The Medicinal Plant Garden

of Birmingham-Southern College

  • Monardia fistulosa
  • Monardia fistulosa

Common Name

Bee Balm, Oswego Tea, Mintleaf Beebalm, Bitter perfume, Horse Mint, Wild Bergamot

Related Species

Monarda didyma- crimson beebalm, scarlet beebalm, scarlet monarda

Geographic Distribution and Habitat

Native to North America, almost all states, although not reported in Florida and California (USDA). M. fistulosa grows in moderately moist to dry conditions and is considered highly drought resistant. It is said to be the farthest ranging of the Monarda species (Anderson, 2007) and can be seen on roadsides and native prairie remnants and is present in woods, thickets and fields below 5,000 feet (Tilford, 1997). It prefers full or partial sunlight and can tolerate a wide range of soils including sand, although it thrives best on well-drained loam. Flowers bloom from June to September (USDA).


M. fistulosa is an aromatic plant with a strong pleasant bergamot-like aroma. The plant has a square stem with opposite leaves that may be toothed or smooth. The leaves are usually gray–green to dark green, they are lance shaped and may grow up to 4 inches long and 2 inches across. The flowers are tubular and rose to purple color. The flowers are terminal on the ends of flowering branches and solitary. They are tubular, 13 to 15 nerved, with lobes much shorter than the tube. The corolla is lavender color with upper lips covered in soft hairs and narrower than the lower lips. The lower lips are curved downwards with an upward curving tip. Depending on the variety there are differences in leaf color, corolla color and dimensions.  The plant grows up to 4 feet tall.

Portion of the Plant Used

All parts of the plant including the root have been used (Moerman, 1998).

Traditional Uses

M. fistulosa has been used by many Native American tribes and is considered a very important plant for its numerous food and medical uses. Many tribes used it in different ways with or as a food. The Cherokee, Lakota, Hopi, Pueblo, Spanish Americans and Tewa used it as a food, with the mentioned tribes apart from the Cherokee and Lakota using it as a dried food for winter storage. Apache and Iroquois also made a beverage out of the leaves. Numerous tribes including the Isleta and Laguna used it as a seasoning for meats or stews and the Flathead used it as a preservative on meat. (Moerman, 2010)

Ojibwe used the leaves to relieve headache (placing wads in nostrils), as a sneeze inducer for cold relief and placed leaves in warm baths for babies. Flambeau Ojibwe and Menomini would use the volatile oil to treat bronchitis, sometimes by steeping the flowers and leaves in tea. Numerous tribes used it to treat colds. Cherokee used a warm poultice to relieve headaches. The Teton Dakota used boiled leaves and flowers to treat stomach pains and acne. The Tewa also used the plant to treat headaches, fever, sore eyes and colds using a ground powder of it.

M. fistulosa is  attractive to bees as well as other pollinators including butterflies although the corolla tubes are deep. It is widely reported as a source of honey (Pellett, 1916) and is an important nectar producer for bees in the prairies.

As it is not very palatable to animals because of its strong flavor it is considered a good indicator of animal grazing; the effects of grazing become apparent with an increased incidence of Monarda fistulosa.


Essential oils of M. fistulosa have been shown to be effective repellents of the yellow fever mosquito Aedes aegypti (Tabanca et al., 2013), with active the components being the rather mundane compounds thymol, carvacrol, and eugenol. Geffre et al. (2011) are researching the effectiveness of compounds present in M. fistulosa against MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) as extracts from the plant have been effective against E. coli, S. aureus, K. pneumoniae and Candida albicans. Zhylakova et al. (2009) are studying the use of M. fistulosa essential oil as an anti-antiseborrheic agent.

M. fistulosa contains many phytochemicals, some of the most abundant are: Carvacrol, Gamma-terpinine, geraniol, rosmarinic acid, thymol. Some of its essential oil constituents are; acetic acid, butyric acid, thymohydroquinone.

Its compound thymol is used to treat hookworm (Ferrell 1914). Thymol is also used as a stabilizer in pharmaceutical products and as an antibacterial and anti-fungal. It is used in many leading brands of mouthwash. Thymol has also been shown as an effective larvicide against yellow fever mosquitoes (Aedes egypti) and M. fistulosa oil has been shown to be an effective repellent by Tabanca et al.2013.

Thymoquinone has been shown to be a smooth and cardiac muscle relaxant e.g. inhibiting the narrowing of airways, justifying its use and the use of plants containing it in treating disorders such as cough, colic, diarrhea and asthma (Ghayur et al. 2012).

Geffre et al. are researching the effectiveness of compounds present in M. fistulosa against MRSA (methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus) as they have already shown promise against Escherichia coli, S. aureus, K. pneumoniae and Candida.  Zhylakova et al. are studying the use of M. fistulosa essential oil as an anti-seborrhic agent.

The phytochemical carvacrol has been shown to be antimicrobial, antimutagenic, antitumor, antispasmodic, antigenotoxic, analgesic, anti-inflammatory, angiogenic, antiparasitic, AChe inhibiting, antielastase, insecticidal, antihepatotoxic and hepatoprotective. (Baser 2008)