Merriam Webster describes an herb as: "A plant valued for its medicinal, savory or aromatic qualities." So many herbs we use everyday are from Mediterranean regions of the world. But we walk past herbs in North America everyday without even knowing it. Some are quite well known as ornamental perennials, but less is known about their usefulness.
Wild Bee Balm
Wild bee balms can be found along the eastern portion of the United States. They are tall wildflowers with large multi-petaled flowers. Wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) has pink-to-purple flowers, and scarlet bee balm (Monarda didyma) has bright red flowers. Scarlet bee balm is a major hummingbird flower, and the one most modern hybrid bee balms are developed from. The aromatic leaves and flowers are reminiscent of Earl Grey tea. There is also an annual bee balm (Monarda citriodora), which has aromatic lemon-scented leaves and flowers. They can all be dried and used as tea (the flowers are also edible). They are found on the prairie and in open clearings and are members of the mint family.
There is a wild mint (Mentha arvensis villosa) native to North America. It can be found in moist areas in sun or part shade. It has deeply veined, slightly fuzzy leaves. The stems are square--like most plants in the mint family. It has whorls of pink-to-lavender flowers along the stem. The leaves are used for tea and for their oil. Neither the seeds nor the fruit are edible.
Coneflowers are native to the United States. They can be found on the prairie and in open clearings. The Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) is the one most gardeners are familiar with. It has bright pink-to-purple convex petals and a large orange cone. The many color selections found in the nursery were bred from this plant. It is an extremely valuable herb plant for beneficial insects like bees and butterflies. The seeds from the extra large cone provide food for small birds. Narrow leaf coneflower (Echinacea angustifolia) is every bit as useful, but somewhat less attractive. It has pale pink-to-purple narrow petals and a black cone. The roots of both plants are used medicinally to boost the immune system.
Wild North American ginseng (Panax quinquefolium) is found along the Eastern portion of the United States. It has attractive palmate leaves having 3 to 5 lobes. The flowers are yellow-green--and give way to bright red berries. The root is used as an herbal supplement. It is used to boost metabolism and mental function. It also improves energy in all the body systems. Ginseng can be found in shady woodland areas where the soil is rich and moist. However, the plants are less plentiful today due to wild collection.
Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) is an aromatic plant. The dried, fermented leaves are used to make a tea. Though wintergreen products are not made from this plant, it has a similar scent and flavor. This is a common evergreen ground-cover bearing bright red berries. It creeps along the ground by rhizomes. Wild Wintergreen is a common North American woodland plant.