Monarda fistulosa essential oil is obtained by steam distilling the flowering tops of “wild bergamot” (aka “wild beebalm”). Early American settlers called M. fistulosa “Wild bergamot” as they found the plant’s aroma reminiscent of Citrus bergamia. This plant, however, should not be mistaken for the citrus fruit “Citrus bergamia,” the photo-toxic botanical used to flavor Earl Grey tea. This plant is classified in the “horsemint” family which includes “Oswego-tea” (aka “beebalm”) (M. didyma) and horsemint (M. punctata)—their respective chemistry and aromas are quite different. You know you are with a M. fistulosa plant if you see bluish-gray-green foliage and pink-purple flowers.
About Monarda fistulosa
Monarda fistulosa is classified as a mint (the Lamiaceae family), sharing the common characteristics of square stems, opposite leaves and a fondness for sun drenched days (though it doesn’t mind some shade). This herbaceous perennial spreads by rhizomes similar to its cousin’s peppermint and spearmint; when it is happy it can over-take an area to show off its fireworks display of flowers from June to September. The hollow stems that support the tubular flowers may grow from 2’ to 3’; the Latin epithet “fistulosa” means hollow or reed-like. It is frequented by bees, butterflies and hummingbirds for its nectar and small birds such as goldfinches and sparrows for its seeds.
Native to North American woodlands and prairies—this plant spans the North American continent from Quebec to British Columbia, south to Georgia, Louisiana and west to Arizona. Although native to North America, “Monarda” was named by Linnaeus for the Spanish physician and botanist Dr. Nicolas Monardes who catalogued hundreds of plants from North America in the 16th century.
Monarda fistulosa medicine has been employed by indigenous peoples of North America for centuries to alleviate a cornucopia of ailments: catarrh and bronchial afflictions, headaches, colds, to bring forth a fever, pains (e.g., toothache, chest pains, eye pain, gastrointestinal), to stop the flow of blood. (Note that the whole plant was used in an infusion, poultice or other herbal preparation—NOT the distilled essential oil.)
“Wild bergamot” is prone to powdery mildew when it lacks adequate air circulation and is exposed to too much humidity. Its showy flowers thrive in summer’s heat and are reminiscent of fireworks. It is not surprising that it is an excellent antifungal and excels at dispersing stagnation and fiery passion. This plant ally is a fabulous example of how important it is to know a plant and how and where it grows—these conditions often indicate how the plant may act in the body and mind.
The Chemistry of Monarda fistulosa
Monarda fistulosa essential oil is believed to have at least three chemotypes: thymol, carvacrol and geraniol. If you are purchasing Monarda, we recommend asking your supplier which chemotype they carry.
Chemistry highlights: M. fistulosa currently has three recognized chemotypes: thymol, carvacrol, and geraniol. The oil we will be covering in this blog post will be for Monarda fistulosa ct. geraniol.
It is generally well tolerated by the skin and is an excellent antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic.
A complex oil, small amounts of chemical components from almost every functional group may be found in its chemical make-up making it an excellent ally for the musculoskeletal system (pain, inflammation, spasms), respiratory support (catarrh, colds and flu), immunity (broad spectrum antimicrobial: antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral), the skin (diaphoretic: moves internal heat outwards, fungal infections) and the mind (calming to the nervous system; dispersive: moves negative, hot, stuck energy; promotes joy).
Is Monarda fistulosa Oil Safe?
Yes, this essential oil is considered safe. However, the abundance of geraniol in the geraniol chemotype of Monarda fistulosa may cause skin sensitization in some individuals. Geraniol is one of the 26 “fragrance ingredients” listed by the EU as an allergen1. For that reason a maximum dilution rate of 5.3% is recommended by the IFRA for dermal application2, specifically if one is designing a product line. Individualized treatments may vary dilution rate based upon individual needs.
This is an excellent argument for blending synergies of oils to enhance and balance essential oils to harness the power of “quenching”. This is when other oils may be used to “buffer” aspects of an oil (or chemical component) that may be considered too potent or harmful. This also supports the argument for the holistic use of a complete essential oil complex and not focusing on isolated components. A plant produces several components—even in diminutive but critical amounts—that synergistically work together to support and not harm; whereas when a molecule is taken out of context (i.e., isolated) it may cause harm.
Blending with Monarda fistulosa Essential Oil:
Wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) gently lures you in with the aromas of rose and sun-drenched fields on a still, sunny day. There is a youthful ease and energy about the plant, a subtle sweetness that dances, lingers and lures you into joy. The initial contact is of warming sunlight—soft and calming with notes of honey, rose geranium and citrus. It is not heavy-handed and dispersive on the dry-down: powdery and subtle with a hint of spice.
M. fistulosa essential oil gets along nicely with many other oils: from florals (Lavandula angustifolia, Salvia sclarea, Solidago canadensis, Thymus vulgaris ct linalool, Anthemis nobilis, Eriocephalus punctulatus), Resins (Commiphora molmol, Styrax tonkinensis), Woods (Santalum ssp., Chamaecyparis obtuse, Aniba rosaeodora) to Leaves (Tsuga canadensis, Melaleuca ssp.).
Then, of course, is the citrus family! This oil plays nicely with Citrus bergamia and some of the other “sweeter” citrus fruits like Citrus aurantium var dulce and Citrus x paradisi.
Creating Wellness Products with Monarda fistulosa
Support Oral Health and Everyday Immunity with an Aromatic Mouth-rinse
Consider using the following anti-microbial synergy of essential oils to support gum and overall oral hygiene. Beebalm is a powerful yet gentle antimicrobial, Myrrh has been used for centuries in oral care (antimicrobial and astringent) and Niaouli brings in further disinfecting properties.
Combine the following essential oils into a 4 ounce glass bottle with screw-top:
- 45 drops of Monarda fistulosa essential oil
- 40 drops of Myrrh (Commiphora molmol) essential oil
- 35 drops of Niaouli (Melaleuca quinquenervia viridiflora) essential oil
Allow the synergy to mellow out and combine for a few days (I prefer 3 to 5 days). Once ready, fill the 4 ounce bottle with an astringent hydrosol like witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) or cistus (Cistus ladaniferus) or a more refreshing hydrosol like rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) or peppermint (Mentha x piperita). Affix the cap and label the bottle appropriately. Shake the bottle before using to disperse the essential oils. Use daily, after brushing your teeth.
Aloe Gel: Cool the Mind and Body
Harness the dispersive, anti-microbial and ultimately cooling qualities (it takes heat and moves it to the periphery) of M. fistulosa by creating a soothing aloe-based gel to use on hot skin or to temper a hot mind. Also consider using this synergy to work with fungal infections of the skin. Although potent—this synergy is very gentle and should be tolerated by people across different constitutions and ages.
Create the following synergy of essential oils in a glass bottle with cap (e.g., I like to use clear dram bottles for blending):
- 5 drops of Monarda fistulosa essential oil
- 5 drops of Rosalina (Melaleuca ericifolia) essential oil
- 5 drops of Sandalwood (Santalum album or other species such as S. spicatum) essential oil
- 2 drops Thyme ct linalol (Thymus vulgaris ct linalol) essential oil
- 1 drop Vetiver (Vetiveria zizanioides) essential oil
Allow the synergy to mellow out and combine for a few days (I prefer 3 to 5 days). Once ready, add the synergy to a 1 ounce glass bottle with your choice of lid (e.g., pump-top or flip top). Fill the remainder of the bottle with aloe gelly (here is one that is generally easy to find at health food stores). Affix the top and shake vigorously to combine. Label the bottle appropriately and use as needed.
A Pollinators Dream: Cold Brew Tisane
Get to know M. fistulosa by imbibing it as a cold infusion. Combined with another nervine, lemon balm, the following recipe is an easy way to disperse racing thoughts, negative energy and cool you down internally and externally. Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is often called “beebalm” too, as bees love to visit this plant when it is in bloom.
Take a 32 ounce mason jar with lid, or a pitcher (with lid) of your choice. Using fresh or dried herb, weigh out ¼ ounce of Monarda fistulosa flowering tops and ¾ ounces of Melissa officinalis flowering tops (or measure out ½ an ounce of each). Add the herbs to the container and fill it with cold water. Affix the lid. Place the container in the refrigerator for 6-8 hours (or overnight). When ready, strain the herbs out and enjoy!
Thank you for taking the time to read through this post about a plant that has been used for centuries by people who call North America their home. North America is home to many plant allies who are worthy of having a relationship with, planting and spending time with, and calling upon their medicine when needed.
2Tisserand, Robert, Young, Rodney. 2014. Essential Oil Safety 2nd Edition. Pg. 567
Written by: Amy Anthony
(Aromatic Studies Instructor)
Amy Anthony B.A, is a certified Aromatherapist with a private practice in Manhattan, NY. Her focus is on customized aromatherapy and education: she consults with clients and teaches workshops at the NYIOA and around the NY metro area. Amy also enjoys formulating and devising delivery methods that encourage the safe, practical use of aromatherapy—like fizzing bath balls, shower bars and sleep mists.
Amy has been a gardener since the age of 5 and has continually found ways to connect with plants since moving to NYC in 1999. Her knowledge of plants brings a holistic, plant-based approach to her teaching and practice of aromatherapy. Amy is also a certified master composter, has volunteered at Saint George’s Common Table since 2012 and is a trained doula. More can be found about her aromatherapy practice at http://nycaroma.com.