|Flower being visited by a hummingbird|
|U.S. distribution of Monarda didyma|
Monarda didyma, the crimson beebalm, scarlet beebalm, scarlet monarda, Eau-de-Cologne plant, Oswego tea, or bergamot, is an aromatic herb in the family Lamiaceae, native to eastern North America from Maine west to Ontario and Minnesota, and south to northern Georgia. Its odor is considered similar to that of the bergamot orange (used to flavor Earl Grey tea). The genus name comes from Nicolas Monardes, who described the first American flora in 1569.
M. didyma is a perennial plant that grows to 0.6-1.2 m in height and spreads 0.4-0.6 m. The 7–18 cm long, ovate to ovate-lanceolate leaves with serrate margins are medium to deep green, placed opposite on square, hollow stems. The leaves are minty fragrant when crushed. It has ragged, bright red tubular flowers 3–4 cm long, borne on showy heads of about 30 together, with reddish bracts. It grows in dense clusters along stream banks, moist thickets, and ditches, blooming for about 8 weeks from early/mid to late summer.
This plants attracts hummingbirds and is a larval host to the hermit sphinx, orange mint moth, and the raspberry pyrausta.
Cultivation and uses
Crimson beebalm is extensively grown as an ornamental plant, both within and outside its native range; it is naturalized further west in the United States and also in parts of Europe and Asia. It grows best in full sun, but tolerates light shade and thrives in any moist, but well-drained soil. Several cultivars have been selected for different flower color, ranging from white through pink to dark red and purple.
Beebalm has a long history of use as a medicinal plant by many Native Americans, including the Blackfoot. The Blackfoot people recognized this plant's strong antiseptic action, and used poultices of the plant for skin infections and minor wounds. An herbal tea made from the plant was also used to treat mouth and throat infections caused by dental caries and gingivitis. Beebalm is a natural source of the antiseptic thymol, the primary active ingredient in modern commercial mouthwash formulas. The Winnebago used an herbal tea made from beebalm as a general stimulant. It was also used as a carminative herb by Native Americans to treat excessive flatulence. The Native Americans of Oswego, New York, made the leaves into a tea, giving the plant one of its common names.
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