Bergamot is a native plant of North America where the wild plant, monarda fistulosa, is also widely used. Bergamot tea was popular with the North American Indians of the Oswego area and thus came to be known as Oswego tea.
Bergamot, monarda didyma, has brilliant scarlet flowers which, together with its lovely fragrant scent, make it a popular plant in the garden. It is a perennial herb with creeping roots which grows to about medium height. The rough, serrated eaves smell strongly of mint when bruised and grow in pairs up the stem with the flowers blooming in whorls at the top. Bergamot flowers from July through to September; the flowers often vary in colour from the scarlet which is true monarda didyma through purple, lavender, pink and white. The flowers and leaves can be added fresh to salads, wines and fruit drinks. Bergamot leaves can be used in place of mint for cooking with new potatoes and in sauces. The fresh or dried leaves make a refreshing drink.
The first bergamot plant must be bought from a herb nursery, but thereafter it can be propagated by rooted cuttings taken in early summer or by division of the roots in the autumn. It is best to divide bergamot each year because the middle of the plant dies away, leaving the young strong shoots on the outside. In the spring, plant bergamot in partial shade in moist rich soil and keep it watered in dry spells.
The vivid red flowers and the leaves are the parts of the plant which are used, either fresh or dried. Both flowers and leaves are dried whole. They are then stored in the usual way.
Bergamot tea, made with fresh or dried flowers, is a pleasant, aromatic and relaxing drink. Its fragrant minty flavour is equally good hot or cold and it can be sweetened with honey.
* To make bergamot tea: Pour a cupful of boiling water on to a small handful of flowers. Leave to infuse for 5 minutes then strain and use.
Bergamot milk, taken at night, is a very good sedative.
* To make bergamot milk: Pour a cup of boiling milk on to a small handful of chopped fresh or dried leaves. Leave to infuse for about 5 minutes then strain.
* A bergamot pillow has a calming effect on the nerves.
Dried bergamot flowers and leaves add lasting colour and fragrance to potpourris.