Sunday, June 25, 2017

Just Lemon Balm

Just Lemon Balm

Molly Sams
from Jul/Aug '16 Essential Herbal Magazine

When I first began studying herbalism seriously I fell in love with lemon balm.  Interning at TheRosemary House, one day Susanna was explaining to me the different uses and properties of general garden herbs.  When lemon balm came up in the conversation her eyes lit up.  It seemed like she was telling me this wonderful secret and I was thrilled to learn.

She explained that lemon balm never truly dies in the winter. The plant is always growing and if need be you can always dig it up out of the ground and smell that citrusy scent that lemon balm has. This plant has been used to combat symptoms of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) for its lemony scent and taste.  It has a light, almost sweet taste and it smells absolutely heavenly (especially on a cold winter day).  Susanna described it as almost divine intervention that this plant will always be there for you in the winter.  And from that sentence on I was hooked.

Unlike just about anyone else who has grown lemon balm, my mother and I found it difficult at first. Since we moved to the house on the hill she was completely unable to plant it and keep it alive through the summer.  After hearing about the benefits of winter however, I was determined to make it work.  I took a nice sized plant from Susanna’s gardens (after asking of course) and begin to baby it for a whole summer. Every day I would go out and water it, make sure the dirt was loose and moist, and search for any mean bugs who may need to be relocated to our fields. After a season of babying my lemon balm I let fall and winter take over. Outside it was a constant barrage of cold and I was honestly unsure if the lemon balm would return. On the first warm day I ran out to see if the plant had popped back.  It had - with beautiful deep green leaves and as fragrant as ever. Needless to say a happy dance took place right that moment.

For others lemon balm thrives incredibly well in whatever situation it is in. They like well-drained soil with plenty of room (trust me it’ll grow), but unless you want it taking over every nook and cranny in your garden you may want to keep it contained. Lemon balm is well loved by pollinators. It’s Latin name Melissa (officinalis) actually means bee in Greek.

 Lemon balm is wonderful for those who suffer from SAD but is also incredibly tasty in teas and baked goods. It is used mainly for anxiety, insomnia, and indigestion. Lemon balm is a carminative, diaphoretic, and may reduce a fever. This plant is wonderful to give to little ones and fussy adults when they are sick with a cold or fever. You can also drink a tea after a large meal to fight off the symptoms of indigestion. It may also help you drift off to sleep afterward.  Some find it helpful blended with St John’s wort for nerve issues. 

This plant also has calming affects topically for sores, small wounds and cuts, and even herpes breakouts. Many use a diluted oil or tea to wash the wounds and because it has antibacterial properties have reported faster and/or better healing.  It is not recommended for individuals using thyroid medication.

Many have used the wash for a gentle acne treatment. My favorite way to use lemon balm topically is to mix a drop of oil into witch hazel as a toner.
For those who love history and herbs you may want to try your hand at Carmelite water. Nobles originally used this water after the Middle Ages to increase vigor and maintain a youthful appearance.

The Essential Herbal Magazine’s Carmelite Water
 (For one teapot)

2 t lemon balm
½ t lemon peel
½ t grated nutmeg
1 t angelica root

Steep for three to five minutes and enjoy by itself or with honey.

Lemon balm is an absolutely wonderful little plant that is incredibly strong-willed and still has plenty to show us.


Sra. Egge said...

I live in zone 4b on the prairie of sw Minnesota and have not been able to get lemon balm to survive the winter. I grow it in a pot but I start a new plant every year. Do you know a way of overwintering a plant in a pot besides bringing it indoors?

Prairie Herbalist said...

I have Melissa officinalis or lemon balm growing in the northeast corner of my house. I't's been there for years. It seems to love the protected location. It will die down in the corner, and pop up a couple of feet away, and come back another year in the corner again. It makes a lovely and refreshing tea! It has never been so invasive that it overtakes my garden. I have chives, echinacea, and hostas nearby as well and they seem to grow well together. This is one of my favorite herbs!