Bergamot – Monarda didyma.
Bergamot is a herb that I have always been very fond of: it is a stunning looking plant when in full flower; its fragrant leaves and soft honeyed petals make it a very refreshing herb in teas, with its sweet spicy flavour. This perennial is a member of the Labiatae family and closely akin to the mints. A native of America, it is often called Oswego Tea; an infusion of the leaves were used by the Oswego Indians in their ceremonies. As well as being an aromatic, invigorating beverage, the tea is regarded highly as a remedy for sore throats, colds and chest complaints. Its thymol content makes it a good antiseptic and the reason it is often used in mouthwashes for mouth ulcers and throat infections.
Folk law suggests that if you rub the leaves of bergamot onto money it will ensure a return to riches, while it is also known to keep harm at bay and promote new love.
Another attractive name for bergamot is bee balm, so-called because bees continually visit the blossoms. I have always found it hard to grow on my heavy clay soil, and if successful for a season have rarely managed to keep it through the winter. The plants are propagated by sowing seed in spring, or by root division in spring or autumn. There are several different types, and the colours range from pink, mauve and magenta to rich red. It is the red bergamot, ‘Cambridge Scarlet’ that is grown most frequently. Bergamot will not flourish unless established in the right position: the creeping roots like to be kept cool and moist, and the plant also likes sunlight, morning sun being best. In dry weather keep the roots well covered with a mulch and water well from time to time. The herb starts to grow rapidly as soon as spring arrives, the stems reaching 3 to 4 feet in height, and the spidery pom-pom flowers begin to appear in early summer. When flowering has ceased, cut all stalks back to the ground. If you manage to grow and keep it in your garden it is well worth the effort.