Plants annual. Stems subglabrous, villous on nodes and at apex along angles, glabrescent. Petiole to 2.5 cm, nearly lacking apically, base slightly dilated; leaf blade ovate-lanceolate, to 10 × 4.5 cm, papery, adaxially villous or glabrescent, abaxially sparsely, impressed glandular, villous on veins, base rounded, margin unequally serrate, apex acuminate. Verticillasters in terminal capitula to 6 cm in diam.; bracts short petiolate, leaflike, margin entire, red, shorter than capitula; bracteoles linear-subulate, ca. 10 × 1.5 mm, long caudate, puberulent, red. Pedicel ca. 1 mm, puberulent. Calyx slightly curved, ca. 10 × 2.5 mm, purple-red when dry, veins pubescent, throat sparsely hirsute; teeth equal, subulate-triangular, ca. 1 mm, apex spinescent. Corolla purple-red, ca. 2.5 cm, puberulent; upper lip straight, slightly recurved outward, margin entire; lower lip spreading, with middle lobe narrower, emarginate. Fl. Jul.
Bee Balm has naturalized in only a few counties in Illinois and is relatively uncommon in the wild (see Distribution Map). However, it is often grown in flower gardens. Bee Balm is native to the Northeastern states, but its original range did not extend as far to the west as Illinois. Habitats include moist open woodlands, woodland borders, thickets, meadows in floodplain areas, and waste areas.
The nectar of the flowers attracts hummingbirds, Swallowtail butterflies, and probably bumblebees. The caterpillars of various moths feed on Monarda spp., including Agriopodes teratophora (The Gray Marvel), Sphinx eremitus (Hermit Sphinx), and Pyrausta orphisalis (Pyralid Moth sp.). The aromatic foliage of Bee Balm is disagreeable to mammalian herbivores and it is rarely eaten. Photographic Location
The flowers are tubular and bilaterally symmetric, with a narrow upper lip and a wider lower lip. The wild flowers are single, but some cultivated forms have double flowers. They are hermaphroditic, with male and female structures in each flower. There are two stamens. Inflorescences occur at the top of the stem or emerge from the axils. They are typically crowded head-like clusters of flowers with leafy bracts. Flower color varies, with wild species bearing red, pink, and light purple flowers. M. didyma has bright carmine red flowers, M. fistulosa has pink, and M. citriodora and M. pectinata have pale purple. Hybrids occur in the wild, and they are common in cultivation. Seed collected from hybrids does not yield plants identical to the parent.
The crushed leaves of all species exude a spicy, fragrant essential oil. Of the species examined in one study, M. didyma contained the highest concentration of oil.
Several species, including Monarda fistulosa and M. didyma, have a long history of use as medicinal plants by many Native Americans, such as the Blackfoot, Menominee, Ojibwa and Winnebago. The Blackfoot recognized the strong antiseptic action of the plants, and used them in poultices for skin infections and minor wounds. North American Indians, and later settlers, also used it to alleviate stomach and bronchial ailments. A tisane made from the plant was also used to treat mouth and throat infections caused by dental caries and gingivitis. Bee balm is a natural source of the antiseptic compound thymol, the primary active ingredient in some modern commercial mouthwash formulas. The Winnebago used a bee balm tisane as a general stimulant. Bee balm was also used as a carminative herb by Native Americans to prevent excessive flatulence. An infusion of crushed, boiled Monarda has been used to treat headache and fever.
Although somewhat bitter due to the thymol content in the leaves and buds, the plant tastes like a mix of spearmint and peppermint with oregano. Bee balm was traditionally used by Native Americans as a seasoning for wild game, particularly birds. The plants are widespread across North America and can be found in moist meadows, hillsides, and forest clearings up to 5,000 feet (1,500 m) in elevation.
Monarda plants thrive in sun and moist but well-drained soil. Plants growing in partial shade spread horizontally and produce fewer flowers. Monarda are used in beds and borders to attract hummingbirds, pollinating insects, and insects that control garden pests.
There are over 50 commercial cultivars whose hybrid colors range from dark red mahogany to bluish lilac to multiple shades of pink. These are generally not as robust as wild species. Some hybrids have been developed to produce high levels of essential oil for use as flavoring or medicine.
^ abHarley, R. M., et al. 2004. "Labiatae". pp 167-275 In: Kubitzki, K. (editor) and J. W. Kadereit (volume editor). The Families and Genera of Vascular Plants volume VII. Springer-Verlag: Berlin; Heidelberg, Germany. ISBN 978-3-540-40593-1
^Whitten, W. M. (Mar 1981), "Pollination ecology of Monarda didyma, M. clinopodia, and hybrids (Lamiaceae) in the Southern Appalachian Mountains", American Journal of Botany 68 (3): 435–442, doi:10.2307/2442781, JSTOR2442781