How to Grow Bergamot Herb from Seed
- Scientific Name: Genus Monarda
- Hardiness Zone: Perennial Zones 3-9
- Days to Harvest: 60-65+ days (from date of transplanting)
- Days to Maturity: 2nd Year
- Days to Germination: 7-14 days
- Seeding Depth: 1/4"
- Plant Width: 24-36"
- Plant Height: 24-48"
- Growth Habit: Upright, bushy and shrub-like clusters
- Soil Preference: Rich, medium moisture, light acidity, well-drained
- Temp Preference: Warm, 60-70℉
- Light Preference: Full sun to partial shade
- Pests/Diseases: Susceptible to rust or powdery mildew. To avoid, provide well-draining soil and consistent air flow by pruning stems
Whether you’re growing wild bergamot for medicinal uses or as a bright-blooming ornamental herb, this bergamot variety also known as “horsemint” or “bee balm” is one of the most attractive perennials for beneficial pollinators with a high germination rate.
Bergamot is native to the Eastern regions of North America and more specifically Missouri—where wild bergamot develops naturally in sunny climates. As part of the mint family, wild bergamot grows similarly to sage and peppermint, producing gray-green aromatic leaves, square-shaped stems and light-purple firework-like flowers that bring a variety of butterflies and honeybees to the garden.
As an adaptable and hardy herb, wild bergamot is one of the bee balm cultivars that make an abundant wildflower crop and thrive in a variety of soil conditions. From meadows to prairies, along an open field or in the woods, bergamot is a highly-favored perennial border among gardeners everywhere. Growing wild bergamot from seed provides harvesting opportunities for herbal tea, antiseptic remedies, medicinal and ornamental garden benefits. Native American Indians and European settlers both made types of bergamot tea by extracting its medicinal oils from the leaves.
Wild bergamot herbs have been used for centuries to treat inflammation, fevers, the common cold, sore throats and aid digestion.
How to Grow Bergamot
- Cold Stratification According to Climate
- Dry to Medium Soil
- Cover Seeds Lightly ¼”
Regardless of your climate, wild bergamot is a sun-loving herb that can be started indoors in a flat or sown outdoors 2-4 weeks after your region’s final frost. Gardeners often choose the method of cold stratification in order to help the germination process.
This technique involves exposing seeds to cold and moist conditions prior to sowing. However, due to how easily wild bergamot germinates and depending on the seed variety, some argue that cold stratification isn’t necessary. Don’t plant bergamot seeds too deep, as it needs light for germination. If you sow outside, choose an area with well-drained soil and sun or afternoon shade in the warmer areas.
Along with the warm conditions many plants in the mint family require, wild bergamot is a hardy crop that can be sown outside once the temperature has reached at least 50-60℉.
In northern climates, wild bergamot also known as “honey plants” are ideally started in spring or fall. Sow seeds in trays ¼” deep and transplant outdoors 6-8 weeks after sprouting or once they’ve grown their first true leaves. Mist with water to keep from burying the seed. Germination can take anywhere from 7-14 days.
Directly-sow wild bergamot 2-4 weeks before the average last frost and keep soil moist. Space bergamot plants 18-24” apart, as they spread 2-3’ wide and 2-4’ tall. As wild bergamot blooms into clusters with bush and shrub-like growth during the mid-to-late summer season, prune the stems in order to activate more air flow and avoid soil-borne diseases.
In late summer to early fall the tube-shaped wild bergamot flowers will begin to set seed. Near the end of its second or third year, space out or divide some of the wild bergamot plants in order to grow manageable wildflower crops and not overcrowd.
Wild bergamot is an adaptable herb that can tolerate dry, rocky or substandard soils, while also having average drought-tolerance.
However, bergamot develops best when planted in rich, well-draining soil with dry to medium moisture and a pH range of 6-8. As bergamot in general is prone to powdery mildew, wild bergamot plants are a less susceptible bee balm cultivar, but still benefit from regular air circulation and moisture.
Gardeners often water their herbs in the morning, allowing the soil to dry out until the afternoon. Avoid letting the soil dry out too much for wild bergamot, as this can cause rust. Overcrowded clusters of bergamot will also lead to mildew. To keep wild bergamot plants healthy, prune the green stems in order to boost air circulation.
It’s recommended to avoid too loamy of soils for wild bergamot, as this can cause the plant to develop too quickly with a less secure base. Bergamot can withstand rocky, sandy or moist soil with steady air circulation. Consistent air flow and rich, well-draining soil helps ensure bergamot grows as a successful warm season perennial herb.
- Lessen with Humid Conditions
- Water Thoroughly
- Maintain Medium Moisture
Knowing how to water wild bergamot plants depends on their stage of growth as well as varying climate conditions. If the region is more humid, lessen the watering amount for wild bergamots while maintaining medium moisture throughout maturity. As this wildflower variety abundantly grows in many natural settings and can tolerate a light-to-average drought, bergamots require consistent watering throughout its overall development.
Avoid letting the soil become too dry, as this can lead to fungal or rust disease. As wild bergamot is a member of the mint family, this herb easily reseeds itself as an herbaceous plant with hardy square-shaped stems and 4” oval leaves. In drier climates, mulch can help hold moisture in the soil for longer and provides rich nutrients to bergamot plants.
Wild bergamot is a popular flowering perennial and deer-resistant as an easily grown native garden. The main task of watering bergamot comes down to even distribution of moisture and making sure it’s planted in rich, well-draining soil.
Is Wild Bergamot Related to Bergamot Fruit?
Interchangeable names that are used within herb species can make it confusing to distinguish between varieties and know whether or not they’re related. Wild bergamot is a classic case that has several labels or titles and sometimes gets confused with the citrusy orange bergamot fruit, as they share common traits.
Bee balm plants are classified in the Lamiaceae, mint family and have over fifty cultivars. Wild bergamot is one of those that’s often referred to as “bee balm” or “bergamot.”
Due to the fragrant mint and aromatic properties from wild bergamot leaves, its similar medicinal uses to orange bergamot fruit is easy to mix up. Bergamot fruit, is a different species as Citrus bergamia and develops orange and citrusy oil esters that are often made into essential oils and used for aromatherapy by extracting from the peel of the fruit.
In fact, when it comes to tea, it is particularly difficult to determine which exact bergamot is used as the authentic ingredients to make Earl Grey tea. The answer is none of the herbs, but rather, wild bergamot can be steeped with other flavors to make other herbal remedies or teas that mimic the popular warm drink. The oils that come from the fruit and citrus extract from orange bergamot is the ingredient in true Earl Grey, along with black tea. When you read somewhere, ‘oil of bergamot’ specifically in regards to Early Grey flavoring, just remember that it’s actually oil from bergamot fruit, rather than the herb.
Bergamot Through All Seasons
- Long Summer Blooming Season
- Deadheading Flowers
- Spring Regrowth
Bergamot is a frost hardy flowering herb that goes dormant during the winter and will bounce back in the spring.
As wild bergamot has a high germination rate and with herbaceous growth, it’s easier to cultivate a successful bergamot crop throughout the seasons. As this perennial herb has a longer summer blooming season, deadheading the flower tops that are less healthy will help bergamot produce in late summer to early fall. For drier regions, laying down mulch will maintain enough moisture for wild bergamot during warmer conditions.
Although this bergamot variety is semi drought-tolerant, it’s encouraged to provide regular and even watering throughout its growth. As bee balm also grows in clusters and can easily spread, spacing or diving out the healthiest bergamot plants will help control the crop and keep bergamot plants aromatic and strong.
Growing Wild Bergamot Indoors
As a native plant, bergamot varieties easily reseed and thrive in natural settings. As a mint family member, wild bergamot does well when it’s planted in a container, as long as it receives enough sunlight, good airflow and well-draining soil. Use large pots that provide ample surface area. Many gardeners enjoy starting bergamot indoors to transplant outdoors for a lovely potted butterfly attraction.
In general, bee balm herbs are vibrant and ideal pollinators that will eventually be moved outside. To start bergamot indoors, lightly cover seeds in pots or seed raising trays with moist and well-draining soil. Place in a location where seedlings will receive enough sunlight and use a mixture of vermiculite, peat moss and compost. Once wild bergamot seedlings have reached at least 3” or around 7-8 weeks after sowing, transplant outdoors and space 18-24” in between.
Pruning Wild Bergamot
Giving bee balm plants a pruning trim will provide more flavorful and healthy herbs that are less susceptible to rust and powdery mildew. It’s especially important to tend to the lower leaves of wild bergamot and notice if they begin to turn yellow or wilt.
Take pruning shears and cut bergamot stems back 4” from the ground. Other light forms of pruning bee balm can include pinching flowers back in order to boost its growth. Thinning bergamot stems or cutting back the plants once they’ve developed to 1’ high are a couple of other pruning methods for bee balm.
Two of the heavier pruning methods will take place after bergamot abundantly blooms in late summer, as bee balm can be susceptible to having mildew. If this is the case, locate the infected components of the plant and cut back what has been compromised all the way to its base.
When to Prune Wild Bergamot
- During Bloom
- After Summer Bloom
- Before or After Fall Frost
As Wild Bergamot is an easy and herbaceous perennial to grow, pruning this herb during its development will not only lead to a strong and aromatic bee balm crop, but pruning will also help the likelihood of another blooming for a late summer or even fall harvest. Before winter occurs, many gardeners will prepare by cutting their bee balm plants down to 1” from the ground.
Dividing out bergamot plants that are less productive every couple of years will also help maintain perennial bergamot crops. Pruning will also prevent certain diseases that bee balm cultivars can be vulnerable to such as rust or powdery mildew.
How to Propagate Wild Bergamot
1. Through root division, divide up your bee balm plants every couple of years during the spring or early fall by loosening the soil near the root base with a gardening shovel, then gently lifting the plants upward until it’s loose. Shake off the soil, then cut through the exposed roots with gardening shears in order to separate the plant into two parts, gently drawing the rest of the roots apart. Replant in a timely manner with a good amount of roots with each division. Prune the tops of bergamot after replanting.
2. With cuttings, during late spring or early summer, trim 4-6” of bergamot stem ends below its youngest set of leaves. Prune the lowest set of bee balm leaves. Place cuttings in a smaller pot or container with a vermiculite and peat moss mixture. While keeping moist, place the small pot in a plastic covering or bag until cuttings begin to root. Replant bee balm cuttings in another pot with well-draining soil and in a sunny location to later be transplanted outdoors.
3. Seed propagation is fairly easy when it comes to propagating bergamot. Collect the hardy seeds of bee bal 2-3 weeks after blooming. Spread bergamot seeds to dry out on paper for up to 3 days. Store seeds in the fridge in a mason jar or sealed container.
Wild Bergamot Companion Planting
Not only does wild bergamot do well when planted next to other plants, but they are regarded as one of the top flowering perennial herbs that bring a variety of beneficial pollinators to the garden and boost the development of neighboring companions.
You can also take a bee balm leaf or fresh cutting and place it in the soil next to other vegetables, fruits or herbs that you want to protect. Bergamot plants repel unwanted pests and mosquitoes, while improving the flavor of garden tomatoes. Planting bee balm cultivars near the center as lower-growing herbs such as basil, chives or thyme will allow them to thrive.
When bergamot is planted underneath fruit trees, it protects from insects and provides minerals and moisture.
Wild Bergamot Flowers
Rich and diverse bee balm varieties offer a vibrant range of flowers, blooming and coming to life during late spring and mid-to-late summer. The firework-like or puffball petal shape of bergamot herbs can be bright-red, lavender, pink or white as they attract colorful butterflies and beneficial pollinators to their sweet, minty or earthy aromas. The fragrant buds can be dried and used to make tea. Native Omaha Tribes extracted the oils from bee balm into various herbal oils to nourish hair or skin.
Harvesting Wild Bergamot
The minty and peppery oval leaves of bergamot can be harvested anytime during mid-to-late summer and used to make herbal remedies or dried as a decorative wildflower herb.
Bee balm varieties that are more ideal for culinary or aromatic benefits such as lemon balm, produce young leaves that can be picked throughout the season and added to dishes for a minty and citrusy flavor. Harvest the whole plant by cutting the stems with gardening shears and leaving a few inches above the ground.
The edible flowers of bee balm can also be picked and should be deadheaded during their blooming season in order to promote more growth. Spacing or division of wild bergamot should take place every 2-3 years to maintain a healthy wildflower crop. For harvesting bergamot seeds, allow the plant to flower and reach full maturity before collecting ripe bee balm seeds.
When to Harvest Wild Bergamot
- Before Dormancy
- Throughout Blooming Season
- Late Spring
Along with proper harvesting, cutting back and propagation, regular care for bergamot plants will require consistent pruning light or heavy throughout the years of maintaining a healthy and fragrant bee balm garden. For more help, check out our section on Pruning Bergamot.
Drying Bergamot Flowers
Gently pluck the aromatic flowers and string them up to dry. Leave the bundle of harvested bergamot upside down in a warm location with good air circulation. The flowers make a terrific and fragrant bouquet. Fresh petals can be used as a garnish or added to a fruit dish, such as scarlet or lemon bee balm. Add a sprig of bergamot to summer drinks for a beautiful and bright beverage.
How to Dry Bergamot
Hang Dry: Take gardening shears to remove bergamot stems a couple of inches from the ground. Wrap foliage in a bundle and hang upside down in a room that provides moderate air circulation. Don’t warp bee balm bundles too tight in order to avoid mildew. Once plants are dry, place in a container or paper bag for storage.
Oven Dry: On the lowest setting, dry bergamot herbs on a cookie sheet for up to one hour in the oven. Leave the oven door slightly open to allow proper airflow. Oven-dried bee balm will be darker in color and crispy. Carefully take dried bee balm and store it in a sealed mason jar.
Food Dehydrator: At 135℉, place bergamot herbs on drying tray and let them dry for up 12-20 hours. Take dried bee balm and store in a sealed container or mason jar. Strip the leaves to dry on a flat surface to crush and place in a sealed jar for later use.
Types of Bergamot
With over 50 varieties of bee balm and over 600 cultivars of plants that reside in the mint family, bergamot is a versatile, vibrant and frost-hardy perennial herb that can adapt to a wide range of different climates. As a wildflower, bergamot grows in many native settings such as meadows, forests, or open fields.
As a prime pollinator attraction, wild bergamot is ideal for cultivating rain gardens, butterfly gardens or aromatic bee balm crops. The main confusion among the diverse types of bergamot, is in regards to the similar characteristics it shares with bergamot fruit. As these two plants are in fact different species, they both produce pleasant fragrance and medicinal benefits. Wild bergamot is well-known as an ornamental perennial that protects plants and promotes abundant growth. Other bee balm varieties like scarlet or lemon bergamot are highly-favored herbs for their culinary and aromatherapy uses. As bergamot grows similarly as other scented herbs such as lavender, sage, rosemary and thyme, bee balm is one of the most diverse, hardy and favored plants in the mint family and Monarda genus.
Scarlet Bee Balm Bergamot: (Monarda didyma) - This flowering herb is known as the most colorful crop among the bee balm varieties. Scarlet bergamot provides a floral, minty and slight pepper flavor. As a common name for this herb is also simply “bee balm” it gets its name from its great ability to attract beneficial pollinators like honey bees and butterflies of various types to the garden. Scarlet bee balm cultivars are an ancient herb made into medicinal tea also referred to as “Oswego tea” and used by Native American Tribes to help treat digestion.
Lemon Bergamot: (Monarda citriodora) - Also known as Lemon Mint or Horsemint, lemon bee balm varieties are among the most popular and flavorful herbs when it comes to medicinal, cosmetic, culinary and aromatic benefits. With bright, citrusy fragrance, forest-green leaves and pink-to-white blossoms, lemon bee balm is a favorite for making refreshing lemonade and adding aromatic flavor to salads.
Lavender, Purple, or Wild Bergamot: (Monarda fistulosa) - As this bergamot variety contains thymol oils, Native American tribes used purple bergamot as natural medicines to aid sore throats and other respiratory issues. As this type of bee balm is ideal for ornamental uses and certain herbal remedies, consider planting wild bergamot as a minty flowering perennial border for pollinators and plant companion benefits. The firework-like shape and spicy aroma of lavender bergamot blossoms will attract honey bees and the beneficial insects, while also developing with average drought-tolerance and deer-resistance.
Petite Wonder or Petite Delight Bergamot: (Monarda pringlei) - As a dwarf cultivar of bee balm, petite wonder or petite delight bergamot is a unique hybrid variety that develops more compact and is the ideal bee balm type to grow indoors or in pots. Petite wonder bergamot blooms rose-pink flowers and is also less susceptible to powdery mildew.
Marshall’s Delight, Raspberry Wine, or Jacob Cline: (Monarda didyma) With unique names and vibrant blossoms, these bee balm varieties are popular due to their powdery mildew resistance. Marshall’s Delight bee balm flowers stand out by growing bright-pink blossoms, whereas Raspberry Wine and Jacob Cline bergamot show deep rouge-colored flowers.
Benefits of Wild Bergamot
Although out of the many bee balm varieties, Wild Bergamot isn’t the top choice when it comes to aromatherapy, it’s still a popular herb that is made into medicinal remedies or mint tea. As noted above the difference between bergamot herbs and bergamot fruit, Citrus bergamia species aren’t related to the flowering perennial monarda plants, however; the orange fruit is known for its essential oil properties.
The aromatic and earthy oils from wild bergamot leaves are what Native American tribes often used as a warm herbal tea to help aid respiratory problems, inflammation, cramps, the common cold and the flu. When it comes to the over fifty bee balm cultivars, wild bergamot is regarded as one of the top flowering and herbaceous types to attract pollinators such as butterflies, hummingbirds and honeybees.
Why is bergamot also called the “honey plant?” ...As a decorative, ornamental perennial border, rain or native garden plant, bee balm herbs of all varieties are very fragrant and attractive, as it only takes a light brushing or breeze to experience the aromatic benefits to growing bergamot.
Wild Bergamot Tea
As the entire wild bergamot herb is edible, the oval-shaped gray-green leaves of this cultivar are aromatic and often made into mint tea. As other bee balm varieties such as lemon bergamot are highly-favored for their bright and citrusy taste, wild bergamot still offers a minty fragrance with earthy flavor, depending on how it’s prepared.
Native Americans made out herbal remedies out of purple or wild bergamot leaves for its antiseptic properties and healing benefits. It’s recommended to mix China tea with infused bee balm leaves for a tea and flavor similar to Earl Grey.
How to Make Iced Bee Balm Tea
1. Remove bee balm flowers. Take 4-5 teaspoons of dried or fresh bee balm bergamot leaves and place in a glass pitcher with ¼ cup of other herbs or fruit of your choice such as rosemary, mint or chamomile. Stir ingredients together, cover and place in the fridge up to 24 hours for a chilled version of crisp iced bee balm tea. Scarlet or lemon bergamot herbs are perfect for this refreshing beverage, as their vibrant bright-red colors or citrusy flavor make a bright and refreshing drink.
2. As the flavor of wild bergamot provides more of an earthy and verdant flavor with a hint of mint, take 4-5 teaspoons of dried or fresh leaves along with a sprig of mint and steep with hot water. Add a slice of lemon or a little bit of honey to boost its already soothing herbal effects.
Oswego tea provides more earthy flavor but also hints of floral and minty fragrance that are extracted from its oil properties. As this type of tea gets its name for its native origin near the Oswego River in the Eastern United States, it was often used for its ability to aid digestion.
Additional Information on Bergamot Herb
- Lemon Bergamot Wikipedia Page
- Read the Best Practices for Planning Your Herb Garden!
- Learn About Hardiness Zones
Explore these Lemon Bergamot (Lemon Mint) Herb Seed Varieties: