Discover the different types of bergamot flowers along with their detailed descriptions. These flowers are not only a stunner but they also possess a wide range of uses.
It tastes like a mix of spearmint and peppermint, with a little oregano thrown in. Its lush leaves have a variety of aromatic and therapeutic uses. But its flowering capabilities are often overlooked. Bergamot is a herb that is widely-cultivated and heralded for its versatility. It may sometimes be confused with bergamot citrus fruit, which goes by the name Citrus bergamia.
Here’s an overview of the types and care and feeding of bergamot flowers. We’ll also look at how to incorporate them into your garden, as well as some practical uses for the fragrant bergamot herb.
In the scientific world, bergamot is called Monarda didyma L. You may also see it classified as Monarda kalmiana or Monarda occinea Hort. Monarda is part of the mint family (Lamiaceae).
In everyday terms, it has several other monikers, including:
- Oswego tea
- American melissa
- Indian’s plume
- Mountain balm
- Red balm
- Bee balm
- Scarlet monarda
Since there are several bee balm varieties, there are some variations in terms of their flower colors and leaf structures. But generally, they’re characterized by slender leaves that have a serrated appearance. Their stems are square, sometimes, but certainly not always, with hairlike strands.
The typical bee balm flower is symmetric and tubular, narrower at the top and wider at the bottom. Wild bee balm usually blooms as single flowers, but many cultivars yield double flowers.
Monarda is a native plant of North America and grows as an annual or perennial. Several Native American tribes used the herb to treat everything from headaches and fever to skin infections and gingivitis. The balm gets its rather bitter taste from its high concentration of thymol. The plant got its scientific name from the genus Monarda, in honor of the Spanish botanist, Nicolas Monardes, who wrote about it in his 1574 book on North American plants.
Eventually, it was brought to Europe, where it also flourished. Known for its scarlet flowers, it comes in many varieties and cultivars. Here are some of its most common forms.
Types of Bergamot Flowers
Monarda Didyma L.
This variety is also called scarlet bee balm because of its deep red flowers.
- Sun/shade needs: Sun or partial sun
- Water needs: Moderate
- Soil needs: Moist soil rich in humus and can tolerate wet soil, sand, and clay
- Hardiness zone: 4-7
- Height: 2-3 feet
- Blooming time: During the summer for about 6 weeks
This plant comes back for three to four years if it is divided each year. It displays clusters of red or purplish flowers. For optimal herbal health, keep the soil well-watered during drought and aerated in wet weather. Bumblebees are especially drawn to this type of herb.
Monarda punctata L.
This is also called horsemint, spotted horsemint, or spotted bee balm.
- Sun/shade needs: Full sun
- Water needs: Low
- Soil needs: Dry soils or sand with a pH of 6.8-7.2.
- Height: 6 inches to nearly 3 feet
- Hardiness zones: 4-9
- Blooming time: April-August
This type of bergamot boasts pale yellow flowers with specks of purple throughout. Flowers rest atop white or light purple leafy bracts. If you want to attract pollinators to your garden, this type of Monarda will send butterflies, honeybees, and bumblebees flocking to your greenery.
The aroma of the leaves is similar to oregano.
There are two other subspecies of this plant:
- Monarda punctata ssp. punctata, which thrives in the Southern coastal areas of the United States
- Monarda punctata ssp. occidentales, which flourishes in the Southwestern United States
Monarda Fistulosa L.
This is wild bergamot.
- Sun/shade needs: Prefers full sun but can tolerate partial shade
- Water needs: Medium
- Soil needs: Dry soil or moist soil
- Height: 1-3 feet or three to 6 feet
- Blooming time: May-September, flowers usually last for about 6 weeks
- Hardiness zones: 3-8
The aroma of this bee balm plant is similar to that of the bergamot orange; hence the name wild bergamot.
Wild bergamot flowers are a sweet source of nectar for hummingbird moths, hummingbirds, skippers, and butterflies. Blooms are lavender, and the leaves are deep green with square stems.
This herbaceous plant thrives throughout the United States, and you can even find it in a few Canadian provinces. It does especially well on prairies and savannas. You can sometimes see it on the periphery of forested areas, too.
This type is more commonly known as eastern bee balm.
- Sun/shade needs: Full sun to partial shade
- Water needs: Dry to medium
- Soil needs: Dry to moderate moisture, can tolerate soils that are slightly subpar. Soil should be well-drained
- Height: 1-2 feet
- Blooming time: May
- Hardiness zones: 5-8
This herbal variety attracts hummingbirds and butterflies.
The flowers produced by Monarda bradburiana are pink or white with purple hues infused throughout.
- Sun/shade needs: Full sun to partial shade
- Water needs: Dry to medium
- Soil needs: Rocky, sandy soils are best, but it can also grow in average soils with dry to medium moisture
- Blooming time: May to August
- Hardiness zones: 2-11
- Lemon beebalm
- Purple lemon mint
- Horsemint, lemon horsemint, or plains horsemint
This plant exhibits pink, lavender, or white flowers. The late summer bloom appeals to butterflies and hummingbirds.
It’s not uncommon for Monarda species to reproduce as hybrids in the wild. There are also dozens of bergamot cultivars. Several of these stand out above the rest because they’ve been given the prestigious UK Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit. These set-apart types include:
- Gardenview Scarlet
- Marshall’s Delight
- Beauty of Cobham
Bergamot In the Garden
Since it is a popular pollinator, bergamot makes an excellent addition to just about any herb garden or other green space. The flowers add cheer and color as a perennial border. The Monarda plant also pairs well with a variety of other herbs and flowering plants.
One drawback to the plant is that it is highly susceptible to powdery mildew during rainy seasons. In times of high humidity, it’s important to keep the soil well-aerated to prevent water from accumulating around the roots and stems.
When is the optimal time to plant bergamot? The ideal time for putting bergamot seeds in the ground is early spring. At this time of year, the soil is cool and there may still be a slight chance of a mild frost. After setting the seeds in the ground, cover them lightly with just a dusting of dirt. Spread the seedlings 18-24 inches apart when they’ve developed two sets of true leaves. Some gardeners like to start the plants in pots indoors 8-10 weeks before they plan to put them outside.
Uses for Bergamot Essential Oil
Bergamot oil comes from the orange citrus fruit and has a host of uses. It is a component of the flavorful Earl Grey tea. Here are some other common applications for this oil.
You can use it in a diffuser, air freshener, or scented candle. Some people like to include bergamot in their homemade potpourri. You can also add a few drops to shampoos and body washes.
Skin Care Product
Bergamot oil has anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial qualities. If you don’t have sensitive skin, you can apply the oil to acne, cysts, and pimples. You may want to use a carrier oil with it, such as coconut oil, to ensure it does not irritate your skin. Just don’t leave it on if you’re going to be out in the sun, as it may make you more likely to develop sunburn.
Hair Care Help
Some people attest to bergamot’s ability to soothe an irritated scalp. You can add a few drops of the citrus oil to a tablespoon of carrier oil and rub it in. To soften your hair and make curls more manageable, combine your favorite shampoo with a few drops of naturally-scented oil.
You may also want to combine the essential oil of the bergamot fruit with other oils to enhance their aromatherapeutic and health-enhancing properties. Popular oils to pair it with include:
- Tea tree
- Lavender oil
Uses for the Bergamot Herb
Bergamot in its herbal form has several uses too.
You can brew the leaves to make bergamot tea for certain illnesses. People sometimes use the drink to alleviate coughs and sore throats.
Historically (before the advent of Bean-O), doctors used it to reduce flatulence.
Bergamot in the Kitchen
The fragrant herb is a tasty beverage or addition to meals and condiments. Here are some ways to use bergamot in your culinary endeavors.
As an alternative to caffeinated tea, you can try bergamot. All you have to do is combine 1/4 cup of freshly-cut leaves with boiling water. Allow the leaves to steep for 5 minutes. Then, strain the brew and add sugar, honey, or another sweetener of your choice.
Natural Food Additive
Bergamot’s one-of-a-kind minty-oregano taste makes it an excellent ingredient in a variety of dishes. Just a few chopped-up leaves can enhance the flavor of a fruit salad or make an Italian entrée such as pizza especially delicious.
Bergamot can really spice up sauces. It pairs especially well with pork. Here’s a recipe you can try with your favorite tenderloin.
- 2 pork tenderloin filets
- 1/3 cup butter
- 2 shallots, finely chopped
- 7 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 cup vegetable stock
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped bergamot leaves
- Pepper and salt
- 1 tablespoon creme fraiche
- Over medium heat, use some of the butter to fry the pork until it’s completely cooked.
- Remove the pork from the pan and set it aside. Use the rest of the butter to cook the shallots until they’re tender.
- Add the flour and cook for one minute.
- Add the chicken stock and simmer until the mixture thickens.
- Add half the bergamot and simmer for a few more minutes.
- Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Remove from heat and add the final ingredient.
- Top the pork with the sauce and garnish with any leftover bergamot.
What does bergamot fruit look like?
Bergamot fruit is about the size of an orange. It’s usually yellow or green, depending on how ripe it is.
What is a cultivar?
You may come across plants, including bergamot, that has several cultivars. But just what is a cultivar? It’s a plant that is carefully cultivated through selective breeding. These plants are chosen and grown because of certain characteristics, such as color, size, or ability to withstand adverse conditions.
Are there any dangers to using bergamot therapeutically?
Bergamot applied topically (on the skin) may increase photosensitivity or sensitivity to sunlight. This can make someone more likely to develop a sunburn. Additionally, it can be an irritant if you have sensitive skin.
Why is herbal bergamot called bee balm?
This herb has long been used to treat certain skin conditions. Throughout time, it’s been a go-to remedy for insect stings.
How do you harvest bergamot plants?
Bergamot seeds need to be completely mature before you collect them. You’ll know they’ve reached this stage when they are black-brown. Separate as much seed from the flower head as you can. To make it easier to do that, you can place the flower heads in a paper bag and give it a good shake. Keep the seeds in a cool, dark place, either in jars or plastic bags.