Horsemint, Spotted Beebalm

by Green Deane

in Beverage, Medicinal, Miscellaneous, Plants, Spice/Seasoning

Horsemint with colorful bracts. Photo by Green Deane

Horsemint with colorful bracts. Photo by Green Deane

 Monarda Punctata: Bergamot’s Bud

First the good news: Horsemint makes a nice, intentionally weak tea. Stronger brews are used in herbal medicine. The Indians made  a “sweating” tea from it to treat colds.  The major oil in Horsemint is thymol. Externally it’s an antiseptic and vermifuge, internally, in large amounts, the plant can be fatal. That’s the bad news. So, as I said it makes a nice, intentionally weak, tea.

Horsemint grow in clumps, usually alone with other clumps. Photo by Green Deane

Horsemint grow in clumps, alone or with other clumps nearby. Photo by Green Deane

Horsemint is one of those plants that you seem to never notice until you learn to recognize it, then you see it every so often. It tends to grow in small colonies and near each other. If you find one, you will usually find another not too far away.  They can vary in size from six inches to three feet but always very showy and its extroverted colors can last for months.  You can propagate it by seeds or cuttings. I dug mine up and carried it home where it has a very sunny, well-watered spot in sandy soil.

The creamy lilac-spotted flowers (its bracts are pink) attract honeybees, bumblebees, miner bees, plasterer bees, swallowtail butterfly as well as the endangered Lycaenides melissa samuelis (Karner Blue.)  Hummingbirds like it as well. Most mammals know enough to leave the plant alone. Horsemint grows from eastern Northern Canada down to Florida, west to Michigan and New Mexico and California, also into eastern Mexico. A southern variety, Monarda punctata var. punctarta, grows south of Pennsylvania and out to Texas. There are about 20 different Monardas in the United States.

Horsemint has the highest thymol content of all the mints. It is more than an antiseptic, mite-killer and cough-syrup ingredient.  As a depressant, it is one of the most commonly abused substances among anesthesiologists and nurses. If thymol were discovered today it would be a prescription drug. There have been some thoughts towards regulating the species but it is so common in so many places that hasn’t been done. Thymol, incidentally, is also one of the 600 or so ingredients added to cigarettes to “improve” the flavor.

Nicholas Monardes

While thymol has a dark side it also has beneficial aspects. It is one of two chemicals in the horsemint — the other being carvacrol — which prevent the breakdown of acetylcholine, the stuff that makes memory possible. One of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease is reduction in acetylcholine. Unlike a drug now used to prevent the break down of acetuylcholine — tacrine hydrochloride — thymol and carvacrol are not as rough on the liver. One could even make a shampoo out of horsemint and perhaps get the benefits.

As for the plant’s botanical name: Monarda is for Nicholas Monardes (1493-1588), a Spanish physician and botanist who mentioned this flower in his 1569 work on the flora of North America called “Joyfull Newes Out Of The Newe Founde Worlde”. Punctata is Latin for point, or in this case “dotted.”  The plant’s name is said: moe-NAR-duh punk-TAY-tuh.

Whether as a weak tea, a stronger brew for the flu, or a poultice for arthritis, the Horsemint, or Spotted Beebalm, is a pretty plant to spot while foraging.

Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION: Herb, sometimes woody, shrubby, gangly, multi-branched, opposite leaves and square stems. The stems and leaves are hairy. Flowers small, inconspicuous, but arranged in showy heads of pink to lavender bracts. Flower tubes are pale yellow with purple spots, less than an inch long, leaves smells like Greek oregano.

TIME OF YEAR: Can be year round in Florida but favors late summer and fall, in northern climates flowers June to October depending where you are.

ENVIRONMENT: Likes moist but well drained soil and sunny conditions, but can survive on rainwater in old fields and on roadsides.

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Leaves and flowers for weak tea, some report the leaves can use chopped up and use to flavor salads.  Hanging leaves in the house leaves a nice scent.



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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Diane September 9, 2016 at 12:38

Just noticed a large spotted horsemint growing on my weed-covered slope outside my home here in Levy County. It is a beautiful plant. Thanks for the info…the good and bad news. Very informative.


Kurt March 4, 2016 at 12:43

Thanks Green Deane. I appreciate your extensive knowledge that you bring to the fore. If you ever got a guided hike together, I’d be the first on board.


Green Deane March 4, 2016 at 12:56

Guided hike… that’s kind of what my classes are…


Chris August 14, 2015 at 14:56

Do you have a favorite plant book for identifying these wild plants? In episode 17
I thought you had a book you put pressed samples in on their description page.


Green Deane September 2, 2015 at 05:53

Yes, where do yo live?


Bob G. April 1, 2016 at 14:21

I live in central Florida, The Villages. What plant identification book do you recommend? I’m new to this site.


Lou August 27, 2014 at 06:23

Does anyone know where to buy this horsemint in the US? are there any US suppliers?


Cindy August 11, 2015 at 22:31

I bought seeds from They were slow-growing at first, but once the weather warmed, they grew quickly.


Dianne Busch September 23, 2016 at 15:35

I just bought a plant at Taylor Gardens Nursery in Citra, FL. Off Rt 329 just near Sparr Lumber. Look up and give phone call for directions. Nice couple with many unusual items and good stock. Master Gardeners from Marion County buy there.


Gypsum February 5, 2014 at 10:52

I was wondering where I can start my search for a course or class on foraging and what not? (Which is poison, which is edible, which heals)? Thanks

Love & Light


Green Deane February 5, 2014 at 12:58

On my homepage under the button foraging there is a drop down menue. It says foraging instructors.Then click down to your state. There are some in Arizona and nearby states. They probably also know more about local classes as well.


Margaret Ducharme January 4, 2014 at 21:39

Melalueca, a company that makes natural cleaning products, makes a Non-Toxic disinfecting cleaner with thymol called Sol U Gard ( Brand name)
I have used it for many years, it is registered for use in schools etc.


Shanda October 3, 2013 at 06:19

Thanks again for the great info green Dean. Still looking for Japanese Knotweed for Lyme medicine. Please let me know if you run across any.
Hugs from Spring Hill.


Beth August 11, 2016 at 02:06

I know the post I’m replying to is several years old, but I didn’t want anyone to see it and think it would be good to plant Japanese knotweed to harvest for medicinal purposes. The Mid-Atlantic is overrun with Japanese knotweed! It is a TERRIBLE invasive exotic that chokes out native vegetation, especially on river and stream banks. It grows in very dense, tall clumps and spreads rapidly. There’s no practical way to eliminate it once established. I beg you not to plant Japanese knotweed, wherever you live!!!


Marti September 9, 2013 at 10:29

One of my favorite flowers. Most around my part of Texas are white and bloom late spring. I love the darker purple ones but rarely see them and have wondered if the soil pH has anything to do with the bloom color. Have you ever made the tea? If so, what does it taste like? Seems like everyone in our family ends up with Alzheimer’s.


Joseph September 4, 2013 at 19:10

I recently transplanted some of this from an abandoned county lot. I didn’t notice the flower at the time, just the aroma. I figured it must be a mint, but was waiting to find out what kind. Thanks for the mention of horsemint in your newsletter. The flowers of mine are yellow, but I have not noticed any purple. Maybe it was just a weak purple. I will try to take a pic when I am able. I will try a weak tea next time I have a cold(as soon I am sure of its identity). Thanks.


Eric in Japan September 3, 2013 at 00:46

I think I read somewhere that it is propofol (2,6-diisopropylphenol), not thymol, that is abused by some anesthesiologists and nurses. Thymol is similar but not as powerful.

If it works as a poultice for arthritis, do you think it could work on gout?

Great article, thanks!


jean benne July 2, 2013 at 21:17

Is there a horse mint that is a perennial in eastern PA


Brian November 11, 2012 at 00:11

Would you use Monarda citrodora in the same way?


Green Deane November 11, 2012 at 20:42



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