BEE BALM or LEMON MINT (Monarda Citriodora) is an ancient American native. The genus name is after Nicholas Monardes, a Spanish physician who wrote in the 16th Century about New World medicinal plants. The species name of course comes from the citrus smell. Like all mints it has a square-shaped stem. The beautiful purplish seed bracts are stacked upon each other and grow 24-30" high and are aromatic and edible. An important bee forage plant it will attract pollinators when in bloom from July to September. Nice cut flower. Citrus-flavored leaves can be minced and added to fruit and used for jellies or dried and brewed as a tea. In fact, I always have a pot of cold-brewed green tea (naturally decafinated) with lemon mint, chamomile and peppermint in my fridge in hot weather. Truly refreshing! A Self-fertile plant that will reseed in zones 5-9. 50 seeds.
MEDICINAL: Native Americans used this plant in a number of ways. A poultice of the leaves will numb an insect sting and kill some germs on the surface of the skin. Infusions were used as a remedy for colds and fever because its essential oils induce sweating. Herbalists once prescribed as a vermifuge to expel intestinal worms.
GROWING TIPS: Easy to grow. Start seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before last frost. A light dependent germinator, so plant at surface of soil and keep moist but not wet. Seeds germinate in 10-20 days (although I've had them germinate as quickly as 3 days under prime conditions). Be sure to harden off before planting outside in partial shade position and average soil when light frost is still possible. Once established will self-seed.
SAVING SEED: Sooooo easy! Just let flowers develop their seeds. When they turn dark (see photo below) break off the flower heads and put in paper bag to complete drying. Crush with hands and collect the tiny seeds!
DRYING FOR TEA AND OTHER USES: When we gather herbs for fresh use, we pick early in the morning, when still kissed by dew. But when we gather herbs for drying, we are going to wait until the sun has dried the dew, so that we do not get mildew forming when we dry. Gather small bunches of the healthiest plants and tie at the ends with string with a tail. Then hang in a protected environment. For me, it is from the shutters of my interior kitchen window over my sink. No sunlight at this window but plenty of fresh air as an overhead fan circulates during warmer months. This is ideal. Otherwise, special drying racks work well. The idea is to dry quickly, without sunlight, but plenty of air circulation to keep mildew from forming. Turn if necessary to make sure the bunch dries completely. When dry, crumple the leaves from the stems and store in airtight canisters.