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Bergamot

  • Monarda didyma L.
  • Larmiaceae
  • Labiatae
  • Mint family



Common Names

herbsAmerican bee balm
herbsBeebalm
herbsGold melissa
herbsIndian nettle
herbsOswego tea
herbsRed bergamot
herbsScarlet monarda


Parts Usually Used

Leaves


Description of Plant(s) and Culture

Bergamot is an American perennial; it is 2-5 feet tall, very erect leafy, tubular stalk topped by a fuzzy flower cluster, brilliant scarlet. The paired leaves are dark green, growing 4-6 inches long. It has a dense, rather shallow root system, with any runners. The plant sets seed which are light brown ovals. Flowers June to September.

Other varieties: Orange mint (M. citrata) is also called bergamot, it is notable for its distinctive, citrus-like fragrance. Its rounded, broad leaves are dark green with a hint of purple. The undersides of the leaves often have a reddish hue, and in spring the entire plant is distinctly reddish-purple.

Wild bergamot or Purple bee-balm (M. fistulosa) is perennial, 2-3 feet tall, with narrow lavender flowers crowned in a terminal head. The leaves make a pleasant-flavored tea. Flowers May to September. Used similarly to M. didyma.

Lemon bergamot or lemon mint (M. citriodora) has purple pink flowers that grow in whorls up the flowering stalk. The strongly lemon-scented leaves are excellent in teas and cooking, the flowers are edible.


Where Found

Native of the Oswego, New York area; found in thickets, fields, on streams banks and cultivated in herb gardens. New York to Georgia; Tennessee to Michigan.


Medicinal Properties

Stimulant, carminative, rubefacient


Legends, Myths and Stories

This plant is entirely different and hardier than Melissa. It is a beautiful scarlet flowering native American mint. The foliage has a perfume fragrance. The flowers are so popular with bees that the plant deserves the name American bee balm.

Bergamot or bee balm is a part of American history; it is a source of tea which was a popular substitute for the imported variety amongst the mid-Atlantic patriots in the wake of the Boston Tea Party. That period was probably the best in bergamot's history, though it retains its mystique, thanks to a striking appearance and the richly American nick-name, Oswego tea.

The name Oswego tea came from the town, Oswego, New York? More likely both the town and the tea acquired the name Oswego from the Native Americans inhabiting the area, who had it first. The Native Americans passed their knowledge of the plant to the colonists, and one, a John Bartram of Philadelphia, reportedly sent seeds to England in the mid-1700s. From England, bergamot traveled to the Continent, where it is still cultivated, generally under the names gold melissa and Indian nettle.

Among the foremost growers of this herb in the United States were the Shakers, who had a settlement near Oswego, New York. The Shakers were among America's great herbalists; they valued bergamot not only for tea and culinary uses, but for its medicinal virtues. The leaves can be used to flavor apple jelly, fruit cups, and salads.

The entire plant emits a strong fragrance similar to citrus, but most like that of the tropical tree, orange bergamot, hence the nickname bergamot. The scent is suitable for use in potpourris and other scented mixtures. The bright red flowers attract bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies and make striking, long-lasting cut blooms. The blossoms provide the flavoring for the famous Earl Grey tea. The flowers are also edible.

The hills around Pittsfield, Massachusetts are rife with this plant, wild and domestic.


Uses

An infusion is good for colds, coughs, nausea, and sore throats. Native Americans used leaf tea for colic, gas, colds, fever, stomachaches, nosebleeds, insomnia, heart trouble, measles, and to induce sweating. Poultice used for headaches. Historically, physicians used leaf tea to expel worms and gas.


Formulas or Dosages

The best quality tea material is achieved if the leaves are stripped off the square, hollow stems and dried in warm shade within 2-3 days. A longer drying period might discolor the leaves, producing an inferior type product. Finish drying with artificial heat when necessary.

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