Wild bergamot blooms from midsummer to fall and has an unmistakable scent, similar to that of oranges. Its heady scent fills the warm air and is so attractive to bees, that this culinary herb is also called bee balm. A member of the mint family, bergamot is an aggressive grower and can easily take over a garden bed. It grows from underground rhizomes that divide and spread. Like all plants in the mint family, bergamot has a squarish, four-sided stem.
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The dried leaves of the bergamot plant can be brewed to make a tea that is slightly sedative in nature, and is known to help relieve nausea and flatulence. Bergamot is also called Oswego Tea because members of the Oswego tribe living in the area of the Great Lakes used it as a medicinal tea.
Dried bergamot leaves make a fragrant addition to any potpourri. They can also be used to scent candles and as an ingredient in many perfumes.
Not only do bergamot leaves add a sweet flavor to jams, jellies and desserts, they also add a delicate, sweet fragrance to food as well.
Because wild bergamot is so attractive to bees, its pollen and nectar are collected by the insects and taken back to the hive where honey is produced. Therefore, wild bergamot is known as a "honey plant."
The flowers of wild bergamot are generally red, but pink, mauve and white are also common. The blooms are flat-topped with long, curved, bugle-like petals. The plants can grow to 4 feet.
During the tea boycott that followed the Boston Tea Party of 1773, wild bergamot was commonly used for brewing tea in place of black tea.