Bergamot in Earl Grey Tea
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Ann Kirkpatrick
Posted on: August 14, 1998

I would like to know if Monarda is the Bergamot that is used as the flavoring in Earl Grey Tea. Or is it the "Orange Bergamot" tree that you mention in your catalog entry on Monardas? Or something else? Whatever it is, I want to grow it and extract the flavor! I have planted Monarda "Gardenview Scarlet" this year; I would like to harvest the leaves but they are a bit mildewed. Would another species or variety of Monarda be better for getting leaves for tea?

The source of the bergamot oil used in Earl Grey tea is the Bergamot Orange tree. This is a citrus tree that is grown in southern Italy for the fragrant fruits from which is distilled the famous tea flavouring oil. It is only possible to grow this tree in southern areas where citrus is grown, or in greenhouses. The Bergamot Orange is not available from Richters, but we are hoping to offer it in the future.

A plant worth looking at is the bergamot mint (Mentha x piperita citrata) which is listed under the mints in Richters catalogue. This plant does not have the same oil as the bergamot orange tree, but it is to many noses a very reasonable facsimile. The best thing about it is that it grows easily, and you can get a lot of leaves quickly which you can use to flavour tea. From a practical growing and harvesting point of view, this plant is a much better way to go than trying to grow the real bergamot orange tree.

The true bergamots, the Monardas, are very susceptible to mildew. Usually in mid to late summer the leaves become covered with the grey growth of the mildew fungus. There are, however, several cultivars that are more resistant to mildew; these include Marshall’s Delight, Petite Delight and Petite Wonder. These three cultivars are not as fragrant as others but they are very acceptable.

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