Is it bergamot, or Bergamot?

On a recent walk through the Missouri woods, I came upon a clump of wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) also known as bee balm. This is an herb that is both calming and anti-depressant, so knowing that, I ate a few leaves of it. I also took a photo and posted it on the facebook site for my clinic, Harrison Optimal Health. I wrote a little article on its medicinal uses. I also knew that it was a useful aromatherapy oil, and read that the leaves of it were used to flavor Earl Grey tea. After posting about the herb, I also checked my aromatherapy book, where there was a pen and ink drawing of the bee balm plant next to the section on Bergamot, but in the text it said that the essential oil was made from a citrus fruit. I also checked a package of Earl Grey tea which listed the flavoring agent as Bergamot, a citrus fruit. That’s when I realized I was confused. The clarification below is the result of some further research I did, assisted by Shelli Hart, from the clinic.

Wild bergamot is the term for the lovely clump of plants I found in Missouri. It is a member of the mint family, and has many medicinal uses. The Iroquois used the leaves for a beverage, and the Ojibwe used chewed bergamot leaves wadded into their nostrils as a cure for headaches. The leaves are also known to be useful for colds, and bronchial congestion. The Flambeau Ojibwe actually did process the leaves into a volatile oil, which they used for catarrh and bronchial congestion. In more modern times, the herb is best known as an overall aid to digestion, helping with flatulence, bloating, nausea and vomiting, and colic. It improves digestion and can ease abdominal pain. The occurence of wild bergamot is widespread, from Canada, into the south, as far west as Arizona. It is found in wooded areas, prairies, and upland thickets. There is a red variety, Monarda didyma, that is used as a decorative plant in landscaping and domestic gardens. If you buy bee balm from a plant nursery, it is likely to be this species.

The essential oil that is known as Bergamot is made from the citrus, the Bergamot orange, which is grown in southern Italy and France. It is grown not for eating, but for the flavor of the juice, and/or rind. In Antalya southern Turkey it is used as marmalade. There are fewer medicinal uses for the orange (which is yellow in color, not as sour as lemon but more bitter than grapefruit). It may have some cholesterol lowering properties, and has been used for malaria. Primarily it is the essential oil that has medicinal uses, being used for relaxation and uplifting of the mood, building of confidence. The essential oil also has a long history of use for the skin, especially oily skin. That’s about the only overlap in their usages, the wild bergamot plant being used by one native American group as a treatment for acne.

Since I consider a large part of my job as a doctor to be teaching and educating, whenever I get confused, and then get myself unconfused through research, I like to share it. I hope you find this helpful, or at least, interesting.


Below — Bergamot orange photo

Bergamot orange

This photo looks so reddish, I think it is likely Monard didyma

Wild bergamot


About alicelaule

Physician, dancer, writer, lover of all the arts. A bit of an arm chair philosopher, who hopes with imminent retirement (7/1/11) to be able to get out the armchair and write on philosophy of health care, as well as get back to writing fiction again. Love music of all kinds, but for the last year or so, have been absolutely fanatical about Linkin Park.
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