A perennial, nonwoody herbaceous plant member of the Lamiaceae/Labiatae or mint family, white bergamot (Monarda clinopodia L.) is characterized by its soft white flowers freckled with purple specks of color and its aromatic minty leaves. Native to most of the eastern half of the United States, white bergamot is a hardy zone 5 plant (tolerates cold temperatures as low as below 20 degrees F) that naturally grows in woody and mountainous areas.
White bergamot is also known as horsemint, basil bee-balm and basil balm. The plant grows to up to 4 feet in height. Its aromatic leaves are less than an inch long and grow in an opposite pattern along the height of the stem.
Its showy, eccentric flowers bloom in clusters at the terminal end of the white bergamot plant. White bergamot blooms from the middle of summer through early fall. It attracts wildlife, especially bees that pollinate its hermaphroditic flowers--having both the male and female flowering parts.
Since its natural habitat is the woods, white bergamot thrives in full-sun to full-shade exposure but prefers more sun than less. It does well in moderately moist soil conditions and is an easy plant to grow in home gardens with good soil. White bergamot grows in different soil types ranging from light sand to heavy clay, and in alkaline to acidic soil pH conditions.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, white bergamot is listed as an endangered species in New York and New Jersey.
Growing White Bergamot
A highly prolific, spreading plant, white bergamot is propagated by seed, by cuttings and by root divisions. Plant its seeds in the ground in late spring through early summer, keeping the soil moist. To propagate by cuttings, separate its basal shoots with their underground stem in the springtime, and pot them until they take root. Then transplant them into their permanent soil as early as late spring or early summer. For propagation by division, divide the plants down to their roots and replant the divisions in their new homes.
White bergamot--a plant species native to America--received its Latin botanical name in the 1500s. The entire genus--Monarda--was named after the Nicolas Bautista Monardes of Spain, a botanist and a physician. Interestingly, Monardes studied the white bergamot only on Spanish soil through its import to Spain from the United States.
White bergamot is an edible plant enjoyed as a tea brewed from its leaves and flowers. Pick its leaves and flowers for fresh preparations or dry them for year-round use as tea preparations or minty seasoning in culinary dishes.