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Common Bee Balm (Monarda didyma) or Oswega Tea, as it is also known, is a member of the Lamiaceae or Mint family. It is a perennial that grows from 2- to 5-feet tall. The leaves are thin, ovate to lance shaped, from 3- to 6-inches in length. The flower heads grow at the end of a short stalk with the floral bracts usually red-tinted. The scarlet to crimson flowers, from 1.2- to 1.8-inches long, are two lipped and non-fragrant. The stamens are longer than the upper corolla lip. It is found in moist shady woods generally along stream banks and thickets in the northeast US. It flowers from July to September.
The plant has become a favorite of gardeners for its beautiful blooms as well as the fragrant foliage. The flowers attract hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees; and the seed heads will attract birds in the fall and winter.
The common name bee balm refers to the use of a resin derived from the plant that may be used for healing and soothing in particularly of bee stings.
The leaves were used by the Oswego native Americans living near the present day city of Oswego in upstate New York to brew tea. Early settlers learned to do the same giving the plant one of its names.
Another name for the plant is bergamont. This is derived from its fragrance that is similar to the fragrance of the bergamont orange, the source of the oil extracted from its fruit to flavor earl grey tea.