by Frankie Flowers and Bryce Wylde and Healthy Living Magazine
Lemon balm is a perennial herb and a garden staple. Native to southern Europe, it is now grown all over the world for brewing teas and garnishing salads – it even makes a beautifully scented addition to flower arrangements. The leaves of lemon balm have a gentle lemon scent with a hint of mint, and the flavour hits the palate like citronella hits the nose. Its genus name, Melissa, is from the Greek for “honey bee”; when in bloom, its small white flowers are full of nectar that entices bees.
Lemon balm supplements are made from the leaves. The essential oils contain terpenes and tannins, both of which may play a role in the herb’s relaxing and antiviral effects. Lemon balm also contains eugenol, which calms muscle spasms, numbs tissues, and kills bacteria.
Several clinical studies have looked at lemon balm for its calming, sleep-enhancing, and relaxing properties. It has been shown to help restlessness and improve sleep quality. Double-blind, placebo-controlled research shows that lemon balm significantly improved mood while increasing calmness and alertness.
Lemon balm can improve your digestive system, balance immunity, help you sleep more soundly, manage stress and anxiety, and even increase concentration. In fact, it’s currently being researched in botanical medicine for its range of effects on improving cognition, and even shows promise in the role of Alzheimer’s disease management.
Some research shows lemon balm may even help manage Graves’ disease, where the immune system affects the thyroid gland. It can also be useful for the symptoms associated with cold sores (herpes simplex virus), anxiety, depression, cognitive performance, and even digestive complaints (colic, dyspepsia, colitis, and irritable bowel syndrome).
Put it to work
Got digestive issues? Cook with lemon balm! Lemon balm is a versatile culinary herb. The fresh leaves can be picked right off the plant and used as a garnish, chopped and tossed into a salad, or added to virtually any dish to give it a lemony zest. It’s the perfect addition to a sweet, spicy, or tangy dish such as a curry or chutney. Consider pairing it with bay leaves, mint, rosemary, and thyme. When adding lemon balm to a soup or roast, do so at the end of cooking. Otherwise, the important ingredients can evaporate. (This is true of any fresh herb that contains essential oils.)
Sleep issues? Make a tea! If you want to keep things really simple, make a lemon balm tea. Add about 1 rounded tablespoon of dried lemon balm leaves to a mug of boiling water. Cover with a saucer, steep for 15 minutes, and then strain. Add honey and a slice of lemon, if desired.
Have a cold sore? Make an infusion! Cream containing lemon balm essential oil is becoming a popular treatment of cold sores (herpes simplex virus). In one study, those who applied lemon balm cream to their lip sores experienced significant improvement after only 2 days.To make an at-home remedy with a similar effect, add 4 teaspoons of crushed fresh lemon balm leaf (use a mortar and pestle) to 1 cup of boiling water. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and steep for 15 minutes. Let cool, then use cotton balls to apply the tea concentrate to the affected area 3 to 4 times per day.
Anxious? Have a balm bath! Add lemon balm to your next bath for an uplifting and relaxing aromatherapy experience. Simply add 4 teaspoons of crushed fresh lemon balm leaf (use a mortar and pestle) to 1 cup of boiling water, cover with a tight-fitting lid, and steep for 15 minutes. Strain. Pour the tea concentrate directly into the bath.
Memory deficient? Take this tincture! If you’re looking to use lemon balm to improve cognition, help balance immunity (in the case of Graves’ disease), or as a more powerful sleep aid, you’ll need a stronger concentration than tea can provide. Here’s how to make a tincture. Gather enough lemon balm leaves to tightly pack a large resealable glass jar (like a Mason jar). Using a mortar and pestle, crush the leaves to release the essential oils. Return the leaves to the jar and top with vodka (at least 80 proof; it should completely cover the leaves). Place wax paper over the jar and then screw the lid on tightly to seal it. Shake the jar well. Set aside in a cool, dark place for 3 to 4 weeks, shaking the jar vigorously every day. (You many need to add more vodka after a few days to keep the leaves completely submerged; the leaves will absorb some of the alcohol.) After the 3 to 4 weeks are up, add more fresh, macerated lemon balm leaves and set aside for another 3 to 4 weeks, shaking the jar vigorously every day. Repeat a total of three times. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a sterile glass jar with a tight-fitting lid. To help with cognition or Graves’ disease, take 30 drops in water twice daily between meals. As a sleep aid, take 1 tablespoon before bed on an empty stomach. The tincture will keep for up to three years stored in a cool, dark place.
Hardiness: Perennial in zones 4 and above
Time to Plant: Early spring, or start from seed 6 to 8 weeks before last frost date
Time to Harvest: Summer, before flowers appear
Location: Full to part sun
Soil type: Well-drained
Excerpt from: Power Plants © 2014 by Frank Ferragine and Bryce Wylde. Photographs © 2014 by Shannon J. Ross. Published by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.
Available at www.harpercollins.ca.