Monday, July 8, 2013

Roadside Weeds: Wild Bergamot, or Bee Balm

There are many plants in bloom at this time of year. Usually I am too busy to take notice, much less write about them. But there are some that just cry out for a post, like bergamot.

Every morning I drink Earl Grey tea. I love its floral fragrance and unique flavor. Earl Grey gets its distinctive qualities in part from a variety of citrus fruit, the bergamot orange. But there is also a member of the mint family commonly called bergamot, and its fragrance is very near that of Earl Grey tea, at least to me.

Many people grow this plant in their flowerbeds and may never realize the strong aroma carried in its leaves. Bees love it too, hence the common name bee balm.
Bergamot comes in several colors; I have a deep lavender in my garden.

The wild version is usually a paler lavender although I have also seen the red variety growing wild--probably an escapee from someone's flower bed.

Bergamot has been known for centuries for its herbal properties. Native Americans used it extensively for medicinal purposes. The USDA Plant Guide website offers the following information:

Ethnobotanic: The Tewa Indians because of the flavor it imparted cooked Wild bergamot with meat. The Iroquois used the plant in the making of a beverage. The plant has a wide variety of medicinal uses. 

The Ojibwe put a wad of chewed leaves of this plant into their nostrils to relieve headache. The tops of the plant were dried and used as a sternutatory for the relief of colds. The leaves were placed in warm water baths for babies. The Flambeau Ojibwe gathered and dried the whole plant, boiling it in a vessel to obtain the volatile oil to inhale to cure catarrh and bronchial affections. The Menomini also used this plant as a remedy for catarrh, steeping the leaves and inflorescences in a tea. The Meskwaki used this plant in combination with other plants to relieve colds.  

The Hocak (Winnebago) used wild bergamot in their sweat bath and inhaled the fumes to cure colds. A decoction of boiled leaves was used as a cure for eruptions on the face. The Cherokee made a warm poultice of the plant to relieve a headache. The Teton Dakota boiled together the leaves and flowers as a cure for abdominal pains. The Blackfoot made a tea from the blossoms and leaves to cure stomach pains. They also applied boiled leaves to the pustules of acne. 

The Tewa dried the plant and ground it into a powder that was rubbed over the head to cure headaches, over the body to cure fever, and as a remedy for sore eyes and colds. Early white settlers used it as a diaphoretic and carminative, and occasionally employed it for the relief of flatulent colic, nausea and vomiting. 

It would seem this plant is a cure-all to read this! Personally, I like it simply for its lovely flowers, aromatic leaves and the benefit to our honeybees. That's enough for me.

Copyright 2012 Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.


Nance said...

horse mint. I thought maybe what you call bee balm or bergamot was what we call horse mint. guess not. I love wild flowers and plants but I have discovered since I 'grew up' that the names I have for some prolific and home spun, familiar plants are not the same names that others call those plants. Therefore . . . and so. I have enjoyed your story . . . and will enjoy any comments.

Granny Sue said...

Nance, it's also called horsemint, so it is the same plant as the one you know. It is widely distributed in the US, and blooms about the same time as the orange daylilies (or tiger lilies as some people call them). The combination of colors is really nice---I think the Creator knew planned these gorgeous displays for our enjoyment :)

Mamabug said...

Wonderful post this morning! I love this pretty wildflower too.

Sue said...

I love the violet bergamot. I do use the essential oil sometimes.


annie said...

I would love to have some of the purple. I have the red, it leaves smell of lemon. I have not tried it in any type of herbal use. The hummingbirds love it. I once transplanted some dahlias from a old lady's garden after she had passed. The new renters let me, the ground hogs ate the dahlias, but the bee balm lives on here with me now. Sounds like part of a tale! grin, have a great week!

Brighid said...

I have a small patch of the pale flowered bee balm. Will be on the look out for the violet one. Interesting uses for it, but I think I'll stick to scent and tea.

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