When I think of bergamot I think red. Bright red flowers add a punch of color, attract bees and butterflies and are a garden favorite. Wild bergamot, also known as purple bee-balm, brings color to late summer meadows too. Native to the US it can be found across the country favoring woodlands, thickets and prairies. It is an aromatic herbaceous perennial with square stems that spreads by seeds and rhizomes. Delicate purple flowers bloom from June to September. In the managed meadow near where I live, wild bergamot with dainty lavender flowers sway in summertime breezes and add to the meadow land palette as summer moves along.
Botanical Name: Monarda fistulosa
Parts Used: leaves and flowers
Uses: this plant has been widely used by the Native culture across North America. Leaves were placed in water baths for infants. Tea from the leaves was a remedy for colds and lung congestions. The aromatic compounds in the mint family make this one a flavorful tea, by itself or in combination with other herbs, served hot or cold. Oswego tea, made from wild bergamot, is named after the Oswego Indians in upstate New York.
Flowers make a colorful edition to salads, as a garnish, also used in sun teas. The leaves have a stronger flavor and were and are used to flavor meat and poultry dishes.
Recipe: Sun Tea
Place bee-balm flowers in glass jar, cover with water and place in the sun at least 2 or more hours. Strain if desired, pour over ice and serve. Many flowers in our gardens are edible. Chives blossoms, viola, violet, wild daisies, yarrow, wild strawberry leaves and berries, chamomile, lavender, thyme and marjoram blossoms can be used too depending on preferred taste.
Nutritional Value: the colorful flowers contain flavanoids, powerful antioxidants that are health promoting. Quercetin, an antioxidant identified in bergamot, seems to help relieve late summer allergy season symptoms. Native Americans also used a tea of the leaves to treat parasites and worms. Science is now proving these claims to be true.
The leaves contain thymol which has antibacterial and anti- fungal effects and seem to have the ability to inhibit the growth of E. coli.
Wild bergamot is waning. The dried flowers still have a rich minty scent. Gather a few if you can and make a refreshing summer tea over ice. Though many flowers are waning, ice tea sounds good as it’s another hot day here in New England.
Judith Dreyer, MS, BSN, Writer, Speaker, Holistic Health Consultant and Workshop Presenter, Master Gardener. © all rights reserved.