The Wild Bergamot
MISSOURI NATIVE SPECIES | July 1, 2020
Up next in my Missouri Native Species Collection is the Wild Bergamot flower. The Wild Bergamot, most commonly referred to as “Bee Balm”, is a plant native to North America. Sprawling far and wide across the continent, Bee Balm is a favorite of pollinators and has a long history of culinary and medicinal use. There are many variations of Monarda fistulosa, all colorfully ornamental and desirable in pollinator and herb gardens.
Characteristics of the Wild Bergamot
Wild Bergamot is a variety of the mint family. Clusters of ragged pom-pom-like flowers vary in color from white to pink to purple, sitting atop a thick calyx and bract petals. Tubular, edible flowers attract a variety of pollinators including butterflies, bumblebees and hummingbirds. This wonderfully aromatic perennial is widespread in the United States and is a favorite among butterfly and bumblebee gardens.
Wild Bergamot towers over other plants, reaching heights up to 3 feet tall. Solitary flowers sitting tall atop thick branches are hermaphroditic, containing two stamens. Monarda plants thrive in direct sunlight and grow comfortably across a wide medium of substrates.
Named for Spanish physician and botanist, Nicolás Bautista Monardes, the genus Monarda includes a variety of flowering plants native to North America. Monardes practiced medicine in Seville in the early 1530s and developed an interest in utilizing botanicals for medicinal purposes. Monardes published several books detailing plants found in the “New World”, despite never having traveled to the Americas. His most significant work, Historia medicinal de las cosas que se traen de nuestras Indias Occidentales (Medical study of the products imported from our West Indian possessions) detailed the therapeutic benefits of many herbs and botanicals.
Some historians believe that, inspired by Monardes’ work, King Philip II of Spain dispatched Francisco Hernández de Toledo to the Americas in 1570 to study medicinal plants. Hernández de Toledo would spend seven years collecting, studying, and classifying some 3,000 New World specimens, including corn, cocoa, and pineapple.
Liber-Tea: Bee Balm and the American Revolution
Early American settlers boycotting British and Indian teas readily adopted Bergamot tea, utilizing a recipe learned from the Oswego Native Americans. Many years prior to the Boston Tea Party of 1773, natural botanist John Bartram (among other settlers) learned of a floral tea while staying at Fort Oswego, a trading post in the Great Lakes region. Bartram shared the Oswego Tea recipe with settlers who quickly substituted boycotted black teas with Bee Balm tea. The abundance of the Bee Balm plant made it a very popular alternative to traditional European teas, and became a staple in settler gardens.
Culinary & Medicinal Uses
Also known as Oswego tea, many people have utilized Wild Bergamot both in culinary cuisine and for medicinal purposes. Bergamot leaves are used as an herb, with a flavor profile similar to that of a peppery Oregano. Bergamot flowers add a colorful garnish to salads and can be crushed and used in tropical fruit punch recipes. Steeping dried flowers in black tea creates a tea similar to Earl Grey.
Easy Bee Balm Tea Recipe
- 1 Tbsp. Bee Balm fresh edible flower (you may use leaves too)
- 1 Cup of Water
- Honey or Sugar to taste, optional
Bring water to a boil. Place bee balm in a cup (or a tea ball and then in a cup). Pour boiling water over bee balm. Add sweetener to taste (optional). Let steep for 10 minutes. Enjoy!
People can utilize Bergamot flowers and leaves for many purposes! From soothing one’s digestive tract, treating indigestion and nausea, easing menstrual pain and calming one’s nervous system, the application of this plant is highly versatile. Mixed with other herbs, Bergamot can be used as a throat salve and an herbal steam. Applied topically, the oils aid in reducing skin irritations like rashes.
There is no shortage of uses for the Bee Balm plant. The oils extracted from Wild Bergamot are used in essential oil production and is often blended with lavender oil to create a sleeping aid. Bee Balm essential oils possess anti-fungal properties and can treat various skin infections. Its distinctive aromatic properties make it a great use for potpourri mixes as well.
The Wild Bergamot is a beautiful, highly versatile plant that humans have cultivated for centuries. From its wide medicinal and culinary uses to its lush beauty in gardens, Bergamot is a wonderful plant that is as useful as it is pretty.
Sources: Encyclopedia Britannica, the Missouri Botanical Garden, Wikipedia
Technical: Fujifilm X100V