wild bergamot

Unlocking the Magic of Wild Bergamot: Identifying, Uses, and Attracting Pollinators

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As a forager and nature lover, I can’t help but appreciate the beauty and versatility of Wild Bergamot, known scientifically as Monarda fistulosa. This perennial wildflower is native to most of North America and adds a touch of color to the landscape. Growing 2-4 feet tall in full sun and well-drained soil, Wild Bergamot is a member of the mint family and is known to bloom for about a month during the summer. The vibrant flowers attract an array of bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and even moths, making it an essential plant for any naturalist looking to encourage pollinator activity.

Wild Bergamot, also commonly referred to as bee balm or Eastern Bergamot, thrives in dryish soils found in meadows, dry rocky woods, unplanted fields, and along roads and railroads. This clump-forming, mint family member is easy to propagate, whether from seeds, cuttings, or root division. The square-shaped stems support gray-green foliage and display show-stopping flowers that blossom from June to September.

Beyond its ornamental appeal, this herb offers other practical uses. Its fragrant, lilac-purple, tubular flowers make it a popular honey plant. Additionally, Wild Bergamot has been used in traditional medicine, showcasing the plant’s multifaceted role in our ecosystems and gardens.  I encourage you to get out there and experience the charm of this amazing plant for yourself.

wild bergamot
wild bergamot
wild bergamot
wild bergamot leaves and stems

Plant Characteristics of Wild Bergamot

I am always excited to come across the beautiful Wild Bergamot when out walking or foraging in the summer, and if you know what to look for, they are pretty easy to identify. Wild Bergamot is always a delightful, fragrant plant to encounter, and one which I think is well worth getting to know and appreciate.

  • Stems -The stems of this herb are herbaceous and square-shaped, which is a common characteristic of plants in the mint family. 
  • Leaves -Its gray-green foliage is quite striking, with opposite ovate to broad lance-shaped leaves that have toothed edges. When I’ve brushed against the leaves, they release a wonderful, pleasant aroma that is a delightful blend of mint and oregano.
  • Flowers -Wild Bergamot delights me with its enchanting lilac-purple tubular flowers, forming a dense, round inflorescence atop the stem during the summer. These tow-lipped flowers, ranging from delicate lavender to striking red-lavender hues, create a captivating display. Adding to its allure, a whorl of leaf-like bracts in varying shades of green, lavender, and reddish tones nestles beneath the inflorescence. The blooming begins at the flower head’s center, gracefully unfurling outward and culminating in a charming ring of florets encircling the edges, resulting in a delightfully shaggy appearance.

To summarize the captivating features of Wild Bergamot:

  • Perennial plant with herbaceous stems and aromatic foliage
  • Found in various habitats, such as meadows and woodlands
  • Typically grows to be 2-4 feet tall
  • Features striking lance-shaped leaves with toothed edges
  • Boasts beautiful lilac-purple tubular flowers in dense terminal heads
  • Attracts a variety of pollinators, including bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds
wild bergamot

Propagation and Care 

Wild bergamot is also an excellent addition to any garden. This beautiful plant can be easily propagated through various methods—let me tell you how.

Starting with seeds, this plant grows well when sown in early spring. These seeds need surface exposure to germinate, so do not bury them too deep. With a little patience, you’ll witness seedlings emerging within a few weeks. 

Another way to propagate this herb is through division.  Division is probably the easiest way to propagate wild bergamot because the plant naturally spreads by rhizome. This means it naturally sends out shoots, further down, that are still attached to the mother plants. All you need to do is identify the clones, separate the rhizome and uproot them.

The best time to divide wild bergamot is during early Spring, as soon as new growth appears.

Here’s how:

  1. Select a healthy, vigorous bergamot plant.
  2. Dig around it, and uproot a clump of stems, shake off the dirt.
  3. Divide the plant into two or more sections, making sure each section has at least one healthy bud, and some roots.
  4. Replant the divisions in well-drained soil, making sure the buds are pointing up.
  5. Water the plants regularly and fertilize them once a month.

When it comes to growing conditions, wild bergamot flourishes in well-drained soil with ample moisture. But don’t worry too much; this plant is quite forgiving and can tolerate brief periods of drought as well. Just make sure you provide it sufficient water during the growing season.

Air circulation is important for the plant’s overall health. To ensure it gets enough air, space plants around 18 to 24 inches apart. By doing so, you can reduce the risk of fungal diseases such as powdery mildew from harming the plant.

As wild bergamot is a vigorous spreader, some care needs to be taken to manage its growth. Doing so helps maintain healthy and tidy-looking plants. In my experience, these plants grow densely and create a natural screen that attracts butterflies, hummingbirds, and other pollinators.

So there you have it: Wild bergamot is easy to propagate and care for through seeds, root division, and providing the right growing conditions. In no time, you’ll have a thriving wild bergamot growing in your very own garden.

wild bergamot

Pests and Diseases

In my time growing Wild Bergamot, I’ve encountered a few pests and diseases that can affect this beautiful plant. Keeping an eye out for these issues is key to maintaining a healthy garden and thriving Wild Bergamot plants.

One of the most common diseases I’ve seen affecting Wild Bergamot is powdery mildew. This fungal disease appears as a white or grayish powdery growth on the leaves and stems of the plants. Powdery mildew can weaken the plants and reduce the number of flowers they produce. To prevent this disease, I try to plant my Wild Bergamot in areas with good air circulation, and I avoid overhead watering. 

Insects are another thing to watch for, especially the raspberry pyrausta. This small moth lays its eggs on the plants, and the resulting larvae feed on the leaves and flowers. I keep an eye out for these pests during the growing season and handpick them when I find them. 

Other insects that can bother Wild Bergamot are aphids and spider mites. These tiny creatures pierce the plant’s leaves and suck out the fluids, leading to curled, stunted, or discolored growth. I often spot them when I’m watering or inspecting my garden. A strong spray of water can help rid the plant of these pests.

It’s worth noting that while some insects can harm Wild Bergamot, the plant also attracts beneficial insects like bees, butterflies, and hummingbird moths. These pollinators are great for the garden and help the plants produce more flowers and seeds. Just like me, these creatures are drawn to the beauty and charm of Wild Bergamot, making it a lovely addition to any forager and nature lover’s garden.

Wildlife Attraction

In my own experience with growing wild bergamot and other bee balm varieties in my gardens, I’ve seen how this perennial wildflower can greatly benefit the local ecosystem by attracting a variety of pollinators.

When wild bergamot blooms in the summer, its lovely lavender flowers produce a rich source of nectar which draws in bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. I always take pleasure in seeing these pollinators visiting my garden, helping to promote the overall health of my plants. It’s truly amazing to see how such a simple addition of wild bergamot can create a haven for these species. The presence of bees and butterflies can contribute significantly to the pollination of nearby plants, ensuring an abundant harvest for both humans and wildlife.

I have even observed deer roaming nearby fields where wild bergamot grows. While the plant may not be their primary food source, it does add diversity to their diet and contributes to the overall biodiversity of the environment.

Adding wild bergamot to a garden or wildflower meadow not only provides a stunning visual display but also attracts a wide variety of pollinators and wildlife.   Wild bergamot certainly plays a valuable role in promoting a diverse ecosystem.

Want more ways to attract pollinators to your garden? Read more here:

 

 

bee balm tea

Medicinal Uses and Benefits

Wild bergamot also has various medicinal uses that can improve our well-being. Native Americans have traditionally used this plant for a range of ailments, showcasing its versatility as a natural remedy. 

Today, herbalists use it for its nerve-relaxing, antispasmodic, digestive-calming, antiviral, fever-reducing, drawing, and wound healing properties.

Similar to its family relatives thyme and oregano with their antimicrobial, antispasmodic, and carminative properties, wild bergamot can be used in place of oil of oregano to prevent illness and to help relieve symptoms related to cold and flu including sore throat, cough, and congestion.  

One common way to benefit from wild bergamot is by preparing a tea. To do this, you can brew the fresh or dried leaves and flowers by infusing them in hot water. This soothing tea offers relief from headaches, anxiety, and depression. Drinking it during cold and flu season may also help alleviate symptoms and boost your immune system.

In addition to tea, wild bergamot can also be used to create herbal oil infusions. When infused into carrier oils, its essential oil can provide relief for skin irritations and wounds. By adding a few drops into a diffuser or a warm bath, the essential oil can help ease respiratory congestion and reduce stress.

A tincture  made from this amazing herb can be taken frequently throughout the day during periods of sickness from colds or flu. Combine it with elderberry or yarrow tinctures for even greater effect. 

As a poultice, wild bergamot can be applied topically to soothe skin irritations and promote healing. To prepare the poultice, simply crush fresh leaves and flowers and apply them directly to the affected area. This natural remedy has been widely used by Native Americans to treat various skin conditions.

Remember to use wild bergamot responsibly and consult a healthcare professional if you are pregnant or have any concerns before incorporating it into your wellness routine. Nature has provided us with a multitude of medicinal treasures, and wild bergamot is undoubtedly one of them.

bee balm tea

Culinary Uses

Wild bergamot also offers numerous culinary uses and provides a delightful aroma and flavor to various dishes.

When foraging, I like to harvest bee balm leaves to incorporate into my recipes. The leaves are packed with flavor and a subtle spiciness, making them a great addition to foods like pizza and salad. Simply adding a few leaves to boiling water will yield a soothing and aromatic herbal tea. I also enjoy incorporating bee balm leaves into my fruit salads for an added kick of flavor and freshness.

Besides the leaves, the nectar that wild bergamot attracts can be another culinary treasure. As its name suggests, bee balm is a favorite of our buzzing friends, who can often be found foraging in meadows where wild bergamot thrives. Consequently, these bees produce a rich, fragrant honey, which can be enjoyed on its own or as a sweetener in various dishes and beverages.

In Conclusion

Wild bergamot is a versatile and valuable plant that offers multiple benefits to those willing to incorporate it into their lives. Whether you are looking to treat a cold, enhance your culinary creations, or attract pollinators to your garden, wild bergamot is a great choice. However, as with any wild plant, it is important to properly identify and harvest it to avoid any potential risks. With some research and care, anyone can enjoy the many gifts that wild bergamot has to offer. So why not give it a try and see for yourself the wonders that this unassuming plant can bring to your life?

Disclaimer: outdoorapothecary.com is informational in nature and is not to be regarded as a substitute for professional medical advice and should not be relied on as health or personal advice. While we strive to be 100% accurate, it is solely up to the reader to ensure proper plant identification. 

Some wild plants are poisonous or can have serious adverse health effects. We are not health professionals, medical doctors, nor are we nutritionists. It is up to the reader to verify nutritional information and health benefits with qualified professionals for all edible plants listed in this website.  The information provided is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Always seek the guidance of your qualified health professional with any questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition.

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