This little herb has a very dear place in my heart, it is one of the first plants I went out and bought when I first got interested in herbal medicine in my early teens. I remember planting it in my little patch in my Mother’s garden, and how it pretty much took over everything. This is a great plant to grow yourself, but like many mint’s, yes its a member of the mint family, lemon balm will grow rapidly and pretty much take over. I tend to plant it in pots to help control its wanderings.
Once you start to use this herb it is hard to stop, you find ways to add it to everything, and it seems most of humanity feels the same. It has a long history and many historical uses. The latin name of lemon balm is Melissa officinalis. Melissa means in Greek “honey bee” and there is a strong association between this plant and honey, bees, and gods. (I will be going over the details of honey’s awesome abilities in later posts.)
Throughout Mediterranean culture the bee was associated with earth and goddesses. The Ephesians believed that the life of the bee was the model for society. The queen bee is the representation of the Great Goddess (Great Mother), and the people the worker bees who are also her children. They worshiped the goddess in bee form as well. So anything that was good for bees, or bees preferred, became a revered piece of vegetation.
In Greece the same earth ties were made, but the most frequent was Artemis (Diana in Roman myths) who’s priestesses were called Melissai. This is all important since hives were part of temples and lemon balm was planted around almost all of the hives, as it was believed it would help keep the bees happy and content. Many medicinal writers from Dioscorides to Galen wrote about its properties, and Pliny the Elder said bees were “delighted” with this plant above others, and lemon balm would be planted around, or rubbed empty hives to lure in wandering swarms, or to keep existing ones. It most likely originated in Turkey and spread to the Middle East and Mediterranean from there.
Lemon balm is also frequently used to sweeten the air, and is strewn about on the floor. Around the 10th century it was probably brought to mainland Europe and was planted, at Charlemagne’s request, planted in all monastery gardens. Monks were thought to have had a hand in further spreading the herb, though it may also have been the influence of the Arab cultures brought home from the Crusades that introduced lemon balm to Europe.
From monasteries is where one of the most well known historical uses of lemon balm was from. Lemon balm was a key ingredient for Carmelite water. Which was more often used for aromatic, than for medicinal use. Aromatic use since most illnesses were considered to be carried in bad smelling air, or miasmas. Even Shakespeare wrote of lemon balm in his plays, since it was popular during his time, but later fell out of favor with later medical practice, since it doesn’t have powerful purgative effects.
Lemon balm is in a lot of ways like turmeric, that is something you should try to include in your everyday diet. It has the wonderful effect of reducing anxiety and stress, and can be mixed into tea blends for anxiety, stress, stomach problems, or sleep. You can add it to teas, water, foods, pretty much anything! Not to mention, it’s lemony scent is rather lovely.
One thing we all don’t get enough of is water, water has recently reclaimed it’s spot as the number one beverage of the world, but we all should drink more than we do. It is also important because most pain medications dehydrate and it is very important to drink water with them. Also when you topically or internally use oils, it can be diuretic or cause drying, and it is important to hydrate after any type of massage or Graston session.
Anti-Anxiety/Anti-Stress Water Infusion or Lemon Balm Spa Water
- 1 gallon jug with spigot (a jar and dipper will work too)
- 1/4 of a cucumber sliced into medallions
- 1 handful of fresh lemon balm, slightly bruised
Wash and slice the cucumber and throw them in the jug (or jar), wash and slightly bruise the lemon balm. To bruise it just simply lightly squeeze it until you can smell the lemon scent get stronger. Add the water and let sit for at least 10 minutes. If you have this sitting out you can put ice in it, or keep it in the fridge. If you don’t you will need to toss and re-do the water every morning. I find with the stress of procedures, pain, and just daily life this is a welcome addition to my arsenal to combat stress.
ProTip: You can pretty much add any fruit or veg combination with fresh herbs. I found that basil and watermelon goes great, and blackberries with lemon balm is fantastic. For the fruits slice them if they are hard like apples, or puree them if they are soft like watermelon or berries and add them to the water. Be creative!
I also find when I make my herbal waters, I end up drinking more water. This is a good way to not only reduce stress, but a great replacement for people trying to quit soda, drink more water, or just reduce the amount of sugary drinks in their diet.
Of course you can make a herbal tea of lemon balm, and you can take it every day 3 times a day, just like turmeric. While you should be careful with most herbal medicine, this is one that you can sort of label mostly harmless. Drinking the tea will help with stress and anxiety as we have discussed, there is also mention that it will assist with memory. I haven’t noticed any differences in memory but others report they are sharper and can remember more. Lemon balm is an anti-viral and can help you get up and going sooner, or hold it off completely if you are coming down with virus.
Lemon Balm Tea
- 2 tablespoons Dried lemon balm, or a handful or two fresh
- 16 oz boiling water
- Mints or other herbs for additional flavors (optional)
I recommend making a large teapot of this and drinking it through out your day. It is such a refreshing tea, you will want to drink it a lot. It definitely feels like a steamy cup of sunshine when you have a mug of tea on a cold day. And with fall here, and winter on its heels, we will all need a winter pick me up. It also can be easily made into a nice iced tea. Just add the steeped tea to a pitcher and filling the rest of the way with water and ice, and enjoy! You can drink this year round, all day every day, and is a great addition to outdoor picnics and BBQ parties.
Lemon balm is also good for digestion, and if you suffer from lactose intolerance like I do, or any digestive issues, this is a good tea to just have on hand like Peppermint to soothe any digestive problems. Really this tea is good for any stomach upset from taking medications, or pain, and is also effective against, heartburn, flatulence, and intestinal cramping.
Digestive Distress Tea With Lemon Balm
- 1/2 teaspoon Dried lemon balm
- 1/2 teaspoon Dried catnip
- 1/2 teaspoon Caraway seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon Fennel seeds
- 8 oz Boiling water
Steep in covered teacup for 5 minutes and drink. If you are going to make a teapot double all amounts.
Another great tea is one to help with sleep, lemon balm’s calming qualities lend a great helping hand to the calming effects of other herbs. The tea recipe below is rather strong and is good when you feel that sleep just isn’t coming, and you need the big guns.
Sleepy Tea With Lemon Balm
- 2 teaspoon Lavender flowers
- 2 teaspoon Chamomile flowers
- 2 teaspoon Dried Lemon Balm
- 1 teaspoon Skullcap
- 1/2 teaspoon Ginger (or a few fresh ginger slices), or Licorice root (these are optional)
- 8 oz Boiling water
Steep for 5-10 minutes in a covered teacup and drink. Again you can double, or triple this if you are making a teapot. This works well when aches and pains keep you up, for tension headaches, migraines, and when you need some help sleeping and regular chamomile or holy basil isn’t enough. You can add Valerian root, but I will talk about that in other posts.
You can also make anti-stress, anti-anxiety sorbet, which I don’t know about the rest of ya’ll, but sorbet medicine is just about the best thing ever.
Lemon Balm Sorbet (Discovery Health Recipe)
- 2 large Apples, finely chopped (Fuji, Gala, or other sweet apples are best)
- 2 cups Fresh lemon balm
- 2 cups Water
- 1 cup local Honey
- Juice of 2 lemons, or about 6 tablespoons
- 1 tablespoon vodka, preferably citrus flavored if possible
You can puree the apples and lemon balm together if you prefer a smoother texture, mix all ingredients and chill for a few hours to ensure an easy mix in your ice cream maker. Follow your ice cream maker’s directions, and store in a sealed container in the freezer. You can eat this every day, and while it is a tasty treat, it is also good for you! This is really a great way to add this herb to your diet.
Lemon balm’s final amazing attribute is that it combats dreaded cold sores, or fever blisters. Cold sores are a result of a form of Herpes, not the same as the STD, but still not very fun. They can be socially awkward, like acne, unlike acne they are caused by a virus and because of that will respond well to anti-viral for home treatment.
Lemon Balm Cold Sore Compress
- 3 to 4 teaspoons Finely shredded lemon balm leaves
- 3/4 cup Boiling water
- Towel or wash cloth
Steep the tea in a bowl, and allow to cool. Soak towel and wring out excess moisture but allow towel to be damp, not dripping. Apply to blister multiple times a day, at minimum 3.
You can also use lemon balm essential oil to treat the blisters, as well as any skin blemishes. A drop or two can be added to teas instead of the dried or fresh herb to get the same awesome effects. Remember, therapeutic grade oils only.
If you are interested in purchasing lemon balm essential oils go here.
Really you can add lemon balm to just about anything you cook – fish, poultry, soups, desserts, cheeses, anything that lemon pairs well with. Since it is a softer flavor than actual lemon it is good for adding a slight lemon flavor to a dish. Just make sure when you add any delicate herb, especially when using fresh, add it near the end of the cooking time.
So go out and get you some lemon balm! Treat yourself to some relaxing beverages and food. While this is mostly harmless, be sure to check for reactions, like allergies or interactions on WebMD. And if you are in doubt, even in the slightest amount, ask a professional.