Monarda fistulosa (Figure 1) is a perennial herb of the Lamiaceae family that can be found growing in dry disturbed soils throughout Eastern North America. Like all Mints, M. fistulosa has square stems and opposite foliage. The lanceolate leaves have small petioles with finely serrated margins and prominent mid-veins. The individual florets are Lavender in color, tubular in shape, and explode in a cluster from the receptacle. Together the inflorescence appear to be rays of one large whorled flower. Not only is the plant attractive, but for the garden M. fistulosa is extremely drought tolerant, deer resistant, fertilizer free, and requires little maintenance. (Culina, 2008) Best of all, pollinators love it, including the infamous Hummingbird Butterfly Moth. (Figure 2) There are several Monarda spp. which are distinguished by their range, habitat, leaf pubescence, and flower color; however, their uses are considered interchangeable.
For many plants, names can be revealing, and Monarda spp. are a fine example. Not only is the Latin name “Monarda” derived from Spanish physician and botanist, Nicolás Monardes, but the common names also suggest therapeutic use. Commonly known as: Bee Balm, Horse Mint, Oswego Tea, Wild Bergamot, Indian Perfume, and Sweet Leaf; these descriptions reflect the history and importance of Monarda spp., while producing images of a powerful tonic and efficacious remedy.
Ironically, Wild Bergamot is rarely discussed in this capacity by contemporary Western medicine, and is easily overlooked because it has not been rigorously studied by science. However, the Herbalist conducting organoleptic testing can decipher the therapeutic use of Bee Balm in a single breath of the crushed leaves from the distinct Thyme or Oregano smell. The similarity between these aromas is from their abundance of the “monoterpene phenol isomers Thymol and Carvacrol,” and while these constituents have been elucidated from M. fistulosa, it does not take a mass spectrometer to figure it out. (Pengelly, 2004)
The use of Indian Perfume was renowned and preserved by indigenous cultures throughout America. According to Tis Mal Crow, “Sweet leaf is one of the Muskogee Seven Sacred Medicines...It seems to be a panacea or cure-all because it will fix so many problems.” (2001) However, Bee Balm is most well...