In A Garden to Dye For (St. Lynn’s, 2014), Chris McLaughlin teaches you how to make the most of your garden by harvesting different plants to create your own clothing dyes. She walks you through each type of plant, explaining where the color comes from and how best to get it for yourself. In the following excerpt, she explains how to make the most of your Bee Balm petals to produce a dynamic dye.
Bee Balm (Monarda spp.)
Bee balm is one of the handful of plants that's in one of my own personal plant categories: "Species Seuss." Crazy bee balm with its vibrant flower-fountain hairdos brings a smile every time. And it's not just me; bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds will confirm that they're a must-have in the garden.
Monarda is a perennial herb that thrives in zones 4-9. As a dye plant, look for bee balm that produces scarlet or dark pink petals. Its aromatic foliage is rather mint-thyme-oregano-y...kind of the ultimate herb scent. Start seeds indoors February–March or directly into the garden bed in early spring. Purchasing them as baby plants or divisions from friends will usually assure you blooms the first year.
Bee balm likes full sun, but in hot places, afternoon shade will keep the flowers around longer. Fertile soil and regular water keeps them blooming from the late spring through the early fall. Deadheading will only encourage blooms, so harvesting heads for the dyepot is simply smart gardening.
Yes, yes, monarda spreads rapidly by underground runners in attempt to hog the garden. Simply divide clumps come spring, because bee balm is worth it.
Where the Color Is
Gather up as many of those festive flower petals as you can and be prepared to exhaust this bath. The shades may get lighter with each material, but I think they're just as lovely.