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Monarda

Monarda

Monarda (bee balm, horsemint, oswego tea, or bergamot) is a genus consisting of roughly 16 species of erect, herbaceous annual or perennial plants in the Lamiaceae, indigenous to North America. Ranging in height from 1 to 3 feet (0.2 to 0.9 m), the plants have an equal spread, with slender and long-tapering (lanceolate) leaves; the leaves are opposite on stem, smooth to nearly hairy, lightly serrated margins, and range from 3 to 6 inches (7 to 14 cm) long. In all species, the leaves, when crushed, exude a spicy, highly fragrant oil. Of the species listed, M. didyma (Oswego Tea) contains the highest concentration of this oil. The genus was named for Nicolás Monardes who wrote a book in 1574 describing plants found in the New World.

Blackfoot

Menominee

Bee Balm

Uses : Several bee balm species (Monarda fistulosa and Monarda didyma) have a long history of use as a medicinal plants by many Native Americans including the Blackfoot, Menominee, Ojibwa, Winnebago and others. The Blackfoot Indians recognized the strong antiseptic action of these plants, and used poultices of the plant for skin infections and minor wounds. A tea made from the plant was also used to treat mouth and throat infections caused by dental caries and gingivitis. Bee balm is the natural source of the antiseptic Thymol, the primary active ingredient in modern commercial mouthwash formulas. The Winnebago used a tea made from bee Balm as a general stimulant. Bee balm was also used as a carminative herb by Native Americans to treat excessive flatulence. An infusion of crushed Monarda leaves in boiling water has been known to treat headaches and fevers.

Although somewhat bitter, due to the thymol content in the plants leaves and buds, the plant tastes like a mix of spearmint and peppermint with oregano, to which it is closely related. Bee balm was traditionally used by Native Americans as a seasoning for wild game, particularly birds. The plants are widespread across North America and can be found in moist meadows, hillsides, and forest clearings up to 5,000 feet in elevation.

Flowers, species, cultivars : Monarda species include annual and perennial upright growing herbaceous plants with lanceolate to ovate shaped leaves. The flowers are tubular with bilateral symmetry and bilabiate; with upper lips narrow and the lower ones broader and spreading or deflexed. The flowers are single or in some cultivated forms double, generally hermaphroditic with two stamens. Plants bloom in mid- to late summer and the flowers are produced in dense profusion at the ends of the stem and/or in the stem axils. The flowers typically are crowded into head-like clusters with leafy bracts. Flower colors vary, with wild forms of the plant having crimson-red to red, pink and light purple hues. M. didyma has bright, carmine red blossoms; M. fistulosa—the “true” wild bergamot—has smokey pink flowers. M. citriodora and M. pectinata have light lavender to lilac-colored blooms and have slightly decreased flower quantities. Both species are commonly referred to as “Lemon Mint.” There are over 50 commercial cultivars and hybrids, ranging in color from candy-apple red to pure white to deep blue, but these plants tend to be smaller than wild species, and often developed to combat climatic or pest conditions. Other hybrids have been developed to produce essential oils for food, flavoring, or medicine. “M. didyma” species can grow up to 6 feet tall. Seed collected from hybrids—as with most hybridized plants—does not produce identical plants to the parent. A number of hybrids also occur in the wild.

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Juniper berry

Juniper berry

A juniper berry is the female seed cone produced by the various species of junipers. It is not a true berry but a cone with unusually fleshy and merged scales, which give it a berry-like appearance. The cones from a handful of species, especially Juniperus communis, are used as a spice, particularly in European cuisine, and also give gin its distinguishing flavour. According to one FAO document, juniper berries are the only spice derived from conifers,though tar and inner bark (used as a sweetener by Apache cuisines) from pine trees is sometimes considered a spice as well.

Species

All juniper species grow berries, but some are considered too bitter to eat. In addition to J. communis, other edible species include Juniperus drupacea, Juniperus oxycedrus, Juniperus phoenicea,Juniperus deppeana, and Juniperus californica. Some species, for example Juniperus sabina, are toxic and consumption is inadvisable.

Characteristics

Juniperus communis berries vary from four to twelve millimetres in diameter; other species are mostly similar in size, though some are larger, notably J. drupacea (20–28 mm). Unlike the separated and woody scales of a typical pine cone, those in a juniper berry remain fleshy and merge into a unified covering surrounding the seeds. The berries are green when young, and mature to a purple-black colour over about 18 months in most species, including J. communis (shorter, 8–10 months in a few species, and about 24 months in J. drupacea). The mature, dark berries are usually but not exclusively used in cuisine, while gin is flavoured with fully grown but immature green berries.

Uses

The flavour profile of young, green berries is dominated by pinene; as they mature this piney, resinous backdrop is joined by what McGee describes as “green-fresh” and citrus notes.The outer scales of the berries are relatively flavourless, so the berries are almost always at least lightly crushed before being used as a spice. They are used both fresh and dried, but their flavour and odour is at their strongest immediately after harvest and decline during drying and storage.

Juniper berries are used in northern European and particularly Scandinavian cuisine to “impart a sharp, clear flavour” to meat dishes, especially wild birds (including thrush, blackbird, and woodcock) and game meats (including boar and venison).They also season pork, cabbage, and sauerkraut dishes. Traditional recipes for choucroute garnie, an Alsatian dish of sauerkraut and meats, universally include juniper berries. Besides Norwegian and Swedish dishes, juniper berries are also sometimes used in German, Austrian, Czech and Hungarian cuisine, often with roasts. Northern Italian cuisine, especially that of the Alto Adige/Südtirol, also incorporates juniper berries.

Juniper also flavors gin, a liquer developed in the 17th century in the Netherlands. It was first intended as a medication; juniper berries are a diuretic and were also thought to be an appetite stimulant and a remedy for rheumatism and arthritis. Western American Native Tribes are also reported to have used the juniper berry as an appetite supressant in times of hunger and/or famine. Currently, the jumiper berry is being researched as a possible treatment for diet-controlled diabetes, as it releases insulin from the pancreas (hence alleviating hunger). It is also said to have been used by some tribes as a female contraceptive. The name gin itself is derived from either the French genièvre or the Dutch jenever, which both mean “juniper”.Other juniper-flavoured beverages include the Finnish rye-and-juniper beer known as sahti, which is flavoured with both juniper berries and branches.

A few North American juniper species produce a seed cone with a sweeter, less resinous flavour than those typically used as a spice. For example, one field guide describes the flesh of the berries of Juniperus californica as “dry, mealy, and fibrous but sweet and without resin cells”.Such species have been used not just as a seasoning but as a nutritive food by some Native Americans. In addition to medical and culinary purposes, Native Americans have also used the seeds inside juniper berries as beads for jewellery and decoration.

An essential oil extracted from juniper berries is used in aromatherapy and perfumery. The essential oil can be distilled out of berries which have already been used to flavour gin.

History

Juniper berries have been found in ancient Egyptian tombs, including Juniperus phoenicia and Juniperus oxycedrus at multiple sites. The latter is not known to grow in Egypt, and neither is Juniperus excelsa, which was found along with J. oxycedrus in the tomb of Tutankhamun. The berries imported into Egypt may have come from Greece; the Greeks record using juniper berries as a medicine long before mentioning their use in food. The Greeks used the berries in many of their Olympics events because of their belief that the berries increased physical stamina in athletes.”[15] The Romans used juniper berries as a cheap domestically-produced substitute for the expensive black pepper and long pepper imported from India. It was also used as an adulterant, as reported in Pliny the Elder’s Natural History: “Pepper is adulterated with juniper berries, which have the property, to a marvellous degree, of assuming the pungency of pepper.” Pliny also incorrectly asserted that black pepper grew on trees that were “very similar in appearance to our junipers”.

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