Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Monarda Tea Review

I often sing praises of the Monarda genus (some species of which are called bee balm, wild bergamot, or oswego tea) for use as an herbal tea, so I think it's time for me to share a review of a specific batch of it.

The harvest:

I'm not great on my species but my guess is either Monarda didyma (which I grow in my garden) or Monarda fistulosa. This one was lavender-blooming, which means it is likely either fistulosa, or a cultivar of didyma. The plant, in bloom today, is pictured on the right.

The harvest was from Delaware, in spring of 2010 (before flower buds had formed), and I used mostly leaves, with some tender stems, gathering from about the top 6-8 sets of leaves, and using more tips. I dried the leaves in a paper bag, away from sunlight. Thank you to the Baptist Student Ministry, University of Delaware, for growing this plant.

The Review:

For this review I used boiling water and a 10 minute infusion. I brewed the whole leaves in a mug.

Aroma is mostly of thyme and oregano, with a hint of mint, spice, and lemon. Faintly peppery. Less lemony than other Monardas I've tried. Compared to the bergamot orange used in Earl Grey, the aroma is more complex, more herbaceous, and less fruity.

There's some bitterness and astringency, especially at the bottom of the cup. The astringency has a very different character from tea. No sweetness, and a slight sourness. The overall character of this herbal tea is similar to black tea and particularly similar to a strong Earl Grey, in spite of the light color of the cup.

I find this tea very refreshing both hot and iced. It is outstanding to blend with black tea, as the aroma is similar to black tea (much more so than other mint-family herbs). People who like less bitterness may want to use a shorter infusion. I like strong teas, however, and this one was just right for me with a longer brewing.

Growing and Making Herbal Tea from Monarda:

If anyone hasn't yet tried making herbal tea from Monarda, I'd recommend trying it. In addition to making good dried herbal tea, it is outstanding fresh (adding fresh leaves to boiling water), which is how I usually drink it during the summer. Several species of Monarda are widespread use as a landscape plant and you may find some that you can harvest if you do some searching. For gardeners in North America, Monarda is a native plant which makes it grow with minimal care (especially in moist, sunny areas) and helps contribute to the native ecology. In particular, Monarda attracts bees and hummingbirds.


  1. So you just dry the leaves in a sealed paper bag in a dark room somewhere?
    I have never really experimented with fresh herbs a whole lot, but I would love to start!
    Sounds like an interesting infusion though!

  2. I've tried different methods of drying. Drying them in a closed (no need to seal) paper bag in a dry, dark area is the one I've done the most. Dry is more important than dark...basements are often too damp, unless you find a spot near your furnace. I have a furnace closet on my 1st floor which is convenient. My parents dry herbs halfway down the stairs to the basement--the hot, dry air rises but it's dark.

    When I harvest mint, I sometimes gather the whole stems and dry them in a long paper bag...this makes it easy relative to the quantity of harvest you get, and mint is so abundant that once it's established, you can harvest almost all of it and it'll just keep coming back.

    Monarda isn't quite as resilient though, and the lower leaves and stalk often mildew, so I tend not to harvest the whole stalk.

    The other way of drying I've tried is just setting out the leaves in a dry room. This takes more space but they seem to dry faster. I use this sometimes if I have a lot of leaf and little stem so the leaves need to be spread out in order to dry out.

  3. Oh wow, I used to grow this stuff years ago. I used to love brewing it fresh. It was so good for sore throats... Really worked a treat, especially with a bit of honey in it too.

  4. I've read that Monarda are good for sore throats...I should try that next time I have one. I spend a lot of time researching various medical issues and herbs and tea and their medicinal uses, but I haven't looked much at sore throats. But I do know from experience that there are some teas that make a dramatic difference.

    I know a lot of plants are well-established to have anti-inflammatory effects, so I suspect this may be one of the factors here!