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PLANT NOTES: Wild Beebalm/Bergamot

by KINNIKINNICK NATIVE PLANT SOCIETY
| September 2, 2022 5:20 AM

A colorful member of the mint family, Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) is widespread in much of North America. Its gray-green foliage is distinctively aromatic, resembling oregano. Other common names include Wild Beebalm, Purple Beebalm and Horsemint.

A clump-forming herbaceous perennial, Bergamot displays 2-3 inch clusters of pinkish-purple, tubular flowers atop 1-3 foot stems. Leaves along the stem are widely spaced, opposite and lance-shaped. Nectar-rich blooms, present from July through September, resemble miniature pom poms. The colorful stamens extend beyond the flower tubes creating a fuzzy appearance. Bergamot is a magnet for bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and other beneficial pollinators. Though browsing herbivores may eat anything if they're hungry enough, Bergamot is far down on their list.

This is fast growing herb and spreads through its shallow rhizome root structure. If moisture is abundant, it can be invasive; consider planting where it can spread naturally. Bergamot can be divided every three years or so and cutting to the ground after flowering promotes healthy new growth. It thrives in a wide range of soils, does well in sun or part shade and is drought and heat tolerant. In overly damp situations, powdery mildew can be a problem.

Blackfoot Indians recognized the plant's strong antiseptic properties and used Bergamot poultices for skin infections, minor wounds and insect stings. It is a natural source of thymol, the primary antiseptic ingredient in modern mouthwash formulas. Many people enjoy tea made from the leaves.

Check out Idaho’s native Bergamot in the Medicinal Garden habitat at the North Idaho Native Plant Arboretum. Open to the public, parking for the Arboretum is at 611 S. Ella Ave. or on the street. Wild Beebalm is found on page 129 of the KNPS publication, "Landscaping with Native Plants in the Idaho Panhandle," available at local bookstores and the Bonner County History Museum.

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