This article discusses two kinds of bergamot, neither of which should be confused with the other. Both types of Bergamot are herbs, have culinary uses and are referred to colloquially as “Bergamot”.
The first one refers to a member of the mint family - (Scarlet Monarda) and the second is a member of the citrus family -(Citrus Bergamia). The latter, Bergamot Orange or the citrus is the more famous one for its unmistakable scent. Its most notable use is in Earl Grey Tea.
Ther third plant, Monarda Punctata is mentioned because it is often confused with the related Mint Bergamot or Scarlet Monarda.
Mint Bergamot or Scarlet Monarda or Monarda Didyma
This herb is also called Oswego Tea or Bee Balm. This kind of Bergamot is a member of the Mint Family. Its leaves are strongly flavoured and are used in salads, in the preparation of Oswego Tea (a local American brew), and a flavouring agent in sweet beverages. The plant is native to America.
Monarda Didyma or Mint Bergamot is an American herb. It is colloquially called bergamot because the entire plant is fragrant with a scent that is very similiar to that of the Citrus Bergamia. The two varieties are sometimes confused with each other.
Monarda was once widely used by native Americans. The tender leaves of the plant were used in an infusion by the Oswego Indians and got its name Oswego tea as a result. The colonists aquired the habit of drinking this infusion from the native Americans and this habit was considerably widespread at the time of the Boston Tea Party.
The Monarda produces orange scented dark pink, red and purple flowers.
Monarda didyma is sometimes called 'Bee Balm,' as bees congregate to this sweet smelling plant.
Culinary Uses of Scarlet Monarda
Young leaves may be sparingly (since the flavour is strong) used in salads in the same manner as mint. The young leaves, steeped in water are used to make an infusion which may be used as tea. As a kitchen herb, it is suitable in pork dishes.
Other Uses of Scarlet Monarda
Monarda didyma can be used in cosmetic treatments, infused in facial steams. It can also be used in the household to add fragrance to potpourri and as a cut flower.
Bergamot Orange or Citrus Bergamia
The Bergamot Orange is very orange-like, small and yellow in appearence, and very sour in taste. This citrus fruit, is grown for its rind which contains an essential oil used in the perfume industry and in the preparation of sweets, desserts, baked goods and confectionary. The most famous use of Citrus bergamia is as a flavour additive in Earl Grey Tea.
The bergamot is mostly cultivated in Calabria in Italy and the essential oil has been used in the Middle East for hundreds of years. Florentine records date its use in the treatment of fever and intestinal worm infestations in that city to 1725. Some contend that the name Bergamot is linked to the Italian city of Bergamo in Lombardy, north-east of Milan, at the foot of the Alps. It is argued that this similiarity in names is a reminder of the fact that it was first grown or sold here. There is no conclusive evidence to support this, however.
There is yet another story that the tree was discovered in the Canary Islands by Christopher Columbus who then introduced it in Italy and Spain.
Tea Infused With Bergamot Oil - Earl Grey
The most widely recognised use of Bergamot as a flavouring is in the distinctive Earl Grey Tea. The amalgam of black tea and citrus is unique and is largely an acquired taste.
The History of Earl Grey Tea The original recipe for Earl Grey was a blend of unsteamed Chinese black tea distinctively flavoured with essential Bergamot Oil.
Modern Earl Grey is usually a blend of Indian and/or Sri Lankan black tea with the same oil.
The tea is called "Earl Grey" because the recipe was first devised for an earl called Charles Grey. Earl Grey was apparently part of a British mission to China where the secret recipe was given to him by a Mandarin Chinese. Charles Grey eventually became Prime Minister of Britain and ended the East India Company's monopoly of tea imports.
The unusually flavoured Earl Grey Tea is part of the British tea time tradition along with scones, clotted cream and strawberry jam. It is consumed usually with lime, and without milk.
Bergamot Oil's Health Benefits
- Mouthwash for Halitosis
Diluted bergamot oil used as a mouthwash is effective against halitosis. Used as an inhalant it helps clear blocked noses, colds and is a relaxant and anti depressant. It may also be used to counter body odour. It is also used, like citronella oil as a natural insect repellent.
- Acne, and other skin problems
It has antibacterial and antibiotic properties and helps treat acne, eczema, psoriasis and varicose veins.It also strengthens the immune system.
- Fevers, Antiseptic and Antibiotic
It may also be used to treat fevers, as a disinfectant, antiseptic, antibiotic.
It is an excellent digestive and also soothes minor stomach ailments.
Inhaling it also helps counter urges and addictions. It is therefore helpful for people attempting to stop smoking.
Bergamot oil is abrasive. Sensitive skin may burn in the sunlight after the oil has been applied. It is therefore advisable to avoid harsh sunlight after using this oil.
Trivia -Other things "Bergamot"
- A small square honey-coloured sugar sweet, flavoured with natural bergamot essence. A speciality of the town of Nancy in NE France since 1850.
- A variety of pear round in shape with a yellow skin and juicy fragrant flesh.
A related plant , Monarda punctata is the only native North American plant native which can be used to extract Thymol. Used in industry,Thymol is a colorless, crystalline, slightly water-soluble solid, C10H14O. It has a strong fragrant taste and smell. Thymol can be taken in the form of natural oils like thyme or it may be prepared synthetically. The commercial use of thymol lies in the fragrance industry, in preserving biological specimens, and as a antifungal or antiseptic agent. The Scarlet Monarda, also yields a similar oil, though it is not of the same composition.
- Larousse Gastronomique
- The Book of Ingredients: Philip Dowell and Adrian Bailey; Penguin/ Mermaid Books 1993
- For Bergamot Didyma http://www.botanical.com
- For Bergamot Orange:
- History of Earl Grey Tea