Wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) has showy mauve to purple-pink tubular flowers clustered on heads at the top of 50-120 cm tall stems. Blooming in July to August, the flower is a favourite of butterflies and hummingbirds.
The grey-green lanced-shaped leaves are fragrant with the scent of peppermint and oregano combined. It’s reminiscent of the scent of Early Grey tea, which is actually scented with a different product—oil of bergamot from the citrus tree, bergamot orange.
Wild bergamot is found on dry banks as well as scrubby patches and moist waste places, in the open areas near poplar patches.
Rich in thymol, the plant has many uses in traditional indigenous culture—as a medicine, disinfectant, insect repellent (for instance on dried meat and drying berry cakes), perfume, and in smudges. One source, Plants of the Rocky Mountains, mentions that the Cheyenne (Suhtai, Tsitsistas) “perfumed favourite horses with the chewed leaves”, which is probably why it is also called horsemint.
WASKAHEGAN FIELD NOTES
In 2019, we had a lot of rain, which possibly raised the water table. That was also the year we noticed large patches of wild bergamot where we had never noticed it before, on the dry slopes of the Stoney Creek trail, and in the open areas of the North Coal Lake trail.
On a hot summer day on the Stoney Creek trail, you’ll smell the warm and spicy mint and oregano in the air before you even see the flowers.
- Linda Kershaw, Andy MacKinnon, Jim Pojar. Plants of the Rocky Mountains.
- R.G.H. Cormack. Wild Flowers of Alberta.
- F.R. Vance, J.R. Jowsey, J.S. McLean. Wildflowers Across the Prairies.