For my readers in the Hudson Valley I just ran across this post by Michael Delaware and I thought this would make a good read since our Bee Balm is or is about to bloom.
Bee Balm is probably one of the most original looking flowers that you may come across. It may come as a surprise to some, but Bee Balm is a part of American history. Most Americans do not know how significant it is to our history.
When you look at the blossom, one can say it breaks away from the norm, and does its own thing; much like the original American Colonists appeared to the world as they broke away from rule of the English crown.
Bergamot or 'Bee Balm' is a source of tea which was a popular substitute for the imported variety amongst the mid-Atlantic patriots in the wake of the Boston Tea Party. That period was probably the best in bergamot's history, though it retains its mystique, thanks to a striking appearance and the richly American nick-name, Oswego tea. The red variety is commonly what is referred to as Oswego Tea.
Bee Balm is a part of American history, as it gave the American Colonists an alternative tea (Oswego Tea), allowing the Sons of Liberty to gain popular support for taking a stand against England resulting in the Boston Tea Party. Oswego Tea was used by colonists in place of English Tea after the Boston Tea Party, when they threw the English tea in the harbor to protest the high taxes imposed on it by the British.
Bee Balm is a perennial herb native to Eastern North America. It grows in dry thickets, clearings and woodland edges from Ontario and British Columbia to Georgia and Mexico. Native of the Oswego, New York area; found in thickets, fields, on streams banks and cultivated in herb gardens. Bee Balm is a part of American History, from New York to Georgia; Tennessee to Michigan.
Bee Balm has showy, red, pink, or lilac flowers in large heads or whorls of about 20-50 flowers at the top of the branching stem, supported by leafy bracts, the leaflets are a pale-green color. The stem of Bee Balm is square, grooved and hard; and about 3 feet high. The leaves occur in opposite pairs, are rough on both surfaces, are distinctly toothed, and lance-shaped. Fine dense hairs cover much of the stem and leaves.
How do you Grow Bee Balm? Bee Balm is easily grown in ordinary garden soil. It also grows well in heavy clay soils, requires a part shade to sunny place to grow. This species thrives when grown in a dry soil and prefers alkaline soil conditions. Bee Balm is best started from plants which spread like crazy, but will grow from seed as well. Unfortunately, it often gets spotted with a mold like affliction.
How do you Harvest and Use Bee Balm? Wild Bergamot (Bee Balm) flowers bloom from June to July. Gather edible leaves and flowers in bloom, dry on small bundles in paper bags in a dry, well ventilated area. Bee Balm can be used as tea, or as an aromatic suitable for sachets and potpourri.
Bee Balm is a part of American history, and was used as a medicinal plant extensively by Native Americans who recognized four varieties that had different odors. Wild Bergamot was used also as an active diaphoretic (sweat inducer) for ceremonial sweat lodges.
The Native Americans passed their knowledge of the plant to the colonists, and one, a John Bartram of Philadelphia, reportedly sent seeds to England in the mid-1700s. From England, Bergamot traveled to the Continent, where it is still cultivated, generally under the names gold Melissa and Indian nettle.
It is easy to see that Bee Balm is a part of American history, when you consider that among the foremost growers of this herb in the United States were the Shakers, who had a settlement near Oswego, New York. The Shakers were among America's great herbalists; they valued bergamot not only for tea and culinary uses, but for its medicinal virtues.
The leaves can be used to flavor apple jelly, fruit cups, and salads. It is a beautiful scarlet flowering Native American mint. The foliage has a perfume fragrance similar to citrus, but most like that of the tropical tree, orange Bergamot, hence the nickname. The scent is suitable for use in potpourris and other scented mixtures.
The bright red flowers attract bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies and make striking, long-lasting cut blooms. The blossoms provide the flavoring for the famous Earl Grey tea. The flowers are also edible. The flowers are so popular with bees that the plant deserves the name American bee balm.
So as the theme of the American Tea Party has risen again to popularity, remember that Bee Balm is a part of American History. Drink a glass of Oswego Tea this summer, and remember your ancestors.
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