Wild Bergamot

Wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) is a perennial plant that grows 2-5 feet tall. It belongs to the mint family, and it is truly a native mint of North America. It is topped by clusters of purple, pink, or white flowers. There is also a separate species with red flowers, Monarda didyma. Both have similar uses. It is also known commonly as bee balm, mint leaf bee balm, Oswego tea, and horsemint.

There are over 17 species of Wild Bergamot and a number of cultivars that are also grown. One or more of the species of wild bergamot can be found almost anywhere in North America. It appears that Monarda didyma is more abundant in the eastern part of the US, while Monarda fistulosa is more abundant in the central part of the US. Since we are located in the central US, I will concentrate on M. fistulosa.

It spreads by seeds and also by rhizomes. The seeds are spread by birds and dropped by the plant near where it is growing. The plant also spreads through rhizomes that spread throughout the soil. This explains why the plant can often be found in large clusters. The flowers are found on the ends of the stems. The stems are square with opposing leaves, as with other plants in the mint family. Each flower is tubular in shape, and each flower cluster contains between 20 and 50 individual flowers.

Wild Bergamot flowers in the Ozarks from June to September. They can be found along roadsides, field edges, thickets, and pastures. Birds, bees, and hummingbirds love this plant. This is probably how it got its common name of Bee Balm.

Read on to find out about the historical medicinal and edible uses of this plant.

Wild Bergamot Edible Uses

The whole of the plant parts above the ground (aerial parts) are edible. The flavor has been described as somewhat similar to Thyme. Wild bergamot is sometimes confused with the orange-like fruit also known as Bergamot. The rinds of the fruits from the Bergamot tree are used as the flavoring for Earl Grey Tea. If you crush one of the flowers it smells surprisingly similar to the Bergamot orange. So, when ordering the essential oil, remember that Bergamot essential oil is expressed from the rinds of the Bergamot orange. The essential oil from bee balm is Monarda essential oil.

You should avoid collecting it from roadsides if you plan on eating it. It may have absorbed chemical pollutants from traffic on the road. You also want to make sure that the area you are gathering from has not been treated with chemical herbicides. The plants can absorb chemicals as the herbicides are broken down in the environment. You certainly don’t want to ingest these chemicals.

Some of the edible uses for wild bergamot are outlined below:

  • The Whole Plant – As mentioned, the whole of the aerial (above ground) parts of wild bergamot are edible. This means you can cut the stalk and use the whole plant as a potherb. Don’t overdo it, because the plant is very aromatic.
  • Leaves – The leaves are edible either raw or cooked. Add the raw leaves to salads. The leaves can be cooked into baked goods or added to dishes as a flavoring. I have read they can be used anywhere that you would use Oregano. They can also be dried and used to make Oswego tea. Native Americans used the tea for treating a number of ailments.
  • Flowers – The flowers are very aromatic and can be used for making tea, added to salads, and also added to baked goods or dishes. You can add the flowers to vinegar to give it an herbal flare.

If you want to try it for cooking, note that it imparts more of a spiciness than a mint flavor. For my hunting friends, it can be added to apple cider vinegar and used as a marinade to remove the gaminess from wild meat.

If you decide to harvest Wild Bergamot be sure and store it in an airtight container after drying. Like all mint plants, after drying it will absorb moisture again. I wouldn’t want you to go to all the trouble to harvest and dry it, only to bring it out to use and find it has molded in storage. It is challenging to find dried Wild Bergamot for sale, so if you find it to harvest be sure you can sustainably harvest enough for your needs. I did find dried Monarda didyma petals and you can buy them here.

Wild Bergamot Medicinal Uses

This is one of the plants used medicinally by Native Americans before Europeans landed on the continent. Native Americans taught the settlers about the use of wild bergamot for medicinal purposes. Seeds gathered from the plants were even sent back to Britain to cultivate there.

Wild bergamot has a high content of thymol, which is a wonderful antiseptic (also found in thyme).

Native Americans historically used wild bergamot for treating colds by infusing it into tea. This use has been borne out because we now know that it has antimicrobial properties, which would make it helpful for fighting off a cold. They used it for not only colds, but coughs, nausea, sore throats, gas, colic, and fever. The tea can also be used to increase peripheral circulation (circulation in the hands and feet). The increased circulation can help with cold hands or feet. The tea can be used as a topical wash to help heal wounds.

Infuse fresh flowers and leaves into honey and use the double anti-bacterial action for treating mild skin abrasions, or add it to a hot tea and drink it to calm a sore throat.

Wild bergamot is said to be nervine and has a calming effect on the nerves, much like its cousin Melissa, or lemon balm. You can read more about lemon balm here. Brew a tea with the flowers and leaves to relax and calm anxiety.

It has a mild diuretic effect, so it was used to induce sweating in ritual sweat huts. This same effect helps to fight a fever since sweating helps to cool the body. This effect can also be helpful to remove excess fluid from the body to help keep fluid levels balanced and remove harmful substances from the body via the sweat glands.

A poultice made from wild bergamot is said to relieve the pain of a headache. Create a poultice by crushing fresh leaves and flowers, placing them in a thin cloth, and securing it to the forehead or back of the neck to relieve headaches. It can also be used to treat skin conditions like boils and insect bites. Wrap the boiled leaves in a cloth and hold them to the eyes to help with sore eyes. The poultice was also placed under bandages to protect from bacterial and fungal infections, as well as to help slow bleeding.

Essential Oil

Wild bergamot is harvested, and essential oil is extracted from the flowers. When diluted with a carrier oil, it can be used to treat mild skin conditions at home. It has potent anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal properties.


Wild bergamot is definitely a plant you want to learn to recognize because of its many uses. Whether you want to use it medicinally or for adding spice to your meals, wild bergamot is useful in so many surprising ways. It is easy to grow in average soils and doesn’t require full sun. It has a deep root system to help with drought tolerance. It does well even in poorly drained soils with heavy clay content.

Below are links to some articles covering other wild plants in the Ozarks.

For more information about other wild medicinal plants and essential oils, you can visit our list of articles.

Disclaimer: This article should not be construed as medical advice. The health information in this article is not intended to assess, diagnose, prescribe, or promise a cure for any medical condition. Consult with your health care professional before considering any natural supplement or plant remedy for your health and wellness. We assume no liability for the use or misuse of the material presented above. Always consult with a medical professional before changing your diet, or using manufactured or natural medications.

error: All images are copyrighted 2019-2022 Lost In The Ozarks or Gary Davis Photography. All Rights Reserved.
This site contains affiliate links. We receive a small commission when you make a purchase .
This is default text for notification bar