|Wild Bergamot, bee balm, horsemint||
by Pat Harper
Lamiaceae or Mint
Monarda: after Nicholas Monardes
(1493-1588), a Spanish physician and botanist
Monarda fistulosa's shaggy pale lavender flowers can be found in woods, prairiesfields and roadsides from July through September.
Wild bergamot is a native perennial from slender creeping rhizomes and thus commonly occurs in large clumps. This tall, single stemmed perennial aromatic flower can be identified as a member of the mint family by its’ square stem and opposite leaves. Plants grow two to four feet high in sandy or loamy soil and in full to partial sun. Leaves are 2-3 inches long, lance-shaped, and toothed. Flower clusters are solitary at the ends of branches. Each cluster is about 1 1/2 inches long and contains about 20-50 flowers. These showy purple-pink tubular flowers attract bees, butterflies, beetles and hummingbirds.
Bergamot can be used as a tea and inhaled to sooth bronchial
complaints and ease colds. Thymol is contained in this plant which has been
used as a stimulant and to relieve digestive flatulence and nausea. One
authority states that Amerindians recognized four varieties that had
different odors. Leaves were eaten boiled with meat, and a decoction of the
plant was made into hair pomade. The herb is considered an active
diaphoretic (sweat inducer). Read more in
Wayne Pauley's Folklore on
Other facts: Bergamots close relative Oswego Tea (M. Didyma), a scarlet Monarda, was used by colonists when English tea was boycotted. The "bergamot" used in Earl Gray Tea is not Monarda fistulosa, but Mentha citrata. This is an example of the confusion that arises from the usage of common names.
Propagation: The seeds can be easily collected from the round still aromatic heads in late fall into winter. Scatter the seeds for a sea of lavender flower usually in the next early fall.
Blooming Buddies include: yellow - yellow coneflower (Ratibida pinnata), black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta var. pulcherrima); white - daisy fleabane (Erigeron annuus); pink -purple prairie-clover (Dalea purpurea var. purpurea).