March 2005 - Herbal Legacy Newsletter
by Lindsay Wolsey
Every year my mom and I get into the same argument-Miracle Gro, or no Miracle Gro.  She is in the camp that puts Miracle Gro on everything, and I am in the camp that says the fewer chemicals, the better.  My vegetables turn out fine, and quite tasty, and they do not get any chemicals put on them.  My flowers still bloom, and all they get is water and fertilizer from K-Mart that says “organic” on it.  I am ashamed to admit I still haven’t started composting.  It’s on my list, though.

I grow a lot of Lemon herbs-lemon basil, lemon thyme, lemon grass, lemon verbena, and lemon balm.  In fact, if I go to the nursery and the tag says Lemon-I’m going to take it home with me.

One of the hardiest plants I grow is Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis).  Lemon Balm is a hardy perennial that will grow 48 inches high.  My favorite time of the year is when the Lemon Balm is in a dome shape.  And it smells fantastic-visitors always comment on how wonderful our walkway smells.  It also makes a wonderful tea.  One of the things that I love about Lemon Balm is you can harvest pretty much all of the leaves, and a few weeks later it’s growing again.  This is especially great as late in the summer my leaves start shriveling up and dying, but come fall we’ve got fresh green leaves again.


Lemon Balm’s botanical name, Melissa, is Greek for “bee.”  This is probably why one of the common names is bee balm.  That could also explain why so many bees are buzzing around my garden.  Lemon Balm has been cultivated in the Mediterranean region for around 2000 years.  Paracelus claimed that this herb could completely revitalize the body and called it the “elixir of life”-I wonder if that’s before or after he got into minerals?  Fourteenth Century French King Charles V drank Lemon Balm tea every day to stay in good health.

In the 16th Century, Lemon Balm was rubbed onto beehives to encourage the bees to produce honey.  The famous Carmelite Water, first made by 17th century Carmelite nuns, combined lemon balm with lemon-peel, nutmeg, coriander and angelica root.  They used this to treat nervous headaches and neuralgia.  Lemon Balm was sacred to the temple of Diana, and was called “heart’s delight’ in southern Europe.  Herbal writers have praised its virtue of dispelling melancholy for centuries, and it is still used today in aromatherapy to counter depression.

Medicinal Uses

Lemon Balm is anti-viral, so the tea is great to drink if you’re feeling under the weather.  The hot tea brings on a sweat that is good for relieving colds, flus and fevers and an anti-viral agent has been found that combats mumps, cold sores and other viruses.  James Duke mentions that Lemon Balm can help with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Shingles, due to the anti-viral action.

One of Lemon Balm’s key medicinal qualities is as a tranquilizer.  It calms a nervous stomach, colic, or heart spasms.  The leaves are reputed to also lower blood pressure.  It is very gentle, although effective, so is often suggested for children and babies.

Lemon Balm tea has been shown to inhibit the division of tumor cells.  It may also be beneficial to those with Grave’s disease-studies indicate that the herb slightly inhibits the thyroid-stimulating hormone and restricts Grave’s disease, a hyperthyroid condition.

Lemon Balm’s anti-histamine action is useful to treat eczema and headaches and accounts for the centuries old tradition of placing the fresh leaf on insect bites and wounds.  A fomentation of Lemon Balm may also help reduce the swelling associated with gout.

Through research, Lemon Balm has clearly demonstrated the ability to impact the limbic system of the brain and “protect” the brain from the powerful stimuli of the body and should be part of any ADHD formula.  It smells a lot better than Ritalin, too.

Aromatherapy Uses

The essential oil has been used as an insect repellent, to treat insect bites and treat allergies.  Respiratory uses of Lemon Balm include: asthma, bronchitis, chronic coughs, colds and influenza.  Digestive uses are: colic, indigestion, nausea; good for vomiting and indigestion of a nervous origin, relieving spasms and flatulence.  People may be surprised that Lemon Balm oil is good for the circulatory system; it’s a heart tonic, relieves palpitations and lowers blood pressure.  And like centuries of herbalists before us, we can use Lemon Balm oil for anxiety, depression, hypertension, insomnia, migraine, nervous tension, shock and vertigo.

Lemon Balm blends well with lavender, geranium, floral and citrus oils.  And I am a big fan of citrus oils.

Culinary Uses

Fresh Lemon Balm imparts a subtle lemon flavor and fresh lemon fragrance, making it especially nice for fruit dishes, custards, and tea.  Early fresh leaves can be chopped and added to salads; just cut down somewhat on the vinegar or lemon juice.  Lemon Balm can easily take the place of Lemon Thyme in any recipe you’ve got.  I’ve even seen a recipe for Lemon Balm Cheesecake.  Talk about versatility.  It has also been said that you can lay fish or chicken over a bed of Lemon Balm leaves before baking and you won’t need any other seasonings.  Dried Lemon Balm is used mainly for tea-if you are going to use the leaves for culinary purposes, it is best to freeze them.  They should keep for about two months.


After studying Lemon Balm further, I regret that I chose to do Kava Kava as my thesis topic for the Master Herbalist Home Study program.  I have a lot more experience with Lemon Balm, and I think it gets overlooked quite a bit as a medicinal herb.  We don’t even study it in the Master Herbalist program until Level 2200!  Fortunately, our instructor for Level 2200 is James Duke, and he is a fan of Lemon Balm.  As this newsletter is sent out, my Lemon Balm is just waking up from a nice winter nap.  I’ll have to go cut back the leaves I didn’t take care of before the snow started, and in a few weeks I should have some nice young leaves.  I have several people who want starts of my Lemon Balm plant, and they are chomping at the bit to get this herb established in their gardens.

Copyright © 2005 Christopher Publications.  All rights reserved.

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