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Lemon Balm


Melissa officinalis [mel-ISS-uh oh-fiss-ih-NAH-liss]

FAMILY: Labiatae

Names: Common balm, lemon balm, melissa, sweet balm; bee balm; heart's delight; honey plant; Zitronenmelisse, Melisse, Herztrost (German); citronelle, baume, mélisse, Herbe citron (French); melissa (Italian); Sidrunmeliss (Estonian); Badrangbuye, Farandj moschk (Farsi); Sitruunamelissa (Finnish); Mézfû, Orvosi citromfû, Macskaméz, Anyaméhfû (Hungarian); Sítrónumelissa, Hjartafró (Icelandic); Sitronmelisse (Norwegian); Melisa lekarska, rojownik (Polish); Melissa limonnaya, Limonnik (Russian); Balsamita maior, Toronjil (Spanish); Citronmeliss, Hjärtansfröjd (Swedish); Melisa, Ogul out (Turkish)

Description: Bushy, rounded herbs. Height 3 feet; width 2 feet; flowers: small, white, tubeshaped, 1/3 inch long; leaves: oval, coming to a point, serrated around the edges and strongly lemon-scented, 1 to 3 inches long.
Blooms May to August and into the fall in the Southern United States. May go somewhat dormant during very hot, humid summers.

Cultivation: Perennial Zone 3. Performs best in a fertile soil with a pH of 5 to 7. Seeds may be sown in the garden, either broadcast in one spot or in rows, as soon as the ground can be worked in the spring. It will germinate rapidly (7-14 days) in light in a flat at temperature of 70 deg.F in the medium.
Seedlings should be transplanted, when they have 4 true leaves, to a deeper flat or small pots and hardened off before setting out. Lemon balm will grow well in partial shade or full sun. It hottest climates, lemon balm definitely needs afternoon shade.

It probably exhausts the soil after two or three years because it makes such a large clump so it must be fertilized annually especially with nitrogen. The old plants may die off in a wet winter, especially where they do not have adequate drainage, but seedlings volunteer from any plant that is not cut down completely at the time of flowering. The roots do no seem to put out runners as do mints, but they increase into a hard-to-divide clump.

There is a variegated form, called "golden Lemon Balm", which has not been as hardy for many growers. Full sun or partial shade for lusher plants.

If you wish to confine its growth, don't hesitate to cut into the plant to within a 6 inch diameter in late fall of the second year and every two years thereafter. Flower spikes form in midsummer, which stops leaf production. Cut off these flowering stems 6 inches from the crown.

The first cutting from a new plant can usually begin 10 weeks after transplanting. Do not cut more than half the plant at a time. Harvested stems can be hung in bundles in a dark, dry, wellventilated room for 4 to 7 days and is approximately 80% water, then stripped and stored in an opaque container for later use. Yields of dry herb are 1,500 to 2,500 pounds per acre.

Constituents: essential oil includes cintronellal and geranial with neral; citral, citronellol, eugenol, geraniol, polyphenols, flavonoids, triterpenoids; caryophyllene, caryophyllene oxide, linalol, limonene. Energetics: cold, dry, sour, slightly bitter Actions: sedative, anti-depressant, digestive stimulant, promotes sweating, relaxing restorative for nervous system, antiviral (possibly due to polyphenols and tannins); antibacterial, carminative, antispasmodic.

Language of Flowers: Social intercourse; pleasant company of friends; memories; a cure; "Don't misuse me.".

History: The botanical name, melissa, is Greek for "bee". Lemon balm has been cultivated in the Mediterranean region for about 2000 years. The Muslim herbalist Avicenna recommended lemon balm "to make the heart merry". Paracelsus claimed this herb could completely revitalize the body and called it the "elixir of life", and 14th century French King Charles V drank its tea every day to keep his health. The famous Carmelite Water, first made by 17ty century Carmelite nuns to treat nervous headache and neuralgia, combined lemon balm with lemon-peel, nutmeg, coriander and angelica root. Sacred to the temple of Diana, lemon balm was called "heart's delight" in southern Europe. Its virtue of dispelling melancholy has been praised by herbal writers for centuries, and it is still used today in aromatherapy to counter depression.

Aromatherapy Uses: EXTRACTION: essential oil by steam distillation from the leaves and flowering tops.

CHARACTERISTICS: a pale yellow liquid with a light, fresh lemony fragrance.

BLENDS WITH: lavender, geranium, floral and citrus oils

USES: Skin care: allergies, insect bites, insect repellent Respiratory: asthma, bronchitis, chronic coughs; useful for colds and influenza

Digestive: colic, indigestion, nausea; good for vomiting and indigestion of a nervous origin, relieving spasms and flatulence
Circulatory: a tonic for the heart, slowing its action, relieving palpitations and lowering blood pressure Genito-urinary: menstrual problems especially painful periods
Nervous: anxiety, depression, hypertension, insomnia, migraine, nervous tension, shock and vertigo
Emotion: melissa is vivacious and provocative, revitalizing the inner self and calming the senses. Makes the heart merry and joyful. Also helpful in dispelling a sense of dejection in times of grief or bereavement. Melissa calms raging emotions, engendering a state of quiet peace.
Other: used extensively as a fragrance component in toiletries, cosmetics and perfumes. Employed in most major food categories including alcoholic and soft drinks.

Digestive: 5 drops melissa, 3 drops peppermint, 3 drops cardamom
Circulatory: 4 drops melissa, 4 drops ylangylang, 2 drops clary sage Nervous: 4 drops melissa, 3 drops vetivert, 2 drops Roman chamomile
Emotion: 4 drops melissa, 4 drops orange, 3 drops frankincense
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. Cut the leaves into slivers and sprinkle over fish or add to poached fruit where a lemony flavor is desired. Lemon balm can be used in stuffings, sauces, or any dish in which you would use lemon thyme. It enhances the flavor of vegetables, light grains, roast chicken, steamed vegetables and fruit salads. Lay fish or chicken over a bed of lemon balm leaves before baking: you won' need any other seasonings. Stir the minced leaves into cooked rice or into clarified butter for dipping artichoke leaves. Try stuffing a handful of the leaves and some minced green onions under the skin of chicken breasts, then sprinkle with lemon pepper before baking or grilling. Stir chopped fresh lemon balm into plain yogurt and sprinkle with any kind of fresh berries. The minced leaves can be added to a cooked soft custard to pour over fresh fruit.

Add the leaves to iced tea or place sprigs of fresh lemon balm in a tall chilled wine glass with white wine; add a splash of sparkling water for a summer spritzer. Spread cream cheese blended with a small amount of mayonnaise on slices of whole-grain bread, then add lots of lemon balm leaves and generous slices of juicy nectarines, strawberries, or peaches. Or try some of the leaves in an omelet with fresh strawberries and creme fraiche.

For a late-night soothing tea, steep lemon balm leaves in a cup of boiling water. Stir in honey and lemon juice, to taste.

Dried lemon balm is mainly used for tea. For other uses, it's better to freeze the leaves for later use, packed into plastic bags. They'll keep well for up to 2 months. Chopping with a knife usually bruises the leaves, causing them to discolor so tear the leaves into small pieces instead.

Known as a traditional wine herb, lemon balm is used to flavor many liqueurs Use 12 oz of the fresh leaves late in the boil in a home brewed beer to add a strong lemon scent and flavor.

Energetics: sour, spicy cool Meridians/Organs affected: lungs, liver

Medicinal Uses: Lemon balm's main action 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. The hot tea brings on a sweat that is good for relieving colds, flus and fevers and an antiviral agent has been found that combats mumps, cold sores and other viruses. The tea has also been shown to inhibit the division of tumor cells. Studies indicate that the herb slightly inhibits the thyroidstimulating hormone and restricts Grave's disease, a hyperthyroid condition.

Lemon balm's antihistamine 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. Lemon balm has antipyretic, refreshing, cholagogic and stimulating properties. Use a pad soaked in the infusion to relieve painful swellings such as gout. Use as ointment for sores, insect bites, or to repel insects. Use hot infused oil as ointment or gentle massage oil for depression, tension, asthma and bronchitis.

A clinical multicentric study in Germany offers evidence of the antiviral activity of a specially prepared dried extract of lemon balm against herpes simplex infections. The extract was a concentrated (70:1) dry extract of lemon balm which was included at a level of 1% in a cream base. Patients applied the cream 2-4 times daily for 5-10 days. In the group receiving the active Melissa cream, there was a significant improvement in symptoms on day two compared to the placebo group and on day five over 50% more patients were symptom-free than in the placebo group. To be effective, the treatment must be started in the very early stages of the infection.

Research has clearly demonstrated the plant's 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. Combinations: Digestive troubles: hops, chamomile or meadowsweet Stress and tension: lavender and linden blossoms Formula for ADHD: 70 ml Bacopa monneira; 50 ml Ginkgo biloba; 30 ml Valerian; 30 ml Panax ginseng, 30 ml Melissa officinalis. Dose is 5 ml t.i.d.

Heartburn Formula: 1 tsp each chamomile flowers, lemon balm leaves and licorice root 12 tsp slippery elm bark 14 tsp each fennel seeds and catnip leaves 112 cups very hot water 112 cups carrot or apple juice (optional) Combine herbs and pour very hot water over them. Steep for at least 15 minutes, then strain out herbs and add juice. Drink 1 cup after each meal. Stored in the refrigerator, this formula will keep for a few days.

Stomachache Tea: 2 cups boiling water 1 tsp each chamomile flowers and lemon balm leaves 12 tsp each catnip leaves and fennel or dill seeds Pour boiling water over herbs and steep for 10 minutes. Strain out herbs and allow to cool.

Cosmetic Uses: To make a lemon-scented bath, tie 14 cup crushed balm leaves into a handkerchief or washcloth. Let the water run through the bag until the tub is filled. Infuse as a facial steam and as a rinse for greasy hair. Recipes:

Minty Astringent
1 Tbsp fresh lemon balm (or peppermint or spearmint)
1 cup witch hazel

Combine the ingredients in a jar with a tightfitting lid. Allow herb to steep for 1 week. Strain.
Use 1 teaspoon per application. Refrigeration not required.

Lemon Balm Honey Bee Mouthwash
25 fresh lemon balm leaves
2 oz chartreuse liqueur
8 oz glass jar with screw-top
5 inch square cheese cloth
6 oz distilled water
1 tsp honey
8 oz amber glass bottle with screw top
Coarsely chop lemon balm.

In the glass jar, combine the lemon balm and the liqueur. Set aside in a cool, dark place for two weeks to extract the healing essences from the lemon balm leaves. Shake the bottle once a day.
Place the cheese cloth in a fine-gauge sieve and strain the tincture into a glass bowl. Discard the herb.

Add the distilled water and honey. Whisk to dissolve the honey. Transfer to the amber bottle.

Rinse or gargle twice a day with a half oz of the mouthwash. (The Healing Kitchen)

Ritual Uses: Lemon Balm is primarily used in the pursuit of romance. It is an herb which attracts, and is sometimes made into a charm and worn to bring a lover into one's life. It may also be used as a bathing herb, some of the delightfully scented leaves scattered over the water, or an infusion poured to mix with the bath. This is also said to attract romance.

For magickal purposes, balm is ideally suited for healing those who suffer from mental or nervous disorders. It is also very useful for those of sound mind who need to keep their mental processes in superior condition. A tea made of the leaves brings calm, which is appropriate for magickal students while preparing for ritual work.

Considered sacred to Diana, it is believed that it was once used in her temples.

Balm may also be used as a bathing herbe toward a variety of goals. It may be used as part of the ritual process of invoking the Goddess; it may be used when sharing a ritual bath with one's partner; or it may be used to find the fulfillment of one's personal desires.

This usage of lemon balm opens one to the divine love of the Goddess, but is also believed to add energy to one's being which makes you more appealing in the world of love and romance.

Planetary ruler: Venus

Spiritual Properties: Lemon balm has long been known as an herb that balances the feelings and the emotions. It helps resolve moodiness and melancholia. It was sacred to alchemists, and the plant-based philosopher's stone is made from an alchemical preparation of this plant. In a metaphorical sense, Melissa guides us as we traverse the misty emotional state of the Moon and enables us to view our emotions and feelings without getting lost in them.

This is an excellent herb for children, who function on Moon energy for the first years of their lives.

OTHER USES: Used in potpourris. In the 16th century, it was rubbed on beehives to encourage the bees to create honey.

Because it contains citronella oil it is used in insect repellants.

TOXICITY: Prolonged contact with balm plants or leaves may cause contact dermatitis (itching, sting, burning, reddened or blistered skin) or it may sensitize you to other allergens.

REFERENCES: Along the Garden Path, Bill and Sylvia Varney, Fredericksburg Herb Farm, 1997 An Herbal Feast, Risa Mornis, Keats, 1998 Aromatherapy Blends & Remedies, Franzesca Watson, Thorsons, 1995 Park's Success with Herbs, Gertrude Foster and Rosemary Louden, George W. Park Seed Co., 1980 The Encyclopedia of Herbs and Spices, Hermes House, 1997 The Healing Kitchen, Patricia Stapley, Macmillan, 1996; ISBN: 0-02-860394-X Herbs for Health and Healing, Kathi Keville, 1997, Rodale Homemade Liqueurs, Dona and Mel Meilach, Contemporary Books, 1979; ISBN: 0-8092- 7582-1 The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils, Julia Lawless, Element, 1995 The Illustrated Herb Encyclopedia, Kathi Keville, Mallard Press, 1991 A Compendium of Herbal Magick, Paul Beyerl, Phoenix Publishing, 1998; ISBN: 0- 919345-45-X The Culinary Gardener, The Peoria Area Herb Guild The Complete Book of Herbs, Spices and Condiments, Carol Ann Rinzler, Facts on File, 1990 Herbs in the Kitchen, Carolyn Dille & Susan Belsinger, Interweave Press, 1992 Kitchen Herbs, Sal Gilbertie, Bantam, 1988 Master Book of Herbalism, Paul Beyerl, Phoenix Publishing, 1984 Flora's Dictionary, Kathleen Gips, TM Publications, 1990 The Complete Book of Herbs, Lesley Bremness, Viking Press, 1988 Today's Herbal Kitchen, The Memphis Herb Society, The Wimmer Companies, 1995 The Herbal Connection Collection-Volume 1, Maureen Rogers and Patricia Sulick, Herb Growing & Marketing Network, 1995 The Herb Garden Cookbook, Lucinda Hutson, Gulf Publishing, 1998 The Herb & Spice Cookbook: A Seasoning Celebration, Sheryl & Mel London, Rodale Press, 1986 The Herbal Body Book, Stephanie Tourles, Storey Communications, 1994 An Herbal Collection, Herb Society of Wake County, 1993 The Herbal Palate Cookbook, Maggie Oster and Sal Gilbertie, Storey Communications, 1996 Simon & Schuster's Guide to Herbs and Spices, Edited by Stanley Schuler, Fireside Books, 1990 Herb Mixtures & Spicy Blends, Maggie Oster, Storey Communications, 1996 The Complete Medicinal Herbal, Penelope Ody, Dorling Kindersley, 1993 Medicines from the Earth Official Proceedings May 31-June 2, 1997 The Spirit of Herbs, Michael Tierra & Candis Cantin, US Games, 1993; ISBN: 0-88079-525- 5 Today's Herbal Kitchen, Memphis Herb Society, 1997 Resources: Companion Plants, 7247 No Coolville Ridge Rd., Athens, OH 45701; 740-592-4643; www.companionplants.com plants, seed Crimson Sage, PO Box 337, Colton, OR 97017; 503-824-4721; http://www.crimsonsage. com Plants The Rosemary House, 120 S Market St., Mechanicsburg, PA 17055; 717-697-5111; www.therosemaryhouse.com tincture HERBALPEDIA™ is brought to you by The Herb Growing & Marketing Network, PO Box 245, Silver Spring, PA 17575-0245; 717- 393-3295; FAX: 717-393-9261; email: HERBWORLD@aol.com URL: http://www.herbnet.com and http://www.herbworld.com Editor: Maureen Rogers. Copyright 1998. All rights reserved. Subscription fee: $48/yr. Material herein is derived from journals, textbooks, etc. THGMN cannot be held responsible for the validity of the information contained in any reference noted herein, for the misuse of information or any adverse effects by use of any stated material presented.