Lemon Balm - Melissa
hardy perennial herb, which when brushed against
or crushed releases a delicious lemon fragrance.
Similar in appearance to the nettle (without the
stinging hairs) or mint (to which it is related),
with tiny white flowers. Balm has a long association
with bees - the botanical name Melissa being
derived from the Greek for honey bee, and according
to bee folklore if the beehive is rubbed with Balm
the bees will not swarm and the fragrance will attract
new bees. Apparently Balm was also a sacred herb
used in the temple of Diana.
Evelyn (1620 - 1706) stated the "Balm is sovereign
for the brain, strengthening the memory and powerfully
chasing away melancholy," the German herbalist
Paracelsus ascribed Balm as an "elixir of youth,"
and the Greeks considered it a cure all.
or Lemon Balm as it is perhaps more commonly called
nowadays, has a long tradition as a tonic remedy
and one which raises the spirits and comforts the
heart. It is a nerve tonic and relaxant with antispasmodic
and carminative actions, and makes an excellent
remedy for mild depression, panic attacks, palpitations,
irritability, restlessness and anxiety - especially
if the anxiety is causing indigestion. Balm is also
useful as a remedy for nausea, bloating, acidiy,
stomach spasms, colicky pains, flu with muscle aches
and pains, and can help reduce fever temperatures.
It is also a gentle herb which is good for soothing
nervous tummy upsets in children.
An infusion of 1 teaspoon of dried Balm per cup
of freshly boiled water will help soothe an anxious
stomach and a nervous headache, and sipped slowly
should help calm palpitations and panic attacks.
Balm is also an antiviral herb and research has
shown it to be extremely effective against several
bacteria and also the herpes simplex virus (the
one responsible for cold sores) and other viral
infections, including mumps, shingles and chicken
pox. Not only will it help relieve cold sores but
it may also reduce the chances of further outbreaks,
when drunk regularly. An infusion of the leaves
would make a soothing wash for irritated skin -
the juice of Balm can also be applied to cuts and
grazes as it contains eugenol, making it anti-bacterial
as well as capable of numbing the surrounding tissues.
an antioxidant herb it makes a good choice for a
regular herbal tea - the antioxidants mop up free
radicals - I like to blend it with Nettle, but it
blends well with most herbs. If you want to make
a blend for insomnia try Lemon Balm mixed with Catnip, Chamomile or Valerian
Root. A soothing blend, particularly for stomach
upsets and nerves / anxiety is Lemon Balm and Chamomile.
The antioxidants would also make Lemon Balm a useful
blend for preventing catarracts - try blending it
with Catnip and Mint.
herbalists suggest that Lemon Balm is beneficial
for Alzheimer's disease, attention deficit/hyperactivity
disorder (ADHD), and both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism
(suggesting that Lemon Balm has a regulating effect
on the thyroid).
Balm has had many uses over the centuries (in addition
to being a medicinal herb) - it was the principal
ingredient of Carmelite water used during Mediaeval
times by men and women after bathing, and the fresh
leaves can be eaten raw in saldas or dried and used
in herbal bath blends, toilet waters, pot pourri,
as a strewing herb, or in hot or cold drink. It
can also be used to flavour soups, stews, sauces
of Lemon Balm hung up to dry after harvesting.
optimum harvest time is generally just before the
flowers appear, or just after they have opened as
a second best, but this plant is such a prolific
grower that small harvests can be made regularly
throughout the summer. Ensure you leave some un-harvested
for the bees.
Lemon Balm must be dried carefully to ensure that
the lovely zesty fragrance is not lost - I tend
to leave bunches of the herb hanging up for no longer
than a week before checking that it is dry and then
packing it up in an air-tight glass jar. The fragrance
(and medicinal properties) of herbs will last longer
if you keep the herb in one piece (as much as possible)
until you need to use it, then break it down as
desired. To separate the leaves from the stems quickly,
grasp the stem between your thumb and fingers, over
a large bowl or table laid with paper / clean material,
and move from the base of the stem to the tip. The
leaves should crumble off easily. Don't throw away
the stems though - even if you don't intend to use
the stems in your remedies they can be bundled together
and used as fragrant fire herb, or used to make
a (small) fragrant besom.
garden should have some Lemon Balm - even if just
to delight the bees - it's an easy herb to grow
and once established will happily spread, and the
experience of brushing your hands through a clump
of Balm will bring a smile of sunshine to the gloomiest
of faces as the zesty fragrance wafts through the
air. Try rubbing a leaf gently on your pulse points
for a simple, comforting natural perfume.