as oswego tea for that reason. Horsemint is another alternative name for bee balm, although it should not be confused with another type of mint native to Europe.

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Discussion Comments


Bee balm is one of those herbs that just smell so good too! I planted a lemon monarda bee balm because I love the smell of anything lemon! I love going out to the garden and cutting off some sprigs of the bee balm. I will put this in my tea or lemonade and it adds such a fresh taste!

Bee balm grows quickly, is easy to maintain, attracts butterflies and smells and tastes good too!


@julies - I also raise honeybees, and know that bee balm is part of the mint family. When I was researching which flowers to plant to attract honeybees, I read that they love anything in the mint family. My bee balm plants are also covered with a lot of honeybees and butterflies.

Spearmint and thyme herbs are also part of the mint family and will attract honeybees if you are looking for some other useful flowers for your bees.


I don't have any experience with bee balm and horses. I have some honeybee hives and planted some in my garden because I read that the bees love this plant. That must be where it gets its name!

I planted bee balm perennials from seed, so it comes back every year. It flowered the first year I planted it and I just can' believe how any insects visit this plant.

Mine is a dark purple color and as long as it blooms, I have a huge variety of honeybees, bumblebees, butterflies and hummingbirds! I don't think I have ever seen such a wide variety on one plant before.


I have horses. Does anyone know what this plant does to livestock.

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