Wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) is a perennial plant that grows 2-5 feet tall. It belongs to the mint plant family, and it is a truly native mint to North America. It is topped by clusters of purple flowers, as shown in the photo I took above. Likewise, it is also known commonly as bee balm, mint leaf bee balm and horse mint.
They are beginning to flower in the Ozarks right now, as they flower 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.
You should avoid collecting it from roadsides if you plan on eating it. It may have absorbed chemical pollutants from the traffic on the road. You also want to make sure that the area you are gathering from has not been treated with chemical herbicides.
Some of the edible uses are outlined below:
- The Whole Plant – As mentioned, the whole of the aerial parts of wild bergamot is edible. This means you can cut the stalk and use the whole plant as a potherb.
- 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 tea.
- 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.
This is one of the plants used medicinally by Native Americans before the Europeans landed on the continent. They taught the settlers about the use of the plants medicinally, and seeds were even sent back to Britain to cultivate it there.
The Native Americans historically used wild bergamot for treating colds by infusing it into a 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.
Wild bergamot is said to be a 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.
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. 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.
A poultice made from wild bergamot is said to relieve the pain of a headache. It has also been used to treat skin conditions like boils and insect bites.
Wild bergamot is harvested, and an 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. You can purchase 100% pure Monarda essential oil at our sister site.
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.
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.