Monarda species and hybrids

donnaroyston(z7a VA)February 25, 2009

I read that if you want to grow monarda as an herb for tea, the species (M. didyma, if I remember right) has better flavor than the hybrids. It's difficult to find a source that clearly identifies Monarda varieties as M. didyma or M. fistulosa or one of the hybrids. Can anyone identify the named varieties that are M. didyma, not hybrids?


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M. didyma and M. fistulosa are species of Monarda. Both are edible. M. fistulosa is the wild bergamot. A hybrid is a cross between two plants and results in a plant which will come true only from vegetative propagation (from cuttings) and will NOT come true from seed. When you see a Latin name, look for an "x" in the name to denote a hybrid. For instance, Monarda x hybrida 'Bergamo' is a hybrid Monarda.

Some named varieties of the species M. didyma include Blue Stocking, Marshall's Delight and Violet Queen.

    Bookmark   February 26, 2009 at 8:07AM
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donnaroyston(z7a VA)

Thanks for those three. Which source do you use to identify the parentage of named varieties? The catalogs either simply identify all as M. didyma, even recent hybrids, or just call them monarda/bee balm.

I realize that both species are edible, but I'd like to test and make my own judgment on whether the hybrids and the species M. fistulosa taste more bitter. In order to do that, though, I have to know which ones are which. I believe Cambridge Scarlet is pure M. didyma. Not sure about Croftway Pink.


    Bookmark   February 26, 2009 at 9:59AM
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M. fistulosa tastes sweet in tea to me. BUT Several years ago I came across a suggestion to use in stews. Just a springle was good. A teaspoon full was terrible. So watch how much you use in cooking.

    Bookmark   February 26, 2009 at 7:52PM
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I find that M. fistulosa which grows wild quite commonly here in SE Michigan has a very strong Oregano flavor, in fact, it's a better "Greek" type Oregano than most Greek Oreganos. Perhaps in other areas, due to genetics, it might taste more fruity or more similar to M. didyma.

There are a couple of other Monardas out there as well. Horsemint is another native wild Mondarda -- it's a low grower with white and cream colord whorled terminal spikes dusted with lavender. The true flowers are yellowish splashed with purple dots. This too has an oregano type flavor.

The cultivated annual bergamot called Lemon Mint is similar in appearance to horsemint, but a little more vibrant in color (purple/lavender/magenta/mauve-ish). Personally, I've never gotten the "lemon" part, as it doesn't seem too lemony to me. But, it's a very pretty plant.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2009 at 9:44PM
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donnaroyston(z7a VA)

Interesting! Thanks. It's possible, then, that taste might vary in different varieties, whether hybrid or not.

Thanks for mentioning M. citriodora. I had not encountered that plant before, but I think I'll try growing it. I'll look into horsemint as well.


    Bookmark   February 28, 2009 at 10:30AM
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Most plant's tastes vary from each other but for many only a person with excellant taste or smell will be able to tell the difference. The soil and growing conditions effect the nutrients that are absorbed by the plant making one of the differences. Some others are time of day, part of plant, new growth or old, These are some of the reasons that one person will love their plant but others will think their friend has lost it.

This is one of the exciting parts of growing things. I searched for chocolate mint for years, growing several before I found one that I like. Welcome to the world of plant exploration.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2009 at 9:50PM
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francescod(6b/7a VA)

Many of the Monarda didyma cultivars out there are actually mis-named and are actually of complex hybrid parentage despite what a plant's label might say. True M. didyma has red flowers so any cultivar that has red flowers is likely to be the closest to true M didyma. The pinks and purples generally have some other species, usually M. fistulosa and M. clinopodia somewhere in their genetics and should be labeled as M xmedia to indicate the hybrid parentage. M. didyma is very prone to powdery mildew-some of the hybrids show resistance to mildew.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2009 at 11:37PM
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Given the highly variable nature both of the different varieties, hybrid and otherwise, and our different aesthetic judgments of smell and flavor, I might recommend smelling out your favorites at local nurseries and/or botanical gardens. Personally, my favorite Monarda for tea is a fistulosa that I grew from a cutting from the side of a bike path in a nature reserve north of Kansas City. It has a mellow black tea aroma with light oregano-thyme accents. A close friend, however, much prefers the fistulosa he grew from seeds from a prairie south of KC, with a strong camphor-mint-cardamom fragrance. And for show in the garden, I'm kind of partial to M. bradburiana, a low-growing, early-blooming and shade-tolerant species. While the scarlet-flowered M. didyma varieties like Jacob Kline may tend to have a more traditional "Earl Grey tea" flavor, there's nothing to say that you won't find one of the others to be your own personal favorite. Furthermore, for that bergamot-orange flavor, I find orange mint (Mentha citrata) to be a much more prolific and strongly-flavored substitute, although it does lack the showier flowers of Monarda. Have fun searching!

    Bookmark   July 19, 2011 at 3:21PM
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