Tuesday, June 18, 2013


My red bee balm bloomed over the weekend. You may know it as bergamot, horsemint, Oswego tea, or Monarda—the latter being the genus name given to honor Nicolás Monardes, who wrote about the plant in 1574, in a book describing recent botanical collections from the New World. Monardas are members of the mint family. There are about 16 species, all found in North America. Monardas come in white, various reds, pinks, magentas, lavendars, and darker hues just this side of genuine purple.

When brushed or bruised, all Monardas exude a distinctive and highly fragrant scent from their leaves and stems—spicy, aromatic. This scent comes from oils within the leaves. I've heard some describe this heady fragrance as a mix of spearmint, peppermint, and oregano. Personally I'd say the scent is far more unique and complex. It's certainly one of my all-time favorite plant perfumes.

As you might expect, bee balm has a long and varied history of herbal and medicinal use—first by Native Americans, and later by European settlers. The plant has been employed in everything from tea making to flavoring meat during cooking, as an antiseptic, in tisanes, liniments, poultices, etc. It still furnishes the primary antiseptic and flavoring ingredient, Thymol, used in most mouthwashes.

I should also mention that you'll sometimes read how oil from bee balm is used to give Earl Grey tea its characteristic fragrance and flavor. Not true. What is true is that we got one our common names from the bergamot orange, Citrus bergamia. Apparently the  scent of our native Monardas is somewhat similar to that of bergamot oranges, which are grown chiefly in Italy, France, and Turkey, and whose oil is extracted from the fruit's rinds and used to flavor Earl Grey tea.

I have various species of bee balms planted around—reds, whites, pinks, and one that's a sort of gray-blue-lavender. I take great delight in brushing my hand through their leaves and receiving a cloud of delicious fragrance in return. But even if I didn't adore the scent and sight of the bright red flowers of the M. didyam (above), I'd put it out for the hummingbirds. Though I don't think there's all that much nectar to be sipped from the blooms, they always seem to adore the stuff. Maybe they just like to sniff, too.

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[Hey, let me know if you like this new typeface and size—too big, still too small, try a different face, whatever. I'm still trying to work some things out and would appreciate any feedback…negative or positive. Thanks!]  


Gail said...

HI GRIZZ- I loved learning about the flower beautifully pictured and its aromatic and useful oils. Of course, that humming bird thrills me. What a wonderful nature lesson. Thanks. And your font is fine. I can rad it well and it is smooth and simple. Nice.
Have a wonderful day
Love Gail

Carolyn H said...

Like the new typeface!

Is bee balm one of those sun-loving plants? I'm always looking for shade-loving plants for around my cabin.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Yes I do call this plant bergamot Grizz. And lucky you to have that wonderful bird calling in on you.

The type face is a little hard for me to read I must say but as I love your blog so much I shall continue reading it even if I have to resort to using a magnifying glass!

Grizz………… said...


Thank you. I'm glad you enjoyed the piece about one of my favorite plants…at least scent-wise. Love the way it smells!

I appreciate, too, your feedback re. font—although judging by Weaver's comment (below) I'm still having problems. Gotta keep working on that and make it right.

Grizz………… said...

Carolyn H…

I expect bee balm would mostly be classified as "sun loving," though the ones you see in the photo only receive morning sun and are in deep shade the rest of the day. So mixed sun certainly works…I just don't know how little you can get by with. And like you, I'm always looking for shade plants because except for a couple of room-sized patches of sun and partial sun, the rest of my one-acre riverbank yard is under the thick, dark shade of huge old (mostly) sycamore trees.

Thank you for the feedback. I expect the font size is tied to the browser used—and that may turn out to be a real problem.

Gail said...

me again, i may have not explained myself well enough. The font in the post is good, not so much the paragraph at the bottom of your post asking about the font. That one is thin and harsh - in my opinion.
love you

Grizz………… said...


I'm so sorry you're having a problem reading the posts. I'm going to do my best to figure out how to fix things.

As I said above, the post typeface size is apparently tied to the brand of bowser used for reading. After seeing your comment, I went to Riverdaze (the actual post, not what I'm seeing from my composition/management page) using Google's Chrome, Apple's Safari, and Mozilla's Firefox, which are the only three browsers I have loaded. When I adjust the screen magnification to where the photo is exactly the same size in each…there's a huge difference in the number of words per line, and thus a difference in the size of the typeface.

Here what I see on my Mac, starting at first word/first line:

Chrome: Starts "My" ends "You"..............9 words
Firefox: Starts "My" ends "it" ...............12 words
Safari: Starts "My" ends "bergamot," ..14 words

Safari wordsize is reduced 50%! Lines in the first paragraph are, respectively: 10, 9. 7. Quite a difference! I expect that's what's going on in whatever browser you're using—which may not necessarily be one of the above three. Now the question is, can I somehow make it bigger or is that something only the reader can do via browser settings and preferences?

Don't know, and may not be smart enough or savvy enough to fix or even figure out I can't fix, as I'm getting pretty close to my technical capabilities wall. But I won't give up easily, either; I am, after all, mulishly Irish.

Grizz………… said...


Hey, the more info you feed me, the better shot I have at making this problem right. Don't hesitate a minute to voice an opinion or point out an issue.

I simply used the italics version of the same font for my note, to set it apart from the body copy; but it shouldn't have been less readable, and doesn't appear so on my browser. The fact that it does as you try ti read it tells me I ought to go with a different main body typeface for posts.

And that's excellent info! Thank you!

Jennifer A. Jilks said...

Grizz, I have new glasses and nothing looks right! I find the shocking bright yellow on the black –the font is too small.
In my experience one uses sans serif for titles, serif for body of text ot keep you reading.
I have Chrome and a Mac.
That said, Mine starts 'My' and ends in Bergamot!
Hope this helps.
I love this plant, and your hummer photo. Ours are busy. Milkweed is next!

Grizz………… said...


I really appreciate your comments. And yes, as a starting point—and particularly with newspapers or newsletters—the basic rule is sans serif for titles, and serif for body copy. Magazine design often employs serif font titles and headers. Cutlines, datelines, captions, etc. are often different, too. Books, well they're a game of their own and somewhat time and genre dependent. I've been in the writing/publishing business all my life and have done all sorts of layout and paste-up work, "mechanicals" as they're often called. I pretty much know reasonably well the look I'm aiming to achieve…it's just that all of a sudden, for whatever reasons, I can't make Blogger do what I wish. I'm sure it's a technical issue.

Riverdaze should appear as a fairly dark (not black!) milk-chocolate background field upon which the body copy of the post is a pale tan, not too yellowish, and not too white which to my eye makes it blaze too bright for easy reading.

With the font I'm using, the pica size (in the advanced layout settings mode) is set to 20pts. which is WAY bigger a setting than what actually appears. Don't know why. (Standard book text on that romance paperback you take to the beach would be 9pt., 10pt., maybe 11-12pts. This should be twice that size, at least!)

I'm also using a Mac and Chrome. On my desktop the paragraph breaks at the end of the word "You" which sounds like it's five words shorter than on your similar setup. No wonder the type is unreadably tiny!

Egads! I may spend a day soon just plain rebuilding my site from the ground up…or else move the whole blog to a new host. Can't do that until at least next week, however, but I'll probably post something before then with some smaller tweaks, see if anything helps.

Again, really appreciate the feedback, though I'm more puzzled now than before. However, I can't fix it if I don't know it's broken. This site worked well for a long time—until just recently, I believe. I'm betting the change came when Goggle began switching to Google+ which I don't want to do. That seems to have messed up a lot of folks.

KGMom said...

I am a font junkie--and I do like the new look.
What font (or actually typeface) is it that you are using?

Grizz………… said...


Oh, ho! One of those, eh? Well, I'll have you know I pay attention to typefaces, too. Thought maybe I was the only one who every read those little paragraphs in the back of books: "This work was set in Baskerville Old Face…designed by blah, blah, blah…in 1705, in the style of…blah, blah, blah."

Anyway, it's called Sorts Mill Goudy, set at 20pt. and is a web-based font. Whatever that means. Kinda reminded me of Garamond, which I like but which wasn't available.

Scott said...

I like the font; keep it.

And, thanks for the information a bout the oranges. I always thought that Earl Gray was flavored with the oils from Monarda.

Grizz………… said...


From what I know about the tea's history, Earl Grey tea came to England in the early 1800s by way of China as a gift. It's traditionally assumed to have been named after the 2nd Earl Grey, a Prime Minister of the era—supposedly in thanks for a good deed performed by one of Lord Grey's men. The story is most likely apocryphal. However, there is mention in the historical record—a court proceeding of 1837—of tea "artificially scented, and, drugged with bergamot." So the tea has been around a couple of centuries.

More to the point, the bergamot scent/drug mentioned was one of the essential oils, already well known and widely used in perfumes since the early 1700s. This bergamot oil is cold-pressed from the rinds of bergamot oranges—small citrus fruits which aren't eaten, but simply grown—mostly in Italy—for the purpose of oil-making.

The confusion came when some early New World flower sniffer with an educated nose inhaled a snoot full of crushed bee balm scent and said, "Hey, this smells like bergamot oil!"…and perhaps the most commonly used common name for the plant was thus born.

Adding to, and additionally complicating the confusion is the fact that teas are—and have been for centuries—made from the various native Monardas. So we have "bergamot" teas that are really Monarda-scented teas, and "bergamot" teas—Earl Grey, Lady Grey, etc.—that are truly bergamot-scented teas. BUT, these latter teas—and they are genuinely teas, while the former are more properly tisanes—are always flavored by the addition of the citrus-based oil, not extracts from Monarda leaves. In spite of what lots of web sites, and even some long-in-print wildflower guides and texts insist.

Now, just to muddle things a bit more…annually, I pick and dry a nice big supply of Monarda leaves—mostly from the deep red flower plants (M. didyam) pictured, because this species has the most oil in its leaves and the strongest taste/scent. (FYI, I do this with a number of mints and other plants because I like to sip a cuppa something while I'm working.) Come winter I enjoy my home-grown bergamot (Monarda) tea/tisane. I also like black teas which I usually purchase loose, in tins, from Harney and Sons. Sometimes I add a pinch of dried Monarda leaves to my usual measure of black tea, thus creating an Earl Grey taste-alike and smell-alike that's really a fake, an imitation, but a pretty good tasting fulfillment of the common misconception that Earl Grey is actually scented with bee balm.