bee balm, name for several herbs, especially Melissa officinalis and Monarda didyma, both typical perennials of the family Labiatae (mint family) named for their fragrance, attractive to bees and hummingbirds. Melissa [Gr., = bee] officinalis, also called lemon balm, was introduced to North America from the Mediterranean area, where it has long been cultivated for its lemonlike odor and flavor and, formerly, as a curative for many ailments. The leaves and the oil distilled from them (known as melissa or balm) are widely used for seasonings and beverages. Monarda didyma, also called Oswego tea, is native to E North America and was used, along with other species of Monarda, by the Native Americans and colonists for tea. It is also cultivated as an ornamental for its terminal cluster of red blossoms (sometimes pink in garden varieties). Oswego tea is similar and closely related to wild bergamot ( M. fistulosa ). The names bergamot and balm are also used for other plants. The bee balms are classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Magnoliopsida, order Lamiales, family Labiatae.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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