Family: Lamiaceae (Labiatae), Monarda didyma L.

Source: Simon, J.E., A.F. Chadwick and L.E. Craker. 1984. Herbs: An Indexed Bibliography. 1971-1980. The Scientific Literature on Selected Herbs, and Aromatic and Medicinal Plants of the Temperate Zone. Archon Books, 770 pp., Hamden, CT.

Bergamot, bee balm, Oswego tea, scarlet monarda, red balm, American melissa, Indian's plume, and mountain balm all generally refer to Monarda didyma L., a plant native to North America and naturalized in Europe. This perennial herb, sometimes reported as Monarda coccinea Hort. and Monarda kalmiana, is called bergamot because of its pungent lemony scent, reminiscent of bergamot oil extracted from Citrus aurantium L. subspecies bergamia Wright et Asn. Bergamot reaches a height of about one meter and has scarlet flowers. Many cultivars and forms exist, providing a wide variety of growth habits and colors. The plant is adaptable to a broad range of growth environments.

The Monarda species are generally known for an extractable oil in thymol, with smaller amounts of para-cymene, d-limonene, carvacrol, linalool, and hydrothymoquinone (11.1-136, 14.1-8). Total content of the essential oil ranges from 60 to 80%, and chemotypes differing in concentrations of carvacrol and thymol have been identified (14.1-8).

The plant has been valued for ornamental, culinary, and medicinal uses. Young leaves are dried and used in herbal teas, such as Oswego tea, or as flavoring in wines, jellies and fruit dishes. Leaves are used in potpourris. The blossoms, appearing in dense clusters stem terminal, last for several weeks and make the plant an attractive addition to gardens. Bees are especially attracted to the blossoms, hence the name bee balm.

Bergamot has been used as a carminative, rubefacient, stimulant, and relaxant, and as medicine against colds. Extractable thymol from Monarda is a strong antiseptic and is used against fungi, bacteria, and such parasites as hookworm (14.1-35). The toxicological effects of thymol include gastric pain, nausea, vomiting, convulsions, and external rashes, although there have been no reports of toxic ingest plants or extracts of the Monarda species (11.1-136, 14.1-35).

Monarda punctata L., known as horsemint and sometimes referred to as Monarda lutea, is a perennial of North America that grows to 0.7 meters and has a strong aromatic odor because of its high concentration of thymol. The flowers have a yellow corolla and are spotted with purple flecks. Similar to Monarda didyma L. in its medicinal uses, Monarda punctata L. has also been used as a diaphoretic, diuretic, emmenagogue, and antiemetic, and as a cure for backaches. In addition, it is believed to act as a cardiac stimulant. Although once considered a potential source of thymol, horsemint was not economically competitive.

Wild bergamot, Monarda fistulosa L., is a perennial herb native to the eastern United States. The plant reaches a height of about one meter and has a wider geographical distribution than other Monarda species. Wild bergamot has been used for medicinal purposes similar to those of Monarda didyma L. and Monarda punctata L. Lemon bergamot, Monarda citriodora Cerv. (formerly classified as Monarda pectinata Nutt, or lemon mint) is an annual or short-lived perennial native to the midwestern and western United States. As the common name suggests, the plant is noted for a lemony scent, which comes from the citral and carvacrol in its volatile oil. Monarda menthaefolia, a species similar to Monarda fistulosa, is native to North America and has an essential oil high in carvacrol rather than in thymol. Bergamot mint refers to Mentha gentilis L.; (red mint), Mentha citrata Ehrh., or Mentha odorata.

Monarda punctata L., horsemint, is generally recognized as safe for human consumption as a plant extract/essential oil/oleoresin (21 CFR section 182.20 [1982]).

[Note: References listed above in parentheses can be found in full in the original reference].

Aromatic and Medicinal Plants Index

Last modified 6-Dec-1997