Notes from Herb Heaven

Bergamot

If you have had any luck growing Bergamot in the lowveld summer, you are doing very well, as bergamot is a cool customer that likes partial shade and low humidity. It tends to get powdery mildew in hot humid climates and to treat this disease, try an organic spray made with low fat milk and water mixed 50/50. Bergamot, a member of the mint family has a citrus- like flavour and is also known as bee balm or fragrant balm. It is indigenous to the Eastern U.S.A and parts of Canada where it has been known to the native Americans for many years. Near Lake Ontario, it grows on the banks of the Oswego River and is known as Oswego tea.

To grow bergamot in Phalaborwa is to grow it in winter in good rich soil that holds moisture. It grows well with rosemary and can be used as a hedge, as it can grow up to 1m in height. Do not let the plant dry out and mulch the shallow roots with leaves, grass or compost to retain moisture. Cut the flower heads before they bloom in the first year to promote a strong plant.

The flowers and leaves are both used for flavouring and the scarlet, purple, pink and sometimes white petals, pulled off their bitter calyxes, are extremely attractive in salads, punches and jellies, while the leaves and flowers go well with beans, cabbage, samp, soups and stews. Add a leaf to stuffing, or to applesauce for pork. If you like mint with your spanspek, try chopping some bergamot with the mint next time. It is strongly flavoured so use it sparingly.

If you are feeling low, try adding 5 to 10 drops of bergamot oil to your bath water. It will lift your spirits and revitalise you.

Not only is this a pretty plant with interesting culinary uses, it is also a wonderful addition to your herbal medicine cupboard. The Indian tribes of the Americas were certainly on to a good thing when they discovered bergamot!


Bergamot tea

One flower 
One leaf 
One cup of boiling water
Let the tea stand for five minutes, then strain and drink. 

For something different, add this tea,
cooled, to wine and fruit juices. 
A bag of ordinary tea added to this 
herbal brew will give you a mock Earl Grey.

Medicinally, this tea is a natural digestive,
anti-inflammatory and decongestant. 
It eases nausea and vomiting, clears nasal congestion, 
dries up mucous and clears the sinuses. 

Bergamot tea is good for menstrual pain 
and insomnia, as it is relaxing and sleep-inducing. 
Chew on a leaf to soothe a sore throat, 
while a leaf or two in a bowl of hot water 
will help to steam away bronchial catarrh.

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