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Wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa L., Lamiaceae) is a very fragrant, erect perennial herb in the mint family with square stems reaching up to 1 m in height. The leaves are opposite, lance-shaped and toothed. Flowers are in heads at the end of the stalks. They have green sepal tubes with purple teeth, and pink to mauve-coloured, 2 - lipped petal tubes. The upper petal lip is bearded at the tip, while the lower lip has 3 lobes.
History And Uses
The North American First Nations people used Monarda for stomachaches, headaches, fever, and menstrual cramps. The essential oil is used in aromatherapy as a herbal tea, and as a fragrance in perfume and soaps.
Monarda is common in moist open woods, along roadsides and in moist prairies. It prefers soil with a high organic matter content, pH 6.5, and needs lots of moisture. It is well suited for irrigation operations. It grows naturally from British Columbia to Quebec and southward into Mexico. In Manitoba it grows as far north as Norway House.
Growing from seed is difficult, but may be done by sowing in a soil substitute at 18 - 25EC. Transplant when they have 4 true leaves, after the last frost. Do not allow to dry out for the first month. Root divisions are possible, but the easiest method of propagation is by stem cuttings in late May or early June. Remove all but 2 leaves, dip in 1000 ppm IBA rooting compound and plant in sand for 2 weeks to root. Transplant into well worked soil. Cover whole plant with 1 in. of compost in winter to protect and provide nutrients. Monarda is susceptible to rusts, mildew and yellow diseases. Leaves and flowers are harvested in the second year when they are in 80 percent - 90 percent full bloom. It can be swathed or cut by hand, and dried on racks in a warm shaded area for 2 - 3 days. If not fully dry, use low heat to prevent discolouration of the leaves and flavour changes. Steam distillation is required to obtain the essential oils.
Yields are 100 -125 kg/ha. It is thought that Canada has a potential market of 2500 acres (1000 ha) of Monarda. The markets tend to be volatile, and quality of the oil is very important to the marketing of the product.