Bergamot

Annette McDermott
Reviewed by Terri Forehand RN
Bergamot flower

Bergamot (Monarda), also known as bee balm or horsemint, is a flowering perennial herb and member of the mint family native to North America. Its flowers and leaves are ornamental and edible and offer several medicinal benefits.

History

Historically, bergamot was used medicinally and as a tea by Native Americans. It's believed that during the tea boycott that occurred after the Boston Tea Party, American colonists were introduced to bergamot tea by the Oswego Indians. According to Medicinal Herb Info., bergamot was later primarily cultivated by the American Shakers, herbalists who appreciated the plants culinary and medicinal value.

The plant's genus name (Monarda) comes from Nicolas Monardes, a 16th century Spanish botanist who wrote about medicinal plants, but it earned the nickname "bergamot" due to the citrus scent it shares with the Italian bergamot orange. However, it's important to note that the Monarda bergamot plant is not related to the bergamot tree which is the source of the orange that is used in Earl Grey tea and produces bergamot essential oil.

Characteristics

The USDA Plant Guide states that wild bergamot is found in upland woods, thickets and prairies. The plant grows approximately four feet high and almost as wide, making it a nice ornamental border plant. It has hairy stems, a fuzzy pom-pom center surrounded by scarlet-purple petals and a minty fragrance. Other bergamot species such as lemon or orange bergamot have a citrus fragrance.

Bergamot's bright flowers are known to attract bees, hummingbirds and butterflies and look beautiful in floral arrangements and potpourri.

Growing Bergamot

You can grow bergamot by propagating cuttings from wild plants in the spring or summer or by planting seeds. Bergamot plants enjoy full sun and well-drained but moist soil. The plants can be aggressive so it's important to divide them every few years. Bergamot leaves should be harvested in late spring for drying. The flowers can be harvested as needed.

Culinary Uses

Bergamot's strong-scented leaves can be used to flavor teas, jams or jellies, fruit salads and green salads. Lemon or orange bergamot leaves are especially delicious in cold and hot teas or lemonade. Some people believe bergamot has a scent and taste similar to oregano -- try it in place of oregano in pizza, breads or salsa.

Medicinal Benefits

The University of Georgetown Medical Center's (UGMC) website states that bee balm (bergamot) is currently used in herbal medicine to treat the following conditions:

  • Gas
  • Nausea
  • Menstrual cramps
  • Sore throat

Bergamot contains thymol, a natural antiseptic found in some mouthwash and toothpaste brands, and a bergamot infusion is often used in herbal medicine to treat mouth sores and irritation. UGMC also indicates that while research on bergamot is minimal, there is promising evidence that the herb may successfully treat wounds and prevent infection -- thymol may be responsible for this success. In addition, bergamot essential oil has been shown to display anti-platelet activity.

The antiseptic properties in thymol also make bergamot an effective remedy for minor cuts, skin irritations and insect bites.

Consult your physician or qualified herbalist before using bergamot to treat a medical condition.

A Soothing Herb

Bergamot soothes the senses with its vibrant flowers and lovely fragrance while its medicinal properties soothe the body. It's a wonderful addition to any herb or flower garden.

Bergamot