This is a great pollinator plant and honey producer. 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 but in small amounts is said to be quite healthy for bees and people.
Native to Texas, Horsemint is commonly found in Real Texas Honey and is a great honey producer. Thymol is a natural treatment for bees to aid in the reduction or elimination of mite populations and so this is a favorite plant for many beekeepers.
Horsemint 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. Can be propagated by seeds or cuttings.
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 throughout the United States. There are about 20 different types of 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.
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.
- 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: For Texas, Can be year round in the U.S. but favors late summer and fall in Northern Climates.
- 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.
- HONEY FLAVOR: Horsemint is said to have a bit of spice to it compared to other Texas honey. It’s a unique, slight lemony flavor.