M. fistulosa

Mondarda fistulosa

Bee-balm, horsemint, or botanically speaking, Monarda, is an exclusively North American plant containing about sixteen species. As part of the Laminaceae (mint) family, the plants bear both the square stems and the heavily scented leaves common among mints. I’ve tried growing the colorful species M. didyma whose cultivars are sold as garden plants, yet they don’t do well in my often too dry garden. However, if you have a moist area in your garden that is shaded during the hottest part of the day, this plant might grow very well for you. It is amazing to me that I can’t grow Mondarda without regular watering, but M. fistulosa, better known as wild mint, grows in my field along with M. punctata, or horsemint, which seems to grow in nearly inhabitable dry locations. If you look at different species of Mondarda you will see there are two distinctive stem styles. One has a stem that terminates in a single blossom as in M. didyma and fistulosa. The other type’s stem pierces through several blossoms before ending in a terminal bloom as in M. punctata.

Native Americans and colonists used Monarda as a medicinal plant, for example using M. punctata to cure colic.

Mondarda punctata

They also made Oswego tea from the M. fistulosa’s leaves and flowers. I’ve tried it and conclude it is either an acquired taste or the bitter pill for what ails you — while not horrible, certainly an unusual fragrance and taste. According to Edwin Rollin Spencer’s All About Weeds (Dover Publications, 1968, page 218) the Monarda name was given in 1574 by Nicolas Monardes, who never visited the New World, but as a doctor in France, worked on the medicinal properties of these plants. You can search the Internet to find how Mondarda was, and is still, used as a cure for many respiratory complaints. Recipes for tea are available.

I do enjoy all the wildflowers that inhabit my property. They create color interest in the wild areas and offer me the challenge of discovering information about them. Of the many problem of a country garden, one of the most difficult is how to successful move from the cultivated landscape into the wild without a sharp distinction. Another problem is researching what is a wildflower from an invasive species, and to encourage the right one. The Internet has made this process increasingly easy. State DNR offices and environmental groups offer other assets. At a recent garden club meeting I received a copy of A Field Identification Guide to Invasive Plants in Michigan’s Natural Communities. I thought I knew a lot, but I was certainly deluding myself. One invasive plant is Centaurea stoebe or spotted knapweed, which could easily be confused with M. fistulosa.


That said, wildflowers help make that transition from garden to wild, and in summer and fall Monarda and Solidago (goldenrod) can do a spectacular job at this. In this endeavor I am also introducing other native wildflowers like coneflowers and black-eyed susans into my surrounding field. Since these already grown in my garden, it should help blend garden and wild.