Photo by Quinn Dombrowski

Lemon Balm

Melissa officinalis

AKA: Bee Balm (not to be confused with Monarda Bee Balm), Melissa

Family: Lamiaceae (mint)

Native regions: Western Asia, Northern Africa, Eastern Mediterranean regions

Botanical description: Perennial (annual in colder regions); serrated, oval or “heart-shaped” leaves; flowering; hairy stems; sub-divides in a square; leaves lemony scented

Constituents: Flavonoids, triterpenes, and volatile oils

Parts used: leaves

Actions: nervine, diaphoretic, antispasmodic, antiviral

Taste/Energetics: sour, cool

Preparations: tea, tincture (M. Wood states fresh leaves preferred), culinary, salves/ointments; dried leaves and tinctures lose potency quickly (Noël Groves, 2016). G. Masé and J. King suggest tincturing 60g recently dried lemon balm leaves in 12 oz 150-proof alcohol for one week (2016).

Cultivation and harvesting: Everywhere, particularly good in USDA zones 4-8; prefers moist and fertile soil; tolerates drought, crowding, and poor soil; adaptable. Can be grown in containers; can reach 2 feet tall. Self-seeds. Water stress increases medicinal constituents (Hobbs and Gardner, 2013). Frost hardy. Stratify seeds and sow in early spring in cool soil (or start from cuttings/division). Essential oil content highest in late bloom. Leaves bruise/blacken easily when harvesting. Harvest carefully in midsummer and again in late summer/early fall; dry in darkness (Hobbs and Gardner, 2013).

General notes: M. Wood states Melissa is particularly good for instances of “sympathetic excess,” especially related to the stomach or heart; specific for nervousness, depression, anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia, heart palpitations, rapid pulse. R. Gladstar states lemon balm is good for “heartache and depression,” SAD (seasonal effective disorder), soothing “stomach distress and nervous exhaustion,” and is effective in treating herpes and shingles. C. Hobbs and L. Gardner highlight the antiviral activity as well, stating drinking lemon balm tea throughout the day may help with herpes (cold sore) outbreaks (2013). Gently simmering the whole herb for 40-60 minutes can release “phenolic fraction,” which can help relieve the “pain and duration” of a oral herpes (cold sore) outbreak (C. Hobbs and L. Gardner, 2013). Lemon balm is also helpful for colic. In addition to previously mentioned indications, M. Noël Groves (2016) also states that lemon balm can be helpful for hyperactivity in children, as well as help with memory and hyperthyroid diseases.

Safety concerns/contraindications: None known; safe for long-term use. M. Noël Groves (2016) states it may rarely aggravate hypothyroid disease.

Personal Notes

2/26/17 – I’ve been enjoying a cup of lemon balm tea nightly(ish) for a month or so now and it has really helped lift my spirits during winter, as well as help calm some of the anticipatory nervous/anxiousness I feel towards work, helping me get to sleep at a reasonable time. I originally came across lemon balm in the Republic of Tea’s Be Happy blend several years ago, but prefer now to buy lemon balm in bulk now and just steep it by itself or mixed with another immune supporting tea blend. It also mixes well with oat straw! I have some ideas for a lemon balm + lavender tea I’d like to try next…

7/6/17 – In mid-March, I got into the routine of bringing a thermos of lemon balm/oatstraw tea with a pinch of valerian root to (very stressful) work, which worked calming magic. Since then, I’ve continued to enjoy lemon balm tea fairly regularly, and like to keep the dried herb in a jar handy in the kitchen. Since it has gotten so hot, I’ve switched to making iced tea (sometimes mixing it with hibiscus or rooibos). It does seem to be a tea that is (for me) best enjoyed regularly to really feel the general uplifted feeling – when I only have a cup now-and-again, it doesn’t seem to have the same longer term effect.

8/21/17 – I found some fresh lemon balm at the co-op – holy moly is it delicious! Up until this point, I had been brewing tea from dried lemon balm. Fresh is an entirely different taste! I also found some at my farmer’s market (every few weeks a local herbalist has a booth). Even just picking the leaves off the stem is a heavenly experience – lemony and fresh. I would love to grow some so that I can have a constant supply of fresh lemon balm, but I don’t think I have enough light in my apartment (and no yard/balcony) to grow some. Working on a few other ideas. Anyway, fresh lemon balm is where it is at.

 

References:

Gladstar, R. (2012). Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs: A Beginners Guide. North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing.

Hobbs, C. and L. Gardner. (2013). Grow it Heal It: Natural and Effective Herbal Remedies From Your Garden or Windowsill. New York: Rodale.

Masé, G. and J. King. (2016) DIY Bitters: Reviving the Forgotten Flavors; A Guide to Making Your Own Bitters. Beverly, MA: Fair Winds Press.

Mountain Rose Herbs. (unk). Lemon Balm. Retrieved from https://www.mountainroseherbs.com/products/lemon-balm/profile

Noël Groves, M. (2016) Body into Balance: An Herbal Guide to Holistic Self-Care. North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing.

World Health Organization. (2010). WHO Monographs on Medicinal Plants Commonly Used in the Newly Independent States (NIS). Retrieved from http://apps.who.int/medicinedocs/documents/s17534en/s17534en.pdf#page=249

Wood, M. (2008). The Earthwise Herbal: A Complete Guide to Old World Medicinal Plants. Berkley, CA: North Atlantic Books.

 

Most recent update: 8/31/17

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