Lemon Balm

Melissa officinalis


Lemon balm has an old reputation for giving the gift of long life to those who use it. Paracelsus believed lemon balm had so many benefits it was the one and only herb a person would ever need.

Lemon balm's history of use as an effective natural tranquilizer and antidepressant can be traced back to the ancients, who said it would lift the spirits. I put lemon balm in the bath, alone or mixed with other relaxing herbs, such as roses, lavender and milky oats. I find that drinking a cup of dried lemon balm infusion alone, or combined with milky oats, half an hour before retiring, helps insure a deep, restful sleep. Lemon balm's soothing and calming qualities extend to the digestive system, where it relaxes smooth muscle tissue, quieting stomach spasms and easing intestinal cramping. Lemon balm also relaxes the uterus and is especially useful to allay menstrual cramps.

Among lemon balm's constituents are eugenol, an anesthetic and pain-relieving substance, and polyphenols that help fight several types of bacterial infections including streptococcus and mycobacterium. To deal with strep throat, I use a syrup made from lemon balm and honey, or lemon-balm-infused honey, taking a tablespoon of either every two hours. Its proven antiviral properties make lemon balm especially useful against herpes. A German study comparing a cream containing lemon balm extract with a placebo found those who used the lemon balm cream had a significantly improved healing time. By day five, 50 percent more were symptom free than in the placebo group. To be effective, treatment must begin early. As soon as you feel the twinge that indicates a cold sore is about to break out, begin applying lemon balm oil or salve, or use it in combination with antiviral St. John’s wort.

Lemon balm lowers an overheated body temperature, so it helps bring down fever or cool you off on a hot summer day. We gather  lemon balm leaves, and sometimes a few rose petals, put them in a jar of freshly drawn spring water, and sit it in the sun for as long as we can wait. This makes a very delicious and refreshing beverage.

In old European herbals lemon balm is a safeguard against senility and a cure for impotence. In Southern Italia this herb is known as melissa vera, citronella and erba limoncella, and is found growing wild in hedges, thickets and the along the edges of fields; it is also cultivated in gardens. The leaves and flowers are used for their antispasmodic properties, as an anxiolytic agent and as a general nervous system tonic.

Flower Essence Lemon balm flower essence helps us develop self-love and strengthens the belief that we are deserving of love.

Magical Lore says to put a bit into a magical pouch to attract love. Feminine lemon balm is associated with the element of water.

Culture Lemon balm is easy to grow in ordinary garden soil and is happy in full sun or partial shade. It is fairly hardy, even in Maine. We start lemon balm seeds indoors during early spring and transplant clumps into the garden six weeks later. We only have to weed the first year as by the second year they've grown into dense, intensely fragrant hedges, two to three feet tall. Lemon balm is a brilliant bright green color. In midsummer it decorates itself with little white blossoms. The entire plant has a most pleasant lemon-like aroma. Honey bees love lemon balm and the buzzing of bees around the beds is such beautiful music. I gather lemon balm leaves just as the flowers are beginning to bloom. I dry them on screens, or hang in bunches. Lemon balm must be dried quickly to keep it from turning brown and losing its medicinal qualities. Make sure you have dry, preferably breezy days for drying ahead before you harvest. I make a tincture with the freshly gathered flowering tops and infuse fresh lemon balm in honey and sometimes vinegar. The flavor of the infused honey is incredible.

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