Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Bergamot - Today's Herb

Bergamot is known by several different names including: bee balm, horsemint, and oswego tea. It is a genus consisting of 16 species of erect, herbaceous annual or perennial plants and is indigenous to North America. Ranging in height from 1 to 3 feet, the plants have an equal spread, with slender and long-tapering leaves; the leaves are opposite on stem, smooth to nearly hairy, lightly serrated margins, and range from 3 to 6 inches long. When the leaves are crushed they emanate spicy, fragrant oil.

Several bee balm species have a long history of use as medicinal plants by many Native Americans including the Blackfoot, Menominee, Ojibwa, Winnebago and others. The Blackfoot Indians recognized the strong antiseptic action of these plants, and used poultices of the plant for skin infections and minor wounds. A tea made from the plant was also used to treat mouth and throat infections caused by dental caries and gingivitis. Bee balm is the natural source of the antiseptic thymol, the primary active ingredient in modern mouthwashes. The Winnebago used a tea made from bee Balm as a general stimulant. Bee balm was also used as a carminative herb by Native Americans to treat excessive flatulence. An infusion of crushed Bergamot leaves in boiling water has been known to treat headaches and fevers.

Although somewhat bitter, due to the thymol content in the plants leaves and buds, the plant tastes like a mix of spearmint and peppermint with oregano, to which it is closely related. Bee balm was traditionally used by Native Americans as a seasoning for wild game, particularly birds. The plants are widespread across North America and can be found in moist meadows, hillsides, and forest clearings.

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