Sunday, May 2, 2010

And the Winner Is . . .

Last weekend while K, her new daughter, and I attended a wild foods/medicinal plants seminar, Monarda fistulosa was serendipitously announced as the winner of this year's One Seed Chicago votes.

Wikipedia says Several bee balm species (Monarda fistulosa and Monarda didyma) have a long history of use as medicinal plants by many Native Americans. . . who recognized the strong antiseptic action of these plants, and used poultices of the plant for skin infections and minor wounds. A tea made from the plant was used to treat mouth and throat infections, and is the source of the antiseptic Thymol, the primary active ingredient in modern commercial mouthwash formulas. The Winnebago tribe used a tea made from bee Balm as a general stimulant. Bee balm was also used as a carminative herb by Native Americans to treat excessive flatulence. An infusion of crushed Monarda leaves in boiling water has been known to treat headaches and fevers.

Although somewhat bitter, due to the thymol content in the plants leaves and buds, the plant tastes like a mix of spearmint and peppermint with oregano, to which it is closely related. 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 in elevation.

While I voted for nodding onion, One Seed Chicago provides compelling reasons to be happy bee balm is the winner: "The past few years have seen an interest in the health of insect pollinators as a sign of a breakdown in our agricultural systems of production," says Michael Thompson, Farm Manager of the Chicago Honey Co-op. "Providing habitats with nectar forage for pollinators is a positive way to help with the decline in pollinating bees and other invertebrates."

"Native plants attract native birds and insects and help to increase biodiversity in your garden," says Jennifer Davit, Director and Horticulturalist at the Lurie Garden at Millennium Park. "Our native plant friends are more adapted to their local surroundings and can handle the Chicago area's fluctuations in climate and weather."

It's not too late for Chicago-area teachers and residents to request a free packet of bee balm seeds. Please consider participating with us in this community effort and help our native bees by planting this pretty, beneficial plant in your own home and school gardens. For more information and to request seeds, please visit One Seed Chicago.


  1. As a non-Chicagoan, I really should just keep my big mouth shut, but, bananas! I had my heart set on nodding wild onion. I can see that for a public awareness project, bee balm is showier for longer in the season, so I guess it makes sense. I was weeding yesterday and I have bee balm coming up everywhere (including the ying yang, lol)--much of it is didyma (that's the stuff that spreads) but I also have fistulosa, which is nice and clumpy. I'm going to be getting some nodding wild onion and zizia--if there are enough extra, do you want me to save you some?

  2. Hi Monica, I was hoping for nodding onion too, but oh well, now I'll be adding both to the garden. I lost the tag for the one native bee balm I added last spring, and am not sure if it's didyma or fistulosa (hope if fistulosa - I try not to put crazy spreading stuff here,) but whichever, I'll plant the seeds too.

    I'd love some wild onion and zizia if you have enough extra. I'll be potting up some celandine poppy seedlings for you as soon as the ground dries out enough to walk on after our rains. I'll either mail them (after they root out in the pot(s) so they'll travel safely,) or give them to you next time we get together. I've got some seeds ripening in the garden I can send too.

  3. p.s. yay - found the tag (next to the plant,) and it's fistulosa.

  4. Most interesting, Linda. I have a huge crop of Monarda didyma that I'm honing in and sharing. Love this plant and not as hard as many to control. I also have too many celandine poppy that I share ... hello Monica :)

  5. I voted for bee balm, and even though I have a few already in my garden I am looking forward to seeding more!

  6. Linda, I don't think I voted for any of the listed plants. I have grown many Monardas and it is not a favorite plant.

    I think I would have to vote for the coneflower if it was listed. There are so many that I like.


  7. Hi Joey, I love monardas - the blooms are cool, and the foliage smells so good. I really enjoy plants with fragrant foliage.

    Those celandine poppies sure do seed plentifully. They're such pretty plants - another one whose foliage I really like.

    I'm looking forward to seeing more too Rose. I think it's awesome that this year's plant is a native, especially one so beneficial to pollinators. We see hummingbirds on our bee balm too. Anything that brings more hummingbirds to the garden is welcome here.

    Eileen, it seems like a plant people either strongly like or strongly dislike. Overall I like them, but I'm not fond of the powdery mildew they can be prone to, or how aggressively I've seen them spread in some spots. So far here, the maple roots keep them very sedate. I have a couple of Jacob Clines here I've never even had to divide. So far bee balm has been very slow-growing in our garden. Based on what I've seen in some other gardens, that's not a bad thing!

    I love coneflowers. I'm glad they're happy here in part sun, since that's all I've got.


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