Lemon Balm — a tasty healer

Published 10:05 am Wednesday, June 21, 2017

He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herbs for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth … Psalm 104:14

Greetings folks! This month, I’d like to talk a little about a medicinal and culinary herb named Lemon Balm, also known as Melissa officinalis. I have had Lemon Balm growing in a circle patch for a few years and it is easy to grow. When picked fresh, it has a delicious lemony aroma and when crushed or made into oil, it can be used to rub on the skin as one of the ingredients used to repel mosquitoes especially when added to citronella. I have done this, so I know it works. Also, while reading a very popular herbal text book used for the training of herbalist, “Practical Herbalism,” it came to my attention that lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is really good to relieve anxiety. Having had a problem with anxiety for many years, I blended a few fresh leaves in a smoothie. I felt better quickly.

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is a favorite of bees, as its generic name attests: Melissa is Greek for “bee.” Popular among herbalist for 2,000 years, this lemon-scented perennial member of the mint family is also high in essential oil content. It is widely naturalized in North America. Traditionally, lemon balm has been used to reduce fevers and treat colds by inducing sweating, calming the digestive tract, relieving spasms related to cramps and headaches and overcoming insomnia. Recent research has confirmed lemon balm’s ability to calm anxiety, relieve spasms and inhibit the growth of fungi and bacteria.

With a slightly-sprawling herb growing to 2-feet high, lemon balm is easy to grow from seeds sown in the spring or early fall. A fertile, moist soil is ideal. Lemon balm tolerates a wide range of acidity, likes a cool habitat; if grown in full sun, lemon balm may wilt during hot, dry spells. Plants grown under shade tend to be larger and more succulent than those grown in direct sun. It can be invasive, so prune off the flowering tops before they go to seed.

Lemon balm is a great medicinal herb to grow yourself because it is more effective when used fresh or freshly dried. Harvest it just as the plant comes into bloom.

Lemon balm is easy to dry but loses much of its scent upon drying. The fresh leaves make a refreshing tea. Pour a cup of boiling water over a small handful of fresh leaves (or 1-2 teaspoons of dried leaves) and steep, covered for 10 minutes. It is delicious either hot or iced.

So, why not grow a little Melissa. It would be a fun way to start a medicinal herb garden, especially with children. Until next time!

Alice Russell, also known as “Me Me,” resides in the Randolph/Saxe area. She can be reached at letstalkherbs@gmail.com.

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