The Q&A Archives: Bergamot--the Elusive Herb

Question: I would love to add bergamot to my herb garden this spring. I absolutely adore its anise-like flavor, and the height of the plant makes it a good back-drop. I have an aunt who had a stand of it, but we found that, like Bells of Ireland, once planted it doesn't like to be moved. However, I can't seem to find anywhere that I can purchase it--either in seed or as seedling plants. I have asked around at quite a few nurseries and searched countless gardening catalogs with no success. I had hoped that Burpee would have it available since they seem to have seeds for everything, but I just received their catalog and--no bergamot.

Answer: Bergamot is alive and well in the Burpee catalog, just under it's more common name Monarda. Also called bee balm and Oswego tea, this popular perennial is a native herb used in the past as a tea to treat fevers, headaches, and sore throats as well as for nausea and flatulence! Two species are often described, Monarda fistulosa or wild bergamot that has soft pink or lilac flowers. The more common Monarda didyma has many cultivars frequently found in perennial beds such as 'Jacob Cline,' 'Cambridge Scarlet,' 'Croftway Pink,' and 'Raspberry Wine.'

Monarda didyma is not usually considered difficult to transplant, but it does prefer rich, moist soil in sun or partial shade. It can be invasive, so if you find a friend or neighbor with a stand, you will likely be welcome to a clump! If you have poor, drier soil, try wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) instead. Bergamot can also be grown from seed but the cultivars will not come true.

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