Oh Lemon balm, my sweet balm, my companion and friend, travel with me on this journey and stay by my side. They say that it is not good for man to be alone, so will you be my companion in my life’s journey? In a world so full of haste and rush, waste and gush, we all need a true friend indeed, will you be mine?
This simple and unassuming plant, that doesn’t have the excitement of it’s cousins in the mint or specifically the ‘Mentha species’. We all know the wow factors of peppermint and spearmint, let alone their many other brothers and sisters, such as apple, chocolate, ginger, orange and pineapple mints. Yep, who needs a salad bowl when all you need to do is grow a range of mints.
But back to the story.
Lemon balm – Melissa officinalis, is a native of the Mediterranean and Central Europe, and now has become naturalised all over the world. The first documentation of its name is actually, melissophyllon, which means, ‘honey leaf’. But where did the name “Melissa” come from for Lemon balm? Actually, it is Latin for “bee”, why, because bees were often seen buzzing around the herbs flowers and seems to be a powerful attractant to them. The connection between bees and lemon balm don’t stop there, apparently lemon balm flowers make excellent honey, of which I don’t doubt. The plant was rubbed onto, and grown around the hives to prevent swarming and to settle them into their new homes.
It is also a great attractant to butterflies!
So in an age when bees are being massacred by the millions, maybe we should all be planting lemon balm everywhere.
Dioscorides, a famous ancient Greek physician, promoted the idea of drinking lemon balm in wine, plus, it could be used topically by placing the leaves on dog bites and scorpion stings.
A little side note: when I discuss with people the errors of alcohol consumption. I often get quoted back to me the Bible verse, ” use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake”, 1 Timothy 5:23, which is only a ‘cherry-picked’ quote. I am reminded that it was common place to use and dispense herbal remedies in alcohol back in ‘those days’. And honestly we haven’t changed, herbalists and pharmacists still use alcohol today, in herbal tinctures and cough medicine. That’s why when you read further on, it also says, “and thine often infirmities”. The Apostle Paul was telling Timothy, if you’re sick, take your medicine, sounds familiar?
Pliny the Elder, suggested lemon balm be used to stop bleeding, this would have been topically.
Theophrastus von Hohenheim, better known as ‘Paracelsus’, a medical revolutionary, believed that lemon balm was ‘to make the heart merry’ and ‘revived spirits’.
“The art of healing comes from nature, not from the physician. Therefore the physician must start from nature, with an open mind.” — Paracelsus
Mr Nicholas Culpeper, calls lemon balm, simply Balm, and suggests the balm for many indications, but to quote from his book he states, and quotes Seraphio, ” It causes the mind and heart to become merry, and reviveth the heart, faintings, and swoonings, especially of such who are over taken in sleep, and driveth away all troublesome cares and thoughts out of the mind arising from melancholy or black choler; which Avicen also confirmeth.”
During the middle ages it was so often suggested for so many diseases that it was then that it began to be called by one of its common names – Cure-all. In the early times of America’s colonisation, lemon balm was regularly used for menstrual cramps, this was also eluded to in the time of Culpeper, suggesting that it “procure women’s courses”.
Now the herb lemon balm is used the world over, and has many different names for each country for example, in Russia, where it is called – Melissa lekarstvennaja, it is one of the most popular herbs for both culinary and medicinal use.
To give you an idea of just how wide spread across the world and the variety of names it has just check the ‘short list’.
- Arabic – Louiza
- Chinese – Xiang feng cao, (Mandarin); Heung fung chou (Cantonese)
- Czech – Medunka lékarská
- Dutch – Citroenmelisse
- Estonian – Sidrunmeliss
- Finish – Sitruunamelissa
- French – Valverde boutons de fievre crème
- German – Bienenfang
- Hindi – Baadranjboyaa
- Hungarian – Orvosi citromfu
- Italian – Citronella
- Korean – Kyullhyangphul
- Nordic – Hjertensfryd or Moderurt
- Persian – Badranjboya
- Polish – Melissa lekarska
- Brazilian – Erva-cidreira
- Slovak – Citra
- Slovenian – Navadna melisa
- Spanish – Balsamita mayor
- And in Sweden – Citronmeliss
How To Use Lemon Balm
Lemon Balm is an easy to use herb, simply because you are working with the leaf, you can either pick a few fresh leaves off the bush, grab a few dried leaves or powder out of the cupboard or use a few drops of oil out of a bottle.
Lemon balm tea is just so simple to make, and frankly most herbal teas are. Now I believe that one of the main things to do before you drink it is to allow a bit of aromatherapy to happen by breathing in deeply the volatile oils given off from the brew. Smell is just so important, and has more ‘power’ than we think over our minds.
Simple Lemon Balm Tea
- Chop up enough to make two to three teaspoons of fresh lemon balm
- Place the lemon balm into a tea cup or mug
- Pour in boiling hot water
- Cover to keep in the volatile oils
- Allow to steep for 5 to 10 minutes (It doesn’t seem to become bitter like some teas.)
- Add a sweetener, such as raw honey or stevia if needed and enjoy
Customised Lemon Balm Teas
Lemon balm can go with many other herbs, that you can ‘customise’ your own version of lemon balm tea. Straight away one can think of other ‘lemon’ flavoured ingredients to add, such as lemon grass, lemon verbena, and freshly squeezed lemon itself. Plus, you can add a selection of mints, such as apple, pineapple or orange mints.
Sometimes, I add in Ribwort to Lemon balm with lemon grass to help if I have a sore throat or a cold coming on, and to arrest it before it starts. Then there are other herbs which are calming, such as, chamomile, passionflower and even oats. Lemon and liquorice go together, so you could add anise, star aniseed, fenugreek or fennel. Yes, lemon balm is just so versatile.
To make your customised version you can either up the amount of lemon balm leaf first or just leave it at one heaped teaspoon, and then add a teaspoon of the other herbs of your choice, so basically so have equal parts of each herb.
Since it is obvious that ‘lemon balm’ has a ‘lemon taste’, it can be very useful in the kitchen, and lemon can be used in savoury and sweet dishes. So lemon balm can be good in meat dishes such as, chicken, lamb, pork, and seafood such as fish. Plus, a whole range of vegetables, from corn, beans and carrots to broccoli. Then you can add it to soups and stews, add the fresh leaf to salads, to soft cheeses like ricotta or cottage cheese, finely chopped leaves to jellies, marmalades, cakes with fruit, and lemon flavoured desserts, even yoghurt, milk kefir and over ice cream.
Another thing to remember about lemon balm is that it is also called ‘Sweet balm’, meaning that it does tend to sweeten, so adding it to recipes can reduce the amount of sugar or other sweeteners, and help with sourness. An example of this could be to add finely chopped fresh lemon balm leaves to sourdough bread in its final stage.
Health Uses of Lemon Balm
Most people are like me, ‘I don’t do exams’, so when I have a test of some form about to begin, I would make up a lemon balm tea. And I am convinced it works, and drinking lots of cuppas throughout the day, generally will keep you calm, throughout the day.
Since the tea is so healthful, helpful and calming it can be used on a larger scale too. You can make a larger amount of herbal tea and this can be poured into a bath to absorb its calming affects through the skin and the nose, or used in a foot bath to sooth tired and aching feet.
To prepare a lemon balm bath:
- Put about 300 grams of fresh lemon balm into a bowl (About a good handful.)
- Bring to boil 375ml / 2 1/2 cups of water
- Pour in the boiling water in the bowl
- Allow to steep for ten minutes
- Strain and pour into your bath water
- And relaaaaxxxxxx
When considering the idea of a foot bath or using a bathtub as just mentioned, lemon balm has real antimicrobial properties, as it is antifungal, antibacterial, antiseptic, antiviral and a insectifuge, therefore, a good soaking in the tea has benefits of topically relieving shingles, cold sores, infected cuts, and abrasions, boils, cystic acne, removing lice, soothing insect bites, and sunspots and due to its tannin content may help to stop bleeding. These conditions can also be greatly assisted by using compresses, which is the same as a fomentation.
Lemon balm is a very safe herb for anyone to use. Many women suffer from morning sickness when pregnant, and to assist her, she should make a simple lemon balm tea with some raw honey and slowly sipping it first thing when she gets up in the morning. Lemon balm tea is also good for calming your baby too, just add a little to their food or drink, just don’t use at full strength.
To remove bad breath, just eat a little sprig of the plant before heading out to socialise.
And finally you can make a sleep pillow from the leaves and stems.
Oil of Lemon Balm
Oil of lemon balm has the same properties as the rest of the plant, so it can be used in a similar fashion as the leaf, it is quite helpful during stressful situations, and can help with anxiety and mild depression. But I wouldn’t try to treat severe depression alone with it, as there may be other underlying causes to the severe depression.
To bypass the making of a tea for a bath or foot bath, you can place 10 to 20 drops of lemon balm oil into the water.
Lemon balm is used in potpourri, and a potpourri that is supposed to encourage ‘sweet dreams’ is an equal mix of spearmint and peppermint leaves, rosemary, lemon balm leaves, honesty (Lunaria annua), and Christmas roses (Helleborus niger), which is poisonous, so don’t eat it.
Gardening Uses of Lemon Balm
Lemon balm can be added to borders and other garden edges, in between pavers and rocks, especially where you may walk past and brush up against it and stir up a fragrance. (Mint also works like this.) Golden lemon balm and Variegata can add real colour to your garden.
Some farmers that are into organic framing of their cows actually grow lemon balm in the field for them to eat and to encourage milk production. For post-natal care, of their cows they also add sweet marjoram to the lemon balm to help strengthen them. The Arabs also believed that lemon balm made their animals more intelligent, this was probably caused by calming the animal, helping it to be less flighty and allow it to think and learn.
Lemon Balm is a good companion plant, as it seems that nobody isn’t a good companion to lemon balm. For the brassica family, such as, cauliflower, broccoli and cabbage, and tomatoes, onions, melons and squash. Fruits such as, apples and kiwi, plus, it can go with other herbs such as, nasturtiums, lavender, parsley, chives, basil rosemary and sage, angelica, chamomile, echinacea and hollyhocks. Amazingly, it even goes with Fennel!
Its aroma helps to hide the scent of other plants from insect attack. And as mentioned earlier, it is excellent at attracting bees and butterflies, therefore, it can help the whole garden with pollination, thereby gain a better and productive crop.
How to Grow Lemon Balm
Lemon balm is a branching perennial that can just about grow anywhere, but prefers a rich and moist, but well-drained soil and grows to about 60cm / 2′. It also prefers a neutral pH, but the soil can be somewhat either way. If you are in very cold climates, the above ground will die back but the roots are perennial.
Some good points about Lemon balm are that although it is part of the same family as mint, its roots are not as invasive and it tends to grow in clumps. It is a great companion in the garden attracting bees, and its flower is a white to cream two-lipped flower that form in clusters. The flowers don’t seem to do so well or form in the tropical to sub-tropical regions.
There are three main variations: (I have found much confusion on the Internet in regards to these cultivars! So here I make my stand.)
- All Gold or Golden Lemon balm – Melissa officinalis ‘aurea’ , which has a selection with ‘yellow leaves‘, which prefers more shade
- Variegata – Melissa officinalis ‘variegata’, has dark green leaves with golden yellow markings, which don’t put on their colours very well in subtropical regions
- Lime – Melissa officinalis ‘lime’, is very similar to the Melissa officinalis, but with a distinctive lime aroma and mild flavour.
You can propagate lemon balm in four different ways, by seed, cuttings, root division, and by layering, all are relatively simple to do. Lemon balm does prefer a loose soil structure, rich and moist soil but complains after a while if its too dry. It likes to be fertilised every now and again, especially if you want a bigger healthier looking plant with large leaves. It can grow in the sun or shade, but I feel it does better with part sun and shade, as a lot of sun seems to create smaller leaves and a lighter green and sometimes it may begin to wilt in high heat.
If you are starting from seed, remember that they don’t like frost, so if you live in a cold climate then start the process indoors.
- Simply prepare a container or pot with good seed raising mix
- The seed is small, so take some care when dispensing it out
- Sprinkle the seed over the seed raising mix, but not too crowded
- Just lightly rub your hand over the mix to gently work them in
- Give the container a gentle misting enough to moisten the mix
- Don’t wet the mix, as they don’t like being real wet
- Typically the seeds will germinate in about 10 to 14 days, but may take longer
- When they have about four leaves, you can use a screwdriver to prise them out
- Then make a new hole either in the ground or a larger pot with the screwdriver
- Then use the screwdriver to push the roots down into the soil
- Press it in and lightly water in
- P.S. you don’t specifically need a screwdriver, but something similar will do
Cut out softwood lemon balm cuttings from the new growth from the early spring to summer. Remove any leaves at the bottom end by at least 4.5cm / 1- 3/4″. It may help to dip the ends of the cuttings into a root hormone compound, or honey will often work and even cinnamon will work sometimes. Poke a hole with a stick into the soil or potting mix, place the cutting into the hole, press around the cutting and lightly water in.
When the plant is growing successfully during its growing season, you can separate the root divisions and replant them with a little water.
The plant as it spreads and the branches touch the ground naturally, it will make new roots on is own; these parts can be cut off and planted into a new pot. Water in and take care of it until it is established. This process can be done intentionally, but just make sure that you put the nodes just into the ground and peg down until the roots start to grow.
Lemon balm doesn’t seem to get any real issues if well maintained and cared for. But two things which may attack it are fungal diseases, such as verticillium wilt, powdery mildew and one that is similar to mint rust, and the other is scale, which I have seen growing on it, but the plant was a sick specimen. If you get any of the fungi, first make sure that the plants have plenty of space (at least 30cm / 1′ apart) and good ventilation, or spray the plants with a compost tea, which is a natural fungicide. If it is too bad, then cut back the plant and remove all material and dump it, and for scale all you need to do is hose it off with a jet of water.
Many often suggest that you don’t need to fertilise lemon balm, and when planting, just throw in some compost, and you’ll be right. But I have found that it doesn’t hurt one bit to apply a small amount of good liquid or pelletised fertiliser every few months, therefore, I completely recommend it.
The best time to harvest your lemon balm for ‘medicinal’ use is just before it goes into flower, as the energy is still in the leaf, and not moving to the flower or seed. For the best therapeutic value, use the fresh over the dried, but both will work. Otherwise you can even gather the flowers to use in your tea.
Collecting is easy, in the morning and once the dew has dried off the leaves, pick or trim off the ‘soft’ aerial parts of the plant, and this can include the stem if they are soft too, as all the aerial parts of the plant are useful. If you are making an infusion or decoction, you can chuck in the more harder and stiff bits, but I would advise finely chopping them. If you are just making a tea, then a few drops of dew are not a problem, and you can pick them first thing in the morning.
Drying must be done as soon as possible and don’t apply any real heat, otherwise the leaves will turn black. Place them on dry paper towelling or dry kitchen towels, that are in a well ventilated and airy room, and once dry and crispy they are ready for storage.
You can store the herb in two main ways, one is to put the fresh soft aerial parts into freezer bags and store in the freezer, or two, thoroughly dry them and store them in air-tight glass bottles out of sunlight (You can powderise the dry leaves for storage as well). Either way they should last at least 6 months.
The information below is for informational and education purposes only. So please do not “self-treat”. When seeking any ‘therapeutic’ advice always see a Qualified Health Care Professional first.
Balm, Bee balm, Sweet balm, Melissa, Cure-all, Balm mint, Dropsy plant, Blue balm, Garden balm, Heart’s delight, Melissa, Common balm, English balm, Honey plant, Lemon Melissa, Mountain balm, and Sweet Mary
Daily minimum to maximum dosage: 6.0 – 12.0 grams
Carminative, spasmolytic, mild sedative, diaphoretic, TSH antagonist, antiviral – topically, tonic, appetiser, antidepressant, digestive, antihistamine, fungicidal, emmenagogue, stomachic, antioxidant, antibacterial, nervine, febrifuge, antiseptic, anticonvulsant and insectifuge
Insomnia, anxiety, irritability, depression, infantile colic, flatulence, flatulent colic, intestinal colic, nervous dyspepsia, herpes – topically; hypothyroidism, migraine, stomach cramps, gout and urinary tract infection. Plus, fever, common cold, influenza, irritable bowel syndrome, promotes the onset of menstruation, and reduces painful menstruation and gout
Essential oil – citronellol, citronellal and citral, germinal, geraniol, linalool, tannins, bitters, resin, succinct acid, phenolic acids, flavonoids and terpenes
Nothing major known, although use caution with hypothyroidism
Adulteration has been with Nepeta cataria var. citriodora
Please remember, this blog cannot and should not replace a health care professional, and is for informational and educational purposes only and is not for medical advice or treatment, and no cure is implied in anyway. If you have a known serious condition, or are pregnant, please consult your health care professional, before use.
Russell a.k.a Herbal Panda
Always be careful touching the truth, it may change you —Herbal Panda