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How to Grow and Use Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) [Complete Bee Balm Care Guide]

While wild bergamot (monarda fistulosa) is not the citrus you’ll find in most Earl Grey Teas, it is a unique and gorgeous bee balm flower with a unique taste, aroma, and plenty of uses in the garden.

Wild bergamot is a robust perennial variety of bee balm with a lot to offer all gardeners and homesteaders. It’s an edible flower that attracts pollinators and looks stunning, so it’s hard to go wrong with this plant.

This flower has the power to capture your heart with its aesthetic beauty, and it will effortlessly impress your taste buds and nose! Plus, it also has the potential to attract wildlife to your garden. 

So, let’s review the many benefits of wild bergamot, discussing how to grow, harvest, use, and identify this flower. I’ll also teach you how to grow and care for wild bergamot in your garden so you can reap all the benefits of this beautiful and practical plant.

Ready? Let’s begin!

About Wild Bergamot (Monarda Fistulosa)

wild-bergamot-flowers
Wild bergamot’s lavender-colored flowers “pop” out of any landscape like a natural shower of floral confetti.

So, what is wild bergamot, and why is it so great? Let’s look at this flower in depth and discuss its unique features to find out!

Is Wild Bergamot the Same as Bee Balm?

Before we begin, let’s get something straight. Often, people call monarda fistulosa by the name “bee balm,” which can greater some confusion in the gardening community. So, is this plant bee balm, and are there other bee balms?

Wild bergamot is not the same as bee balm, but it is one of the bee balm flowers. Wild bergamot (monarda fistulosa) is one of the 17 US native flowers called “bee balm.” All bee balm flowers belong to the mint family, producing large, pretty flowers with tube-shaped petals and aromatic leaves.

Other common bee balm flowers include monarda didyma, the scarlet bee balm, and monarda citriodora, lemon bee balm. All of these flowers have a claim to the name “bee balm,” but they all look a bit different from wild bergamot.

How to Identify Wild Bergamot

wild-bergamot-in-field-with-black-eyed-susan
Wild bergamot has arrow-shaped leaves and light purple blooms that are easy to spot in fields of other wildflowers.

Monarda fistulosa has a unique appearance, which makes it pretty simple to spot.

This flower is a North American native plant that commonly grows with other wildflowers in abandoned fields, rocky roadsides, and other sunny spots. It’s pretty easy to grow in almost any state in the US, as it tolerates dry and neglected soil.

A wild bergamot plant can grow to about 2 or 3 feet tall, towering above grasses and other flowers to put their floral show on display for pollinators. These flowers will always be a very light purple with long, tubular petals that project from the flower’s large, tuft-like base.

The fuzzy, arrow-shaped leaves on a monarda fistulosa plant are a rich shade of green, and they are very fragrant. These large leaves generally smell like lemon and mint, which is why this flower shares a name with the bergamot citrus.

Like most mint plants, the stem is square-shaped with four flat sides. This shape is unique in the world of flowering herbs, so it’s an easy characteristic to look for when identifying monarda fistulosa in the wild.

When Does Bee Balm Bloom?

wild monarda fistulosa flower
The stunning flowers of monarda fistulosa last all summer long, providing you with a stunning floral show and plenty of pollinators during the warmer months.

Bee balm blooms in July in most zones in the USA, and the blooms last into August in most cases. Bee balm’s long-lasting flowers make it a lovely ornamental plant, but they also invite pollinators to your garden just before harvest season, helping your other plants produce fruit.

Still, you’ll need to regularly deadhead and prune your monarda plants to get the most, longest-lasting blooms. So, keep up with your bee balm plant, and it will reward you!

Is Bee Balm Invasive?

Bee balm is not invasive, but it is a prolific, hardy plant that spreads rapidly if you care for it well. Monarda fistulosa spreads via rhizomes and seeds, which can quickly take over a garden if left unpruned and unmaintained.

While this flowering herb is not technically invasive, you will need to keep it cut back the same way you would for any mint plant.

Now that you know the basics of this fantastic flowering herb and how to identify it, let’s discuss its many uses and why you might want to grow this plant in your garden.

Read More: How to Grow, Harvest, and Prune Mint: The Complete Guide

Wild Bergamot and Bee Balm Uses

Wild bergamot isn’t only beautiful – it’s a practical plant that you can use to attract pollinators and add some weed resistance to your garden. It’s also a great-smelling and tasting traditional medicinal plant that you can use in teas, cooking, and on your skin.

So, let’s dive deep into the uses of this bee balm variety.

Is Wild Bergamot Edible?

uses for bee balm tea
Bee balm tea made with wild bergamot has a minty, citrusy, slightly peppery, and aromatic flavor that tastes great hot or iced.

Wild bergamot is edible, and like other bee balm varieties, you can eat this plant’s stems, flowers, and leaves. Since it belongs to the mint family, you may also want to use it as a substitute for mint in teas, salads, smoothies, and other recipes.

Not only is this bee balm flower edible – it has tons of culinary uses. People who enjoy the taste of fine cuisine will be pleased to know wild bergamot also adds flavor to certain foods. 

The leaves from this plant work wonderfully to flavor beverages and taste great in tea

Bergamot leaves also work excellently to flavor pork. If you’re looking for something lighter, then bergamot flowers mix perfectly into fresh garden salads

Note that if you wish to add bergamot leaves to your food, you should take the leaves from the plant before it produces blooms. This plant’s fresh, younger leaves are much sweeter before it flowers.

The essence wild bergamot imparts tastes citrusy, so try adding small amounts to your next savory dish to see how it contrasts with your favorite flavors.

Use Wild Bergamot for Its Health Benefits

This variety of bee balm boasts a boatload of potential medicinal uses that feel impossible to overlook.

Monarda fistulosa has an important place in the traditional medicinal remedies of the US indigenous people. The Cherokee and Tewa regularly used it to treat headaches, crushing the leaves and flowers into a poultice, then applying it to the skin.

Other Native American groups also used tea made from the leaves and flowers of this plant to treat stomach and abdominal pains.

Not only does bergamot have a reputation for helping to lower cholesterol – but some initial studies suggest that bergamot might also reduce depression and ease joint pain.

Count me in!

Did you know?

Bergamot is a tremendously popular essential oil ingredient. I love using this bergamot essential oil (on Amazon) as an ingredient in my homemade incense, sachets, candles, soaps, and in diffusers. It’s a beautiful fragrance, but since it also might have these health benefits, surrounding yourself with the heavenly scent of wild bergamot is a win-win.

Attract Butterflies, Hummingbirds, and Other Pollinators With Bee Balm

humming bird moth on wild bergamot flower
Hummingbird moths, bees, hummingbirds, butterflies, and many other pollinators love the taste of bee balm flowers like wild bergamot.

Aside from its other uses, Monarda fistulosa, as a bee balm flower, is incredibly good at attracting all sorts of pollinators to your garden.

So, if you want to see bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds flitting about your garden, attract them with wild bergamot!

Tube-shaped bee balm petals are particularly attractive to pollinators with long mouth-parts since the flower has plenty of little “cups” full of sweet nectar. That’s why hummingbirds and butterflies flock to monarda plants.

In addition, the large flower bases of this plant provide a “landing pad” for bees, butterflies, and other pollinators, allowing them to safely land while they dine on your bee balm’s blooms.

Did you know?

Hummingbirds are a sight to behold – and top experts believe that hummingbirds can see a broad range of colors. No wonder why hummingbirds always find the most brilliant and vividly colored flowers in your garden!

Use Bee Balm to Eliminate Weeds

use bee balm to eliminate weeds closeup monarda fistulosa
Bee balm spreads quickly and lasts for many years, so it’s a great companion plant for weed control.

Since all varieties of bee balm are rapid-growers, one of their best uses is eliminating weeds.

Monarda fistulosa can grow faster than most weeds and out-compete common uninvited plants like dandelions, dollar weed, broadleaf plantain, and many other invaders, keeping your garden weed-free.

Plant bee balm on the back rows of your flower gardens for the best results. Doing so will create a shady barrier behind the bed and keep weeds from crawling in and hogging up all the soil’s moisture and nutrients.

How to Grow Wild Bergamot In Your Garden

How to Grow Wild Bergamot Bee Balm: A Quick Care Guide

Before I get into the specifics, let’s cover all of our bases and go over the general care instructions for monarda fistulosa plants:

Care ParametersWild Bergamot (Monarda Fistulosa) Needs
USDA Zones3b to 9 b
Spacing RequirementsPlant bee balms 18 to 24 inches apart
Water RequirementsMoist to fully dry soil
Sunlight NeedsFull sun to partial shade (6 to 12 hours of sunlight daily)
Soil RequirementsAny soil with ample drainage
Common Health ProblemsPowdery mildew, fungal infections
Common PestsAphids, whiteflies, and mites
Best Time To Plant or SowSpringtime
Care guide for wild bergamot and bee balm plants.

Monarda Fistulosa Water and Soil Requirements

Asa perennial wildflower, wild bergamot is not picky. It will make do with almost any soil and water conditions, but it still needs plenty of drainage.

If you would like to grow wild bergamot, plant it in a bed of moist soil in a sunny location. 

Any soil will do, whether it’s rocky, clay-based, or sandy.

However, if your soil does not drain well, you may need to till it or choose a spot with a slope to keep your bee balm from getting too wet. These flowers are drought-tolerant and may develop health issues if you water them too much.

In addition, only water bee balm plants at their bases, and regularly shake dew drops off the leaves if you live in a humid environment.

How Much Sunlight Does Bee Balm Need?

Bee balm needs full sunlight but may grow in partial shade. Monarda fistulosa will tolerate partial shade, but I recommend planting it in a spot with around 8 to 12 hours of sunlight daily.

As I’ll discuss in a minute, this plant is prone to fungal infections, which usually only develop in overly wet and shady spots. So, putting your flowers in full sun won’t just help them grow beautiful flowers with plenty of foliage. It’ll also prevent infections.

Wild Bergamot Spacing Requirements

white powdery mildew on bee balm
This year, my passion vine provided too much shade and not enough aeration for my bee balm, which brought on a white powdery mildew infection that’s proven very challenging to eliminate. So, learn from my mistakes and keep your wild bergamot in full sun!

Since wild bergamot is vulnerable to mildew, you’ll need to take extra care to keep your plants well-ventilated and provide plenty of soil drainage.

Spacing out your bee balm plants is critical if you want to prevent infections, pests, and diseases. Always space your bee balm plants by at least 18 inches to keep the area airy and dry.

Still, if you see mildew, remove parts of the plant that show signs of contamination as soon as you notice it. 

Also, take action if you see rust fungus, another common problem with wild bergamot. You can treat these fungal infections with neem oil or a hydrogen peroxide dilution.

How to Plant Wild Bergamot (Monarda Fistulosa)

To plant wild bergamot, sow the seeds 1/8 inch deep into the soil or dig holes for your young plants, spacing each seed or plant by at least 18 inches. Plant your bee balm in spring after the last winter frost to ensure that it can establish strong roots.

If you’re trying to find quality bergamot seeds, check out a company called Seed Needs! You can snag two 400-seed packets of bergamot for around the cost of a cup of coffee at Starbucks. 100% non-GMO, of course.

If you want more of a visual guide to caring for monarda fistulosa, you might find this quick overview helpful:

Final Thoughts

Wild bergamot is a useful and beautiful plant that will spruce up your garden with delicious and stunning flowers. Plus, it brings all the bees, hummingbirds, butterflies, and other pollinators to your yard, which can help you have a more fruitful harvest season.

Bee balm is really easy to care for, and all the benefits of this plant – whether culinary, medicinal, pollinator-related, or weed-adjacent – outweigh any cons. I know that I wouldn’t have my garden without this plant!

So, if you’ve considered adding some monarda flowers to your garden, now’s the time! Let us know how it goes in the comments below!

Thank you so much for reading, and I hope you have a great day!

More Reading On Keeping a Healthy Garden and Attracting Pollinators:

How To Grow and Use Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa)

References:

Author

  • Aimee LaFon

    An enthusiastic fiber artist, woodworker, and experimental archaeologist, Aimee LaFon loves spending time spinning fiber from invasive plants, foraging for dye materials and medicinal herbs, snuggling with her two dogs, reading up on historical crafts, crocheting, caring for her large brood of indoor and outdoor plants, and dreaming up her next project. She has tall dreams of becoming a professional yarn maker and herdswoman and will never stop writing about her experiments. No matter where she is, Aimee would rather be crocheting in a field right next to a cow.

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