Thursday, June 19, 2008

Bergamot & Bergamot

I learned something most interesting today. There is bergamot and then there is bergamot. One is a citrus fruit and the other is an herb in the mint family. 

Being a long-time fan of Earl Grey tea, I was familiar with Bergamot oranges. 


image from Wikipedia

The Bergamot orange is believed to be a cross between the Seville orange and the pear lemon. The resulting fruit is green when young, maturing to a yellowish orange with a distinct nipple at one end. It is rather small and very sour--inedible really. It is the essential oils in the rind of this citrus fruit that are used to flavor Earl Grey tea. My favorite Earl Grey is "Double Bergamot Earl Grey" from the Stash Tea Company of Tigard, Oregon. Today 93% of the bergamot orchards are to be found in Calabria, Italy and the Ivory Coast.

In France essence of bergamot is much used in candy making. In the city of Nancy there is a specialty known as Bergamote de Nancy. So special are these unique golden candies that they have been granted an I.G.P. by the European Union. I.G.P. stands for Indication Géographique Protégée or Protected Geographical Indication (P.G.I.) in English. For a photo of the Bergamot orange check out Chocolate & Zucchini. If your French isn't too rusty check out Cuisine Campagne for a crêpe recipe or one for Petit gâteaux moelleux à la bergamote et à l'huile d'olive. For the more scientifically inclined, here is a most interesting article from Culture, Science, Chimie. And for the economically inclined, this 2006 article from the BBC about the bergamot growers in Calabria.

Now for the other bergamot, Monarda.


Image from Wikipedia

From the mint family and a native of North America, Monarda has many names.

  • Monarda didyma: Oswego Tea, Scarlet Monarda, Bee Balm, Blue Balm, High Balm, Low Balm, Mountain Balm, Mountain Mint, Bergamot
  • Monarda fistulosa: Bee Balm, Bergamot, Horsemint, American Horsemint, Long-flowered Horsemint, Purple Bergamot, Oregano, Plains Bee Balm, Fern Mint
  • Monarda punctata: Horsemint, Spotted Monarda, Monarda Lutea, Wild Bergamot

And while we're on the topic of names, the genus "Monarda" was named for Nicolás Bautista Monardes (1493-1588), a botanist and physician from Seville, Spain. Even though he never traveled to North America, Monardes studied many of the plants from the "New World" right in his garden in Seville. He had easy access to these plants as Seville controlled navigation and commerce in the 16th century. Monardes' major work was his herbal, Historia medicinal de las cosas que se traen de nuestras Indias Occidentales, published in three parts between 1565 and 1574.

In North America Monarda has a long history of medicinal use among the Ojibwe, Lakota, Chippewa, Crow, Winnebago,  Blackfeet, Menominee and Navajo. Its properties include antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, diuretic, among others. It has been used for fevers, colds, coughs, eye pain, headaches, nausea, vomiting, flatulence, acne, skin eruptions, insect bites and stings, swelling and rheumatic pain.

Now how did the herb and the citrus come to share a name? Supposedly the tea made from the herb was introduced to the colonists by the Oswego Indians around about the time of the Boston Tea Party. The citrusy aroma was reminiscent of the beloved Earl Grey and thus a new tea was adopted and a name was bestowed.

I have Jane Marie of Thyme for Herbs  and her Burpee cap giveaway to thank for inspiring my research adventure and leading me to discover a new plant. 


Yolanda Elizabet said...

It's amazing how different those two bergamots are, don't you think? Love that image from wikipedia, it's gorgeous. I also love bergamot tea but then I'm very much into tea. ;-)

Thanks for this very informative post!

Have a great weed whacking weekend wenches! :-D

titania said...

This is a very interesting post about bergamot. When I grew up in Switzerland I was allowed sometimes (when I was good!) to buy a soft drink. This soft drink was called Bergamotte and contained the flavour of the Bergamot Lemon. It had such a nice taste. It had its time I think when Pepsi and Coca Cola arrived on the scene it lost its appeal.

garden girl said...

Fascinating! I love everything about Earl Grey tea. The aroma is delicious.

The scent of bee balm is wonderful too, and I love the unusual flowers. Thanks for the enlightening post!

Nancy J. Bond said...

Fascinating! You've done your research very nicely. :)

Jean Ann said...

Well, girls, it's been mighty quiet on both ends...I suspect we have been out enjoying the almost summer-like weather! I always wondered about the bergamot situation, thanks to your brilliance I will wonder no more!

Jane Marie said...

My goodness, I sure got an education. I can't believe all of the research you did! It was fun to read and to learn more about the other bergamot than the one I was growing in my yard.
Thanks so much for the link. I appreciate it.

Aunt Debbi/kurts mom said...

Great information. Thanks for the lesson.


Bonnie Story said...

Great post!! thought I had several clumps of Monarda here - turn out it's yellow loostrife! Eek! I have been learning about it, and they say that if I keep that loostrife in the sun it won't get invasive... but keep it out of the shade. Have either of you any experience with the yellow loostrife? Just have to ask. Enjoy! Bonnie

Kerri said...

Great information and very educational. Thank you for doing all that research and sharing the results.
I love monarda, especially the wonderful scent. I hadn't heard of the Bergamot orange before.
Earl Grey is delicious. I love to smell that wonderful scent as I drink it.

Kathleen said...

I love Monarda too but never knew all this info about it!! I think the entire plant is spectacular ~ flowers, scent, etc. The only problem I've ever had is with mildew on the foliage? Have you experienced that (especially living in the PNW)?

Weed Whackin' Wenches said...

Hi Kathleen. Monarda is new to us so we have no experience growing it. But we are looking to add one to our garden.

Hi Kerri. We are most eager to try growing Monarda in our garden now. I adore the agastaches because of their wonderful scent when you touch them. Think of us next time you have some Earl Grey!

Hi Bonnie. We have no experience with yellow loosestrife. But do love those wonderful yellow flowers. I've read that it is unrelated to the very invasice purple loosestrife. I've also read the same think about the yellow as you, that if you keep it in the sun and on the dry side it will behave itself.

Hi Aunt Deb! Thanks for stopping by.

Greetings Jane Marie. Thanks again for the inspiration. It was most fun.

Hi ho Jean Ann! Summer-like indeed. We're getting way up to 66 during the day and hovering around 50 at night. That's pretty borderline for the heat lovers to set fruit. I saw 70s for the next few days--HEATWAVE!

Greetings Nancy and thank you. It was a fun post to do.

Hello Garden Girl. We're most excited about adding bee balm to our garden.

Greetings Titania. Your Bergamotte drink sounds wonderful. What a shame that it is not still available.

Hope you had a wonderful weekend yourself Yolanda!

chey said...

I only know Bergamot Bee Balm, and it is the most attractive flower in my garden to the hummingbirds, especially the red variety.