Grow & Use Spotted Bee Balm (Horsemint)

Spotted bee balm (Monarda punctata) is a stellar pollinator plant in the mint family which attracts all kinds of native bees and butterflies to your garden. As a bonus, the plant has use as an edible herbal too!

spotted bee balm plant with group of ducks in background
Spotted bee balm, also called horsemint, in the garden. It draws in all sorts of native pollinators and is an attractive low-care ornamental as well!

At a Glance:

  • Plant: Pollinator Flower/Medicinal Herb
  • Scientific Name: Monarda punctata
  • Other names: Horsemint, Horse Mint, Dotted Bee Balm, Yellow Dotted Mint
  • Days to maturity: Blossoms may arrive late in the season when started indoors; otherwise plants may not bloom until second year.
  • Frost-hardy: Yes; USDA Hardiness Zones 3 to 8
  • Lifespan: Perennial
  • When to plant: Start indoors 8-10 weeks before estimated final frost date, or direct-sow after all risk of frost has passed.
  • Edible: Yes
  • Part used: Leaves and flowers; aerial portions
  • Requires support: Sometimes
  • Features: Drought tolerant, long blooming, native garden plant, deer & rabbits are unlikely to eat this plant
spotted bee balm can be white, or have tinges of purple and pink
The leaf like bracts on spotted bee balm plants have color variations. Some plants may look like they have all white bracts, while others will appear to be purple/pink toned.

How to Grow

Like other bee balms, spotted bee balm is super easy to grow from seed. In addition, it’s also drought tolerant and requires little care, making it a perfect addition to herb gardens, perennial borders, or wherever you want to provide nectar or food for honeybees, bumblebees, moths, and butterflies.

Sowing Indoors

  • Surface sow in containers of pre-moistened soil. Simply scatter the seeds on top – it may be helpful to mix the tiny seed with sand first, as the sand stands out against the soil, making it more obvious where seeds have already been sown.
  • Gently tamp the seeds down with your fingertips, and cover with plastic wrap or a greenhouse top. These are light-dependent germinators, so keep the seeds warm, moist, and in the light until germination occurs, which should be in 14-21 days.
  • Seedlings will likely be very closely clustered together. Wait until seedlings have at least two true leaves before attempting to divide. In very dense clusters, thin out unwanted seedlings with a pair of scissors so that the remaining seedlings can grow large enough to be divided.
pollinators love spotted bee balm
Native pollinators flock to spotted bee balm on sunny days!

Sowing Outdoors

  • To grow outside, simply scatter the seeds on the surface of the soil after all risk of frost has completely passed.
  • Water daily, keeping the seeds constantly moist, until germination occurs.
  • After sprouts have become clearly visible, thin out dense clusters until you have 1 seedling every few inches.
  • As seedlings grow, continually thin out weaker and less vigorous seedlings until the remaining plants are spaced 1 foot apart from each other.

Transplanting Outdoors

Bee balm should have several sets of true leaves and a healthy root system before you transplant them outdoors. Harden off the seedlings for 2 weeks once they are ready. Once hardened, plant them 1 foot apart from each other in full sun and well-draining soil. Don’t worry about amendments, just plonk them right in the ground! No compost or fertilizer required – spotted bee balm is a hardy plant!

spotted bee balm flowers have tiny dots on them
The yellow tubular flowers of spotted bee balm are covered in tiny maroon dots or spots. The large pointy leaf like bracts (that are sometimes confused as flower petals) can be shades of white, pink, purple, or green.

Other Care:

Like other bee balms, dotted bee balm is also very prone to powdery mildew. Dense and large clumps can accelerate the appearance of this annoying fungus, so try to ensure your plant always has a good amount of airflow!

Water regularly. If it doesn’t rain, it will enjoy getting about an inch of water a week.

You can divide your bee balm every 2-3 years. The roots are rhizomes, and form mats that can be split into chunks, and transplanted to wherever you so desire!

The stems get very tall and can sometimes lean. If you notice your bee balm stalks starting to lean or break, you may need to provide support in the form of poles, or, for large patches, perhaps even a wire cage.

basket of flowering spotted bee balm tops
A small basket of spotted bee balm – it’s good to leave most of the flowers in the garden, since they’re usually loaded with visiting pollinators!


The best time to collect the flowering tops of spotted bee balm (which is about the top 1/4 of the plant) is on a dry sunny day, or when there’s no dew or rain on the leaves, flowers, or leafy bracts.

Because so many pollinators and tiny insects enjoy bee balm, only collect what you need and leave most of the flowers behind.

Once you’ve collected some, leave the container of plants outside for about 20 minutes, so any stray bugs or ants can escape. (They don’t want to be in your house, any more than you want them there!)

You can use the flowering tops fresh to make liniments, teas, and tinctures, or dry them for using in teas or infused oils/salves.

jar of chopped spotted bee balm tops
a jar of chopped, fresh dotted bee balm

Drying & Storage Tips

Spread the stems out in a single layer on a drying screen or paper towels, out of direct sunlight. Leave them to dry for several days, or until they’re completely dried all the way through.

Store the dried pieces in brown paper bags or glass jars in a cool dark spot. Don’t crumble them up until you’re ready to use the leaves or flowers, so they can hold on to the beneficial aromatic compounds as long as possible!

Shelf life is about 12 months, or as long as the plant matter still has scent and color.

jar of liniment made with apple cider vinegar, witch hazel, and chopped spotted bee balm
A simple liniment, made with apple cider vinegar, witch hazel, and dotted bee balm. You could also add other herbs for even more effect.

Uses for Spotted Bee Balm

Spotted Bee Balm (Monarda punctata), can be used in many of the same ways as its cousin, Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), including: a steam or tea for mild colds, and an effective liniment for chigger and insect bites.

To make the liniment:

  • Fill a half-pint jar about half-way with well chopped fresh spotted bee balm (or half as much dried spotted bee balm).
  • Pour in 1/4 cup witch hazel, then fill the jar almost to the top with apple cider vinegar and stir well.
  • Cap with a non-metallic lid and infuse for about 2 weeks before using.
  • Dab onto itchy chigger and bug bites for quick cooling relief.
  • Reapply as often as needed.

Recipe notes: If you don’t have witch hazel, try using more apple cider vinegar in its place. Other optional skin soothing herbs to add could include plantain leaves or calendula flowers.

Horsemint (spotted bee balm, yellow dotted mint) is naturally high in thymol and other beneficial compounds, and traditionally used for colds, flu, sore throats, fevers, wounds, and rheumatic joints.

For mild congestion:

  • Try crumbling the dried herb over a pan of boiling water and (carefully!) breathing in the aromatic steam.
  • Or make a tea to sip on – abt 2 tsp dried herb to 1 cup water, steeped 5 minutes, strain and add a generous amount of honey. (Not to be used during pregnancy.) The cooled tea can also be applied externally for minor skin irritations.

Don’t take bee balm internally if you’re pregnant; check with your doctor if you’re on medications or have any health concerns before ingesting. Spotted bee balm is rather strong in both scent and effect, so in our family, we personally prefer to just use it externally.

Related Article: How to Grow & Use Bee Balm

spotted bee balm in the garden
Spotted bee balm is also called horse mint, dotted bee balm, yellow dotted mint, or spotted horsemint.

References & Further Reading

Cech, Richo. Making Plant Medicine. Williams, OR: Horizon Herbs, 2000. Print.

Lawson, Sims K. et al. The Volatile Phytochemistry of Monarda Species Growing in South Alabama. Plants, 2021. Volume 10, Issue 3. 10.3390/plants10030482 

Native American Ethnobotany Database. Online. Accessed June, 2022.

Our articles are for information and idea-sharing only. While we aim for 100% accuracy, it is solely up to the reader to provide proper identification. Be sure to seek out local foraging classes and plant walks, and invest in mushroom and foraging guides suitable for the area you live in, since some wild foods are poisonous, or may have adverse effect.

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  1. Thank you for this great information about monarda punctata. I love monardas and I grow them in my garden at home and allotment to bring pollinators.They are incredibly beautiful.
    Your website always brings very interesting articles.
    Thank you and take care

    1. Hi Maria, So happy you enjoy the website & the article! The monardas are among my favorite plants too. They contribute so much color and life to the garden.

  2. I have tinctured the Texas variety of Monarda Punctata. My husband had food poisoning with nausea which he had all night. The next morning while I was preparing ginger tea, I gave him a couple of droppers full of the tincture in a fourth cup of water. When I returned with the tea, he said he didn’t need it because the nausea was gone.

    Carvacrol is another very active ingredient in the variety in Northeast Illinois, and Eastern Iowa. After lab testing a white paper was written confirming the many of the constituents in the essential oil. I don’t know how to attach the paper, but if you want it, give me an email.

    1. Hi Patricia, Thanks for sharing your experience with Monarda punctata! I find new reasons to love the monardas every year & can’t wait to plant even more next season!
      I would love a link to the white paper if you have it handy, or you can email us unrulygardening @ 🙂

  3. Just harvested some branches from wild clumps at work. Dug up a plant for home as well. Thanks for the information on how to use this. Love learning about what the earth has to offer us if we’re willing to take a little time!

    1. Hi Steve, So happy to hear that you enjoyed the article!
      I agree – it’s amazing how many wonderful things are right around us if we stop and take the time to notice them. 🙂

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