Blooming Brilliant

This native perennial is good for just about everything and everyone.

On any wildflower walk, I love to keep an eye out for the poofy, Dr. Seussian blooms of native bee balm, or Monarda fistulosa L. So many reasons to love it. For one, it’s goofy showiness and long-lasting blooms on tall (three foot!) stems make a statement in dry grassy meadows. When it comes to usefulness, what a show-off: Bee balm, a member of the mint family, is both edible (the flowers make lovely salad garnish) and medicinal, with leaves, stems and blooms used to lower fevers, calm gastric disorders, soothe sore throats, heal skin infections and many more applications. In fact, the red variety common back East is known as Oswego Tea—it was dried, steeped and used as a tea substitute after the protesting colonists pitched their supply in Boston Harbor.

But perhaps the most charming aspect of this native perennial is the hazy purple wildlife oasis it creates. Observe one long enough and you’re guaranteed to spot bumblebees, moths, butterflies and hummingbirds frantically working the blooms for nectar.

Bee balm is easy enough to find in the wild, but also will take to a mountain home garden like crazy—the best way to start a patch is by buying healthy adult plants and planting in early summer; they tend to spread more easily than planting by seed, but if it’s seeds you’ve got, hold on until fall to scatter, and reap your reward next summer.

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