Power Plants: Bergamot

via Bryce Wylde

Biohacks, Remedies

Power Plants

BERGAMOT (Monarda didyma)
If you want hummingbirds and butterflies in your garden, this is the plant to grow! With its deep crimson colour, it will attract nearly everything in the business of dealing pollen.
Bergamot—also called bee balm—is part of the mint family (Lamiaceae). It shouldn’t be mistaken for the unrelated Bergamot orange used in Earl Grey tea, though it does smell very similar. It also shouldn’t be confused with lemon balm (see page TK), which is also in the Lamiaceae family.
(Stomach Upset, Halitosis )
If you rub the leaves of bergamot you’ll smell the unmistakably strong lemony aroma, a result of the high amount of medicinal oils (including thymol) found in this plant. Bergamot tea has been traditionally used to treat premenstrual syndrome, as it has antispasmodic (muscle relaxing) effects. It is now primarily used for digestive disorders and as an antiseptic. It has carminative properties, which means it can prevent formation of gas in the gastrointestinal tract. It may also be a mild diuretic and has been used to decrease fever.
Difficulty: Medium
Hardiness: Perennial in zones 3 to 9
Time to Plant: Spring through fall
Time to Harvest: Summer
Location: Full to part sun
Soil Type: Any
A traditional border plant in the perennial garden, bergamot offers aromatic blooms in several colours, including white, pink and red. You can cut the blooms and enjoy them in a vase, but I prefer to leave them in the garden to attract bees, hummingbirds and butterflies. The challenge with bergamot is its susceptibility to disease, especially powdery mildew, although resistant varieties are now available.
Common Varieties: Heirloom varieties include Cambridge Scarlet, Croftway Pink, Granite Pink, and Snow White, to name just a few. Look for mildew-resistant varieties, including Blaustrumpf (Blue Stocking), Colrain Red, Gardenview Scarlet, Marshall’s Delight, Sunset, and Violet Queen.


Bergamot can be planted in the garden almost any time during the growing season. It enjoys full sun and tolerates most soils: it will even thrive in clay soils. Bergamot is easily divided, and can even be propagated by taking a small section of stem and rooting it in soil. (Stem cuttings should be taken in mid spring while foliage is young.) If you’re growing it from seed, sow in early spring and space the seeds about 45 to 60 cm apart.
Bergamot enjoys damp soil and should be watered frequently. The key is to monitor it for disease and pests throughout the growing season. To prevent mildew, keep the soil evenly moist and provide good air circulation between plants by thinning stems early on. If mildew develops after flowering, cut the plant back to uninfected leaves at the base and discard the diseased foliage.
To improve its overall health and lengthen the bloom period, immediately deadhead spent flowers.
Bergamot is aggressive and may require frequent dividing and some removal to prevent it from taking over. Divide clumps every 2 to 3 years in early spring, just before vigorous growth begins. You should also divide any clump showing signs of dying out in the centre.
You can harvest leaves and flowers as needed during the growing season. The best time to harvest is mid-morning when the dew has dried and the plants are cool. Avoid harvesting during the peak heat of the day. If you plan to dry the leaves, harvest them just before flowering or while bergamot is in full bloom and always discard any leaves affected by mildew.
To harvest bergamot seeds, wait until the flowers have dried on the stems. Remove the flowers and place them on a baking sheet in the sun to dry. Place the dried flower heads into a paper bag and shake to separate the seeds from the petals.
Bergamot can be dried by hanging it in a cool, dark, dry space with good ventilation. Or you can chop it fresh and store it in sealed bags in the freezer. The seeds can be stored for up to 3 months in a paper bag or paper envelope: keep them out of direct light at room temperature.
Bad gas? Steep this
Bergamot is delicious as a hot or iced tea—by itself or in combination with citrus peel and other mints. Pick about 20 fresh leaves. Place them in a mug and pour 1 cup of boiling water over the leaves. Let this steep for 10 to 15 minutes, then strain and pour. Add 1 tsp manuka honey or blue agave. Add a fresh edible bergamot flower as a colourful garnish and for extra bioflavonoid content.
Stinky breath? Make your own mouthwash
The world-renowned pharmacognosist Dr. James Duke recommends bergamot for treating halitosis (bad breath) and tooth decay. The plant contains thymol, a potent antiseptic and an active ingredient in Listerine mouthwash. If you have bad breath, take 5 leaves, wash them, and chew them. One minute is all it takes. (Spit or swallow as you chew.) The leaves are also very high in the powerful cavity-preventing compound geraniol.
Stomach upset? Settle it with a salad
If you have an upset stomach, or if you’re bloated and constipated, this could be your cure. In addition to the bergamot, the other ingredients in this light salad are also healing to your entire digestive system.
1 cup                                  bergamot leaves
2 cups                               spinach
½                                           green apple, sliced
2                                           Belgium endives, chopped
¼ cup                                 walnuts, chopped
½                                           red onion, sliced
½ cup                                 Greek-style yogurt
2 tbsp                                apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp                                manuka honey
1 tbsp                                fresh lemon juice
½ tsp                                  mustard powder
1                                           clove garlic, finely chopped
½ tsp                                  turmeric
salt, freshly ground pepper to taste
Place the spinach and bergamot leaves in a large salad bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the yogurt, apple cider vinegar, honey and lemon juice. Then add mustard, garlic, turmeric, salt and pepper and mix well. Drizzle the dressing over greens and toss. Top the salad with the green apple, endives, walnuts, and red onion.
To make this salad a complete meal, add cubed tofu, salmon, or grilled chicken—once your tummy is better!
Home odours? Freshen up with bergamot spray
Bergamot is an antiseptic and has a clean, refreshing citrus-mint aroma. It might be the perfect one-two punch to clean and deodorize the air in your home naturally.
You can make your own hydrosol using a simple process called steam distillation. Collect 2 cups of fresh bergamot leaves. Place a heavy bowl upside-down at the bottom of a large pot. Fill the pot with water until it almost covers the upturned bowl. Add the leaves to the water. Now place another bowl on top of the one that is upside-down.
Cover the pot with an upside-down lid: the idea is to allow the evaporating water to collect on the lid and then run into the bowl that’s sitting right-side-up. On top of the lid, place yet another bowl and fill it with ice. The ice will keep the lid cool and create condensation.
Turn on the burner and simmer for an hour or two, or until the bowl is full of “distillate.” Pour this liquid into a spray bottle and refrigerate. Use it anytime you want to aromatize a room in the house.
Fast forward to the health food store to purchase Oswego tea, which is made from bergamot. Follow the instructions on the label.
Bergamot is safe: there are no known interactions or harmful side effects. If you are harvesting leaves from your own garden, just be sure they are thoroughly washed and free of mildew.
Duke JA. The Green Pharmacy. St. Martin’s Press, 1997. (p. 35, 78, 152, 431)
McGuffin M, et al. American Herbal Products Association’s Botanical Safety Handbook. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, LLC 1997
Gruenwald J et al. PDR for Herbal Medicines. 1st ed. Montvale, NJ: Medical Economics Company, Inc., 1998.

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