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Bergamot. (Monarda dydima)

Bergamot just coming into flower.

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Monarda dydimaBergamot, Monarda dydima
Bergamot is an excellent ornamental and culinary herb, and belongs to the mint family, Lamiaceae.

A hardy perennial, it produces loose whorls of showy flowers around the square stems, borne above the leaves. Flowers are normally red, but many forms and cultivars have been developed with flowers in shades of pink, purple or white. It reaches about 90 cm in height, and flowers from mid summer to early autumn. The whole plant is fragrant, especially the young leaves.

Bergamot is a native to eastern North America. Seeds collected from the shores of Lake Oswego were sent to England in the 18th century and sold in London's Covent Garden market as 'Oswego Tea'. Bee balm is a popular name in the USA, because the flowers are rich in nectar and very attractive to bees, (and butterflies), something that is no less evident in this country. Medicinally, it was used by Native American tribes, and is still valuable as a remedy for bronchial infections, sore throats, colds and flu.

Bergamot thrives in moisture retentive soil, in full or partial sun. Propagate established plants by division in either autumn or spring, or by separating and replanting portions of the creeping roots. Older clumps benefit from being lifted and replanted every 3-4 years to prevent growth from deteriorating. Discard the central part of the clump, and divide the remainder into 3 or 4 pieces. Replenish the soil before replanting, adding leaf mould or compost as when first preparing the soil
Both flowers and leaves are used, the leaves having a slightly more 'savoury' flavour. Use in fruit salads and drinks, for tea and in soups, jams and jellies. To flavour black tea, add one tablespoon of fresh bergamot flowers to a small pot of good quality black tea and leave to infuse for about 5 minutes. Alternatively, use the flowers and leaves on their own.
The flavour of bergamot goes well with fruit such as pineapple, mango and orange, as well as being good with savoury dishes and in salads. Both flowers and leaves can be dried for culinary use, but the flavour is much better when used fresh.
The flowers and leaves are good in pot pourri mixtures when dried. Bergamot also makes good cut flowers, or can be dried whole for decoration. To do this, cut the stems just as the flowers are about to open. Remove the lower leaves, gather into small bunches and hang them upside down in a dark, airy place to dry.

7 Jul, 2007

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Pictures by Tussiemussie
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This photo is of "Bergamot" in Tussiemussie's garden

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