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Wild Bergamot

Names of this species can get confusing very quickly. There are many common names for the same plant and there are many similar, closely related yet different species. This profile focuses on the one most precisely and scientifically named Monarda fistulosa.

Wild Bergamot is one of many members of the mint family with a typically fragrant leaf and a square stem. Its flowers are lavender, perched atop a 2 to 5 ft. stem, blooming in late summer. It grows in dry to wet conditions in full sun to partial shade.
It attracts many bees, butterflies and even hummingbirds. It will spread by root sprouts to form large clumps but is not considered invasive. It is found across North America east of the Rocky Mountains. Many gardeners leave the entire plant in tact all winter for their attractive dried seed-heads that look especially nice under a dusting of snow.

The genus name Monarda honors an early Spanish botanist, Nicolas Monardes, who documented many traditional medicinal plants used by native Americans, publishing a book on the subject in 1571. The species name 'fistulosa' means 'hollow' in reference to the pithy stem.

Wild Bergamot has a long history in traditional medicine. An essential oil can be extracted that is identical to a common active ingredient in modern mouthwashes. It is well-liked for a mild tea made from its leaves and by some, it was processed into a pomade for hair treatment.

Plants can be propagated by root divisions every three years or easily from seed. The seeds are ready about two months after blooms fade. When collecting, be careful not to turn the seed-head upside down as the tiny seeds will roll out and be lost. Germination is improved with 30 days of cold stratification.

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