Lemon Balm- Light and Lively
Lemon Balm is another herb that anyone can grow in the garden. With its lovely lemony flavor it complements many dishes. It has many medicinal uses and is currently being studied for use in suppressing tumors, and in HIV, Herpes, and Alzheimer’s treatment. Lemon Balm is so easy to grow that many people consider it invasive.
Lemon Balm, Melissa officinalis, is a member of the mint family. Several species are native to Europe. It will happily grow anywhere in zone 3-9. It is commercially grown in many areas.
The plant has square stems like most mints; the leaves are dark green, broadly oval with toothed edges. Lemon balm grows to about 2 foot tall when it is in a spot it likes. In midsummer Lemon Balm begins blooming, with small spikes of pale yellow flowers arising from where the leaf joins the stem. The flowers are tiny but are loved by bees which flock to the plants.
The Lemon Balm plant is not very attractive as garden plants go, but it does have that delightful aroma of lemon when the leaves are handled. It spreads quickly through the garden by seed and by runners and you will soon have many plants to share with friends.
Growing and Harvesting Lemon Balm
Most gardeners will start with Lemon Balm plants; anyone who has the plant should be able to give you a seedling in the spring. They are perennial, dying back to the ground each winter. Large clumps of Lemon Balm can also be divided.
Lemon Balm prefers full sun although it will tolerate partial shade. It will grow in almost any soil. For the best plants a well draining, moderately rich soil in full sun, and watering when conditions are very dry is preferred. After frost has killed the foliage cut off the stems to the ground.
The leaves of Lemon Balm can be harvested at any time. Most of the active ingredients are found in the leaves, although flowers are also good as a dried herb. The flowers are edible. Simply remove the leaves needed from the plant or if you have an abundance of plants you can pull whole plants. Leaves and flowers can be used fresh or dried.
Using Lemon Balm
The active ingredients in Lemon Balm include terpenes, tannins and eugenol. In traditional herbal medicine Lemon Balm was usually a complementary addition to other herbs. The lemony flavor helped make other herbal medications easy to take. Lemon Balm is mildly sedative and helps decrease anxiety and aid sleep. It is used to aid in gas and colic relief. Lemon Balm leaves were also crushed and warmed to use as a poultice on wounds.
A current popular use is a lotion or cream containing Lemon Balm that is used on cold sores and other Herpes sores. Cooled Lemon Balm tea can also be used on sores. It does not control pain but speeds healing. Much research is being focused on the anti-viral properties of Lemon Balm in Herpes and HIV treatment.
Other research is focusing on Lemon Balms ability to aid memory and restore some cognitive function in Alzheimer’s patients. Some research suggests that Lemon Balm may destroy certain tumors.
Lemon Balm is a mosquito repellant when rubbed on the skin. Lemon Balm is also used in potpourri.
Lemon Balm has many culinary uses, wherever lemon flavor is required in cooking it can be substituted for lemon. The essential oils from the plant are used in a wide variety of things from perfume and cosmetics to furniture polish.
To make a tea with Lemon Balm use about a cup of fresh, crushed leaves to a pint of boiling water and steep. Use about a teaspoon of dried herb to a cup of boiling water. Strain and sweeten if desired. Adult dosage of tea should be limited to about 4 cups per day, children about a cup. Lemon Balm is available in the market place as dried herb, extract, essential oil, capsules and lotions. Follow dosage directions on the labels.
An old recipe for using Lemon Balm as a cooling drink includes a bottle of claret wine, a couple cups of crushed lemon balm leaves, a sliced orange, a half of a sliced, peeled cucumber, and a half cup of sugar. All ingredients are mixed together and allowed to steep for a day in a cool place, then the liquid is strained and poured over ice.
Before using Lemon Balm preparations on the skin test a small area of skin for allergies. Pregnant and nursing women should consult with a doctor before using Lemon Balm.
Some medications may interact with Lemon Balm, in particular thyroid medications, and if you are on medications you should consult with your doctor before using Lemon Balm.