Of all the species in the Monarda genus, Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) is just about the easiest for saving seed. I’ve collected seed several months after blooming, after birds have fed on seed heads and still obtained lots of seed. The tubes of Bergamot flowers seem to hold their seed much more tightly than Scarlet Bee Balm, but will still release it easily enough. Read below to see how I collect the seed!
How to harvest and save Wild Bergamot Seed
- Remove seed heads after all petals have fallen and the seed heads look dry and brown. The earlier you do this the better, as in don’t wait until Christmas!
- Dry the seed heads in a paper bag or container. For about a week.
- Shake the seed heads around in a sealed container, or paper bag.
- Sift the seed/chaff mixture using a fine mesh kitchen strainer. Repeat this step to remove most of the chaff.
- Store the seeds in an envelope or zip-lock baggy (if completely dry). Do so in a cool dry place.
The seeds will be viable for several years after collection/harvest. But, you must store them correctly. If exposed to UV light the seeds will lose viability. If exposed to moisture, the seeds will rot.
Process for saving Bee Balm seeds
1 – Locate plants
Wild Bergamot grows wild in ditches and open fields around the Eastern half of the United States. While driving you may notice some blooming. If so, make a mental note as to the location. You can return to gather seed about a month after blooming has finished.
If you you are collecting from your own plants, then you can ignore this step.
Note, if you are gathering seed from a flower bed, make sure that the plant is a true native species. Garden centers and big box stores often sell hybrids of this and other Monarda species.
If it is a true native species, then you can be sure that the seed you collect will grow the plant you want. However, if you are gathering seed from a hybrid, the seed will yield one of the parent plants. Or the seed could be sterile.
2 – Gather the seed heads
Roughly 4 weeks after blooming, go inspect the plants. If the seed heads are dry, you can collect them.
Carefully cut the seed heads off. Take care not to tip the seed head sideways or upside down until it is safely over a container or paper bag. The seed will just fall out of the seed head.
Don’t believe me? Watch the clip below!
3 – Store/dry the seed heads
Leave the seed heads in a brown paper bag, or safely in a container that is exposed to the air in a dry environment for about 1 week. Doing this step will help the seeds dislodge more easily.
4 – Extract the seeds from the seed head
Shake the seed heads in a bag, or knock the seed heads on the side of a bucket. The seed should freely fall out of the head if dry.
5 – Sift the seed in a kitchen strainer
Empty the contents of the bag, or bucket into a kitchen strainer over a paper plate. Then sift the contents several times to separate some of the chaff.
6 – Store the seed
Wild Bergamot seed can be stored in a cool dry place for several years. If you are confident that your seed is completely dry then you can store it in a zip-lock bag for several years. If you are unsure if your Bergamot seed is dry, then you can store it in an envelope for several years.
Here is a YouTube video we made showing the whole process from start to finish!
Tips on locating Wild Bergamot plants in the wild
Wild Bergamot is a prairie plant that grows wild throughout the Midwest and Eastern United States. It tends to grow in prairies, meadows, and roadside ditches. Wild Bergamot is quite versatile in that it can live in slightly moist to slightly dry soil and is quite drought tolerant.
In early to mid Summer, look for the lavender colored flowers growing wild. It is rare to only locate a single plant, as Wild Bergamot can be quite aggressive.
20 seed heads should be sufficient to collect enough seed for personal use in propagating more plants.
Will mesh bags help with seed collection?
Mesh bags with drawstrings are available for purchase. The specific ones I use are on our recommended products page. However, even the fine mesh of those is not enough to contain the tiny seeds of Wild Bergamot.
So, unfortunately you just need to get out there before January to collect your seed!
Before you go…
Since you are interested in saving seed from this Bee Balm, perhaps you would enjoy some other species. Below we have a good overview on several species of the Monarda genus, covering Wild Bergamot, Red Bee Balm, and Spotted Bee Balm (which blooms into Autumn).
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I have been harvesting and collecting seed from Wild Bergamot for 5 years. I have learned quite a few tricks over the years to refine my process. I get the most seed, without the chaff, and will happily share my method!
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