Scarlet and spice

Beebalm, bergamot, and scarlet monarda are all names for a garden plant that yields showy scarlet blossoms as well as highly scented leaves. Grown in a perennial patch, it sends up many stalks which reach a height of about 30 inches. Large red flowers form at the tops in early summer; and the whole plant has a wonderful fragrance that resembles a delicious mix of mint and bergamot oranges.

The leaves add a piquancy to tossed salads when added as a seasoning.

Beebalm has been a part of American tradition since pre-Colonial times. The Indians introduced beebalm to the early pioneers.

During the British tea embargo beebalm tea was preferred as one of the tastier substitutes used by the rebellious colonists. The Shakers grew huge quantities of beebalm.

Being a hardy perennial, beebalm needs only to be planted once, and with each succeeding year the planting grows larger. After about four years it should be thinned so that the plants can maintain their vigor.

Beebalm seems to have no preference for either full sun or partial shade. Start with young potted plants rather than seeds because germination is very slow. Starting with plants yields large, healthy, flowering specimens the first season.

To use it for seasoning, strip off the leaves and dry them as quickly as possible by spreading them in a warm place away from direct sunlight. When the leaves are crispy dry store them in an airtight container.

Experiment with beebalm in cooking by seasoning cakes and bread with it. Try it in salads or cooked with vegetables.

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