In The Finder of Forgotten Things one of my characters gathers and dries flowers to make Oswego tea. It’s a drink I’d heard of over the years, but didn’t really know much about. So I did a little research.

Other names for the plant are bergamot, mountain mint, mountain balm, and scarlet or crimson beebalm and it’s a member of the mint family. Our neighbors have a large swath of the flowers growing along the edge of a field between our houses. Thistle and I often walk through there and yes, there IS a minty aroma in the air!

The name Oswego comes from a tribe of American Indians living in upstate New York who taught settlers the various uses for the herb. They include:

  • Making a poultice to soothe bee stings (hence beebalm)
  • A tea to improve digestion, decrease flatulence, and lower a fever
  • As a culinary herb–fresh in salads or dried in dishes you’d season with sage
  • To make sweet-smelling sachets for linens or your closet
  • And, of course, as a lovely and fragrant addition to a summer bouquet

Another boon of having the plant nearby is the way it attracts hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees. To make a tea, dry the flowers and leaves, then add one teaspoon to a cup of boiling water and sweeten with honey or perhaps add a slice of lemon. It supposedly tastes a lot like Earl grey tea (which is flavored with oil of bergamot–the citrus fruit, not the flower).