Common name: Bergamot

Scientific name: Monarda didyma

Family: Labiatae

Uses: Aromatic, cosmetic, culinary, decorative, and medicinal.Dried leaves and flowers are used to scent sachets and potpourris. Bergamot also is used in lotions and baths. The leaves are used for tea and the flowers for salads or with fruit. With its long-lasting flowers, the plant itself is decorative. It is said to have some medicinal qualities.

History: Native to North America, bergamot received its botanical name from the sixteenth century Spanish physician, Nicholas Monardez, who first discovered and described it. It was called Oswego (or Otsego) tea by early American settlers because of its use by the Oswego Indians. It was grown by the Shakers in the late 1700s in their settlement near Oswego County in New York. Today, bergamot is also known as scarlet bee balm.

Description: The tuberous root produces an erect, slightly hairy square stem with a citruslike fragrance. The two-lipped scarlet flowers rest on a collar of red-tinged bracts with solitary terminal heads. The dark green leaves are 3 to 6 inches long, opposite, and ovate with serrated margins. The fruit is comprised of four nutlets resembling seeds.

Plant type: Perennial

Hardiness: Hardiness zones 4 to 9.

Height: 24 to 48 inches

Width: 12 inches


Soil: rich, moist soil with a pH of 6.5

Pests: Snails can be a problem in shady, moist locations where roots are kept cool and moist. (Some cultivars prefer this condition.)

Disease: some cultivars are powdery mildew susceptible

Cultivation: When the plant begins to shoot up in the spring, a dressing of well-decayed humus can be applied. Sprinkle grass clippings over the root area during the hottest part of summer. If necessary, lightly tie the slender and sometimes brittle stems with garden stakes. Bergamot can be grown in clumps or masses for a nice effect as a background plant. Planting 18 inches apart would allow plenty of room.
Companion planting: Bergamot attracts bees, making it an excellent plant to grow near vegetable gardens or orchards.

Propagation: Seeds or division in spring and cuttings in summer.

Flowering period: July and August

Flower color:


Garden notes: The plants attract butterflies, and the deep purple variety was especially popular with visitors to our garden. Support may be needed if the plants become top-heavy.