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Wild Bergamot

Image from USFWS Mountain-Prairie, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons 

Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa)

Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), also known as a Bee Balm or Oswego Tea, is native to much of North America, from northern Mexico to southern Canada. It is a perennial herb in the Mint family that can grow up to four feet tall, characterized by leaves up to four inches in length and clusters of pink to purple flowers of one to three inches in diameter. Wild Bergamot is an important native species for pollinators in the United States, and is one of the most preferred species for bees, especially bumblebees (Rowe, Gibson, Landis, Gibbs, & Isaacs, 2018).   

Historical Use

The plant was used by many Native American tribes for a number of purposes.  There are first-hand accounts that members of the Hidatsa would crush dried leaves and flowers of Wild Bergamot to perfume their clothes (Wilson & Scullin, 2014). There are also a few reports that Wild Bergamot was used to treat wounds and dental infections, as well as gastrointestinal complaints. 

Fore more information, see the John R. Martin Rare Book Room.

Current Use

One of the most common contemporary uses of Monarda fistulosa is as an ornamental plant, though it is also being used widely in prairie restoration and to restore forage for wild bees (Rowe et al., 2018). However, there are a number of current investigations into useful chemicals derived from Wild Bergamot. One of the most promising is carvacrol, which has been shown to have antimicrobial, antioxidant, and anticancer properties (Marchese et al., 2018; Sharifi-Rad et al., 2018). Carvacrol has been investigated for treating E. coli and Salmonella infections (Sharifi-Rad et al., 2018). In addition, essential oils from Monarda fistulosa have displayed some value as a mosquito repellent (Tabanca et al., 2013). 

Latest Research


Marchese, A., Arciola, C. R., Coppo, E., Barbieri, R., Barreca, D., Chebaibi, S., . . . Daglia, M. (2018). The natural plant compound carvacrol as an antimicrobial and anti-biofilm agent: mechanisms, synergies and bio-inspired anti-infective materials. Biofouling, 34(6), 630-656. doi:10.1080/08927014.2018.1480756 

Rowe, L., Gibson, D., Landis, D., Gibbs, J., & Isaacs, R. (2018). A Comparison of Drought-Tolerant Prairie Plants to Support Managed and Wild Bees in Conservation Programs. Environ Entomol, 47(5), 1128-1142. doi:10.1093/ee/nvy091 

Sharifi-Rad, M., Varoni, E. M., Iriti, M., Martorell, M., Setzer, W. N., Del Mar Contreras, M., . . . Sharifi-Rad, J. (2018). Carvacrol and human health: A comprehensive review. Phytother Res, 32(9), 1675-1687. doi:10.1002/ptr.6103 

Tabanca, N., Bernier, U. R., Ali, A., Wang, M., Demirci, B., Blythe, E. K., . . . Khan, I. A. (2013). Bioassay-guided investigation of two Monarda essential oils as repellents of yellow fever mosquito Aedes aegypti. J Agric Food Chem, 61(36), 8573-8580. doi:10.1021/jf402182h 

Wilson, G. L., & Scullin, M. (2014). Uses of Plants by the Hidatsas of the Northern Plains. Lincoln, UNITED STATES: Nebraska.