Robert W. Freckmann Herbarium
University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point

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Featured Plant: Monarda fistulosa L. subsp. fistulosa

Wild Bergamot, bee balm, horsemint

by Pat Harper

Family: Lamiaceae or Mint

Monarda: after Nicholas Monardes (1493-1588), a Spanish physician and botanist
 


fistulosa: Latin for "like a reed or pipe" or "tubular" referring to the shape of the flowers


bee balm, wild bergamot, horsemint

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.

 

Ethnobotany: 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 Monarda.

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).

 

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