Horsemint with colorful bracts. Photo by Green Deane

Horsemint with colorful bracts. Photo by Green Deane

 Monarda Punctata: Bergamot’s Bud

First the good news: Horsemint makes a nice, intentionally weak tea. Stronger brews are used in herbal medicine. The Indians made  a “sweating” tea from it to treat colds.  The major oil in Horsemint is thymol. Externally it’s an antiseptic and vermifuge, internally, in large amounts, the plant can be fatal. That’s the bad news. So, as I said it makes a nice, intentionally weak, tea.

Horsemint grow in clumps, usually alone with other clumps. Photo by Green Deane

Horsemint grow in clumps, alone or with other clumps nearby. Photo by Green Deane

Horsemint is one of those plants that you seem to never notice until you learn to recognize it, then you see it every so often. It tends to grow in small colonies and near each other. If you find one, you will usually find another not too far away.  They can vary in size from six inches to three feet but always very showy and its extroverted colors can last for months.  You can propagate it by seeds or cuttings. I dug mine up and carried it home where it has a very sunny, well-watered spot in sandy soil.

The creamy lilac-spotted flowers (its bracts are pink) attract honeybees, bumblebees, miner bees, plasterer bees, swallowtail butterfly as well as the endangered Lycaenides melissa samuelis (Karner Blue.)  Hummingbirds like it as well. Most mammals know enough to leave the plant alone. Horsemint grows from eastern Northern Canada down to Florida, west to Michigan and New Mexico and California, also into eastern Mexico. A southern variety, Monarda punctata var. punctarta, grows south of Pennsylvania and out to Texas. There are about 20 different Monardas in the United States.

Horsemint has the highest thymol content of all the mints. It is more than an antiseptic, mite-killer and cough-syrup ingredient.  As a depressant, it is one of the most commonly abused substances among anesthesiologists and nurses. If thymol were discovered today it would be a prescription drug. There have been some thoughts towards regulating the species but it is so common in so many places that hasn’t been done. Thymol, incidentally, is also one of the 600 or so ingredients added to cigarettes to “improve” the flavor.

Nicholas Monardes

While thymol has a dark side it also has beneficial aspects. It is one of two chemicals in the horsemint — the other being carvacrol — which prevent the breakdown of acetylcholine, the stuff that makes memory possible. One of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease is reduction in acetylcholine. Unlike a drug now used to prevent the break down of acetuylcholine — tacrine hydrochloride — thymol and carvacrol are not as rough on the liver. One could even make a shampoo out of horsemint and perhaps get the benefits.

As for the plant’s botanical name: Monarda is for Nicholas Monardes (1493-1588), a Spanish physician and botanist who mentioned this flower in his 1569 work on the flora of North America called “Joyfull Newes Out Of The Newe Founde Worlde”. Punctata is Latin for point, or in this case “dotted.”  The plant’s name is said: moe-NAR-duh punk-TAY-tuh.

Whether as a weak tea, a stronger brew for the flu, or a poultice for arthritis, the Horsemint, or Spotted Beebalm, is a pretty plant to spot while foraging.

Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION: Herb, sometimes woody, shrubby, gangly, multi-branched, opposite leaves and square stems. The stems and leaves are hairy. Flowers small, inconspicuous, but arranged in showy heads of pink to lavender bracts. Flower tubes are pale yellow with purple spots, less than an inch long, leaves smells like Greek oregano.

TIME OF YEAR: Can be year round in Florida but favors late summer and fall, in northern climates flowers June to October depending where you are.

ENVIRONMENT: Likes moist but well drained soil and sunny conditions, but can survive on rainwater in old fields and on roadsides.

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Leaves and flowers for weak tea, some report the leaves can use chopped up and use to flavor salads.  Hanging leaves in the house leaves a nice scent.




If you would like to donate to Eat The Weeds please click here.

American Lotus: Worth Getting Wet For

13 July 2015

 More American than apple pie Nature fights back. Much of Florida is giving way to housing. For several years I passed a large abandoned pasture with a dry lake bed. Then it was developed into a subdivision and the lake bottom lowered to accommodate the lower water table. For a while very little seemed to […]

Read the full article →

Watercress: Ancient Flavor

10 May 2015

Florida is the Winter Watercress Capital of the U.S. Nasturtium officinale (nas-STUR-shum oh-fis-in-AY-lee ) is one of the oldest leaf vegetables known to be cultivated by man. It’s naturalized in Florida and in fact all of North America, Europe and Asia, the latter two where it is native. Wild watercress is a short-lived edible in […]

Read the full article →

Chestnuts Roasting… Sequoias of the East

22 December 2014

Chestnuts have done more than just disappear from the landscape: They have dropped out of our lives save for a token appearance at Christmas. Whether in Eurasia or North America chestnuts were a major staple. Long before the cultivation of wheat entire European populations lived off chestnuts as later populations would depend on potatoes. In […]

Read the full article →

Hollies: Caffein & Antioxidants

7 December 2014

Holly Tea With Vitamins A & C This time of year in the South — late fall, early winter —some of the hollies are so scarlet with berries that even the tourists can spot them while doing 85 on Interstate 95, if they bother to look. The hollies, usually Ilex cassine, resemble red torches beside […]

Read the full article →

Cranberries, Lingonberries

23 November 2014


Read the full article →


15 October 2014

I’m not sure I found wild roses or they found me. Growing up in Maine the local soil was usually either ground-up glacial sand or clay which is decomposed feldspar, or ledge. Not much of a choice if you’re a plant. We had sand, over ledge with a thin veneer of topsoil. And in that […]

Read the full article →

Chokeberry: Bushy Health Food

22 August 2014

It’s a long ways from the mountains of Maine down the Appalachian Trail to the mountains of western North Carolina. It is also a long ways from ones 20’s to ones 60’s. These distances revealed themselves recently when I notice a plant while hiking in the Smokies. It was familiar but not familiar, a wrong […]

Read the full article →

Chickasaw Plum: Yum

17 June 2014

 Chickasaw Plum: First Springtime Blossom Every spring, three wild plums put on a show locally: The Chickasaw, the Flatwood, and the American. They burst out in white blossoms and no leaves. When in naked bloom they look similar but that’s where the resemblance stops. The Chickasaw and the American go on to produce consistently edible […]

Read the full article →

Can We Eat Grass?

8 January 2014

That simple question has a complex answer: Yes, no, and maybe.  It’s a topic I explored in a recent Green Deane Newsletter and the basis for this article. Strictly speaking we eat a lot of grass, but in the form of grain: Wheat, rice, rye, barley, millet, sprouts et cetera. What most folks want to […]

Read the full article →