Although limited in its culinary uses, bergamot imparts a wonderful citrus-like flavor and fragrance that complements fruits and summer beverages and teas. At one time native Americans used it to season and preserve meats. At one time, it became popular as a substitute for tea in New England after the Boston Tea Party in 1773.
The flowers make an attractive garnish and can be crystallized. It is said a western species, M. menthaefolia, can be used like oregano and the spicy flowers can be added to chili and salsa.
A Spanish botanist, Dr. Nicholas Monardes, likely call bergamot because of its fragrance which is similar to the small, bitter Italian bergamot orange. Bergamot oil, which is used in authentic Earl Grey tea, is extracted from this plant.
The flowers maybe scattered in salads and the leaves infused by simmering for 10 minutes in an enamel saucepan for greater flavor. Put fresh leaf into China tea for an Earl Grey flavor, into wine cups and into lemonade. Add sparingly to salads, stuffings, pork. Use for jams, jellies and bergamot milk; pour 1 cup boiling milk over 1 tablespoon dried or 3 tablespoons shredded leaves, steep for 5 - 7 minutes, strain and serve.
Cultivation of Bergamot / Bee Balm
Site: Bergamot grows well in almost any soil, bergamots prefer a slightly moist spot with full sun. Add mulch in spring; bergamot likes it rich, light and moist.
Propagation: Divide or take root cutting in spring, stem cuttings in summer. Sow seed in spring.
Growing: Thin or transplant to 18 inches apart as these plants are vigorous spreaders. Plant where air circulation is good, because mildew can be a problem. Divide every 3 years discarding dead center. Bergamot is not suitable for growing indoors.
Harvesting: With a long season of bloom, bee balm is used in wild gardens and in beds and borders. The flowers are beloved by hummingbirds and butterflies.
Collect leaves in spring or in summer when flowers form. Pick flowers when open.
Culinary Uses: With a long season of bloom, bee balm is used in wild gardens and in beds and borders. The flowers are beloved by hummingbirds and butterflies. Flowers may be scattered in salads. The leaves may be infused or simmered in water for 10 minutes in an enamel saucepan for flavor as a tea. Put fresh leaf into China tea for an Earl Grey flavor or wine cups or lemonade