Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
Present in North Dakota in all but a few of our south-central counties, wild bergamot occurs from Ontario and British Columbia to Georgia and Mexico, at elevations up to 9,000 ft. Plants are also known as "horsemints" and "beebalms."
Wild bergamot is a native perennial from slender creeping rhizomes and thus commonly occurs in large clumps. Two varieties are found in North Dakota, the most common being a smaller flowered plant with dark lavender to rose purple flowers. Plants are up to 3 feet tall with a few erect branches. Leaves are 2-3 inches long, lance-shaped, and toothed. Flower clusters are solitary at the ends of branches. Each cluster is about 1 1/2 inches long and contains about 20-50 flowers.
Look for wild bergamot in rich soils at the bases of prairie hills and in coulees. The plant is noted for its fragrance, and is a source of oil of thyme. One authority states that Amerindians recognized four varieties that had different odors. Leaves were eaten boiled with meat, and a decoction of the plant was made into hair pomade. The herb is considered an active diaphoretic (sweat inducer). The species does best where grazing is light or moderate.
Wild bergamot is a member of the mint family (Lamiaceae) that contains at least 3500 species worldwide. Lamium is an old Latin name of a nettle-like plant mentioned by Pliny. The family is noted for its fragrant oils (lavender, rosemary, mint, horehound, thyme etc). Monarda is a North American genus of about 15-20 species of which only one occurs in North Dakota. The genus was dedicated by Linnaeus to Nicolas Monardes (1493-1588), Spanish physician-botanist and author of many tracts about useful New World plants. The specific name fistulosa means "tubular" in botanical Latin, in reference to the flowers. The species was named by the famous Swedish botanist Carl von Linne (Linnaeus) in his monumental Species Plantarum of 1753, the earliest accepted work on modern plant taxonomy.