Monarda didyma L.
* Species Plantarum 1:22. 1753
Monarda didyma (bergamot, scarlet beebalm, scarlet monarda, Oswego tea, or crimson beebalm) is an aromatic herb in the family Lamiaceae, native to eastern North America from Maine west to Ohio and south to northern Georgia. Its name is derived from its odor, which is considered similar to that of the bergamot orange. The scientific name comes from Nicolas Monardes, who described the first American flora in 1569.
This hardy perennial plant grows to 0.7-1.5 m in height, with the stems square in cross-section. The leaves are opposite on the square stems, 6-15 cm long and 3-8 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 3-4 cm long, borne on showy heads of about 30 together, with reddish bracts. It grows in dense clusters along stream banks, thickets and ditches, flowering from mid- to late summer.
Cultivation and uses
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. It grows best in full sun, but tolerates light shade and will thrive in any moist, but well-drained soil. Several cultivars have been selected for different flower color, ranging from white through pink to dark red and purple.
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.
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.
Beebalm 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. Beebalm is the natural source of the antiseptic thymol, the primary active ingredient in modern commercial mouthwash formulas. The Winnebago used a tea made from beebalm as a general stimulant. It was also used as a carminative herb by Native Americans to treat excessive flatulence.
1. ^ Germplasm Resources Information Network: Monarda didyma
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