Common Names: Scarlet beebalm, crimson beebalm, scarlet monarda, Oswego tea, bergamot
Sub-category: Mint family
Bergamot is extensively grown as an ornamental plant both within and outside its native range; it is naturalized further west in the United States and also in parts of Europe and Asia. A hardy perennial plant grows to 0.7 to 1.5 m in height, with the stems square in cross-section. The leaves are opposite on the square stems, 6 to 15 cm long and 3 to 8 cm broad, and dark green with reddish leaf veins and a coarsely-toothed margin; they are glabrous or sparsely pubescent above, with spreading hairs below. It has ragged, bright red tubular flowers 3 to 4 cm long, borne on showy heads of about 30 together, with reddish bracts.
It grows in dense clusters along stream banks, thickets and ditches. Common in butterfly and flower gardens. Flowers from mid- to late summer.
Edible Notes: The name Oswego Tea comes from the Oswego Indians who taught the immigrants how to use it for tea after the Boston tea party in 1773. The flowers and leaves are good ingredients for potpourri making. Note that the bergamot herb is not the source of bergamot oil, used to flavor Earl Grey tea; that comes from the bergamot orange, a Mediterranean citrus fruit. Bee Balm has a long history of use as a medicinal plant by many Native Americans including the Blackfeet. The Blackfeet Indians recognized this plant's strong antiseptic action, and used poultices of the plant for skin infections and minor wounds. A tea made from the plant was also used to treat mouth and throat infections caused by dental caries and gingivitis. Bee Balm is the natural source of the antiseptic Thymol, the primary active ingredient in modern commercial mouthwash formulas. The Winnebago used a tea made from bee Balm as a general stimulant. Bee Balm was also used as a carminative herb by Native Americans to treat excessive flatulence.
Warnings: Not known to be dangerous.