Melissa officinalis Uses and Benefits
The bright green, aromatic leaves of the lemon balm plant will add flavor to your garden and your table. Growing and cooking with Melissa officinalis. Using the leaves to make herb tea.
This hardy perennial herb grows into a 24 inch mound. One plant will provide most households with as much lemony goodness as they can use.
Lemon balm’s Latin name, Melissa, is derived from the Greek word for bee and was conferred upon this ancient herb because bees take so much notice of its tiny, white flowers which are nearly invisible to us!
Growing Lemon Balm
Plant it in the spring in loose, fairly fertile soil in part shade. Plants will grow in full sun but will need more water.Harvest before the plant flowers by cutting it back to 3 inch stems. The plant will bounce back vigorously.
Lemon balm reseeds readily and can become weedy if allowed to bloom too often. Frequent harvesting will prevent this.
If you want more plants, the easiest way to obtain them is to let a few flower stalks form toward the end of the growing season.
Feed as you would any kitchen herb with organic compost, compost tea, or your favorite organic fertilizer. Use the vigor of the plant as a gauge when deciding how often to feed it.
A lemon balm plant can be divided in the spring or fall. You can also save seed or take cuttings to propagate it.
Cooking with Lemon Balm
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Try stuffing the cavity of a chicken with a mixture of lemon balm and rosemary stems before roasting it for a real taste treat that will fragrance the whole house as it cooks.
The lemon balm plant played an important role in the colonial herb garden. Lemons were often hard-to-come-by in those days so good housewives would use lemon balm leaves as a substitute for citrus in jellies.
Modern cooks use it in place of lemongrass or lemon zest and as a garnish.
It is an especially nice flavoring for cream sauces for fish. Bruise and simmer 2-3 leaves gently in the sauce for a few minutes and then remove them as you would bay leaves.
Unlike bay leaves, lemon balm leaves are thin and tender. You could also chiffonade them as you would basil and leave them in the sauce to add a touch of color and even more flavor.
How to Make Lemon Balm Tea
The leaves of the lemon balm plant make a good tasting herbal tea alone or in combination with other culinary herbs.
Rinse and bruise 2-3 of the fresh leaves using your fingers. Place the leaves in a cup and pour 8 ounces of hot (almost boiling) water over them.
Let the leaves steep in the hot water for 5 minutes. Drink the tea just as it is or sweeten it with a natural sweetener like honey or xylitol.
I don’t like to use table sugar in herbal tea because some herbalists believe that it interferes with your body’s ability to absorb the beneficial components.
Lemon Balm Uses
Benefits of Lemon Balm Herb
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According to The Encyclopedia Of Medicinal Plants this herb’s most longstanding use is as a natural antidepressant. It contains 2 volatile oils which may account for most of this spirit-lifting effect: citral and citronellal.
These oils have a calming effect on the central nervous system and give Melissa officinalis leaves their ability to help you relax and fall asleep.
Citral and citronellal are also antispasmodic which makes lemon balm a useful remedy for stomach or menstrual cramps or an annoying cough. Lemon balm tea is a popular after dinner tea for people who suffer from indigestion, nausea or bloating.
In addition to several volatile oils in addition to the 2 I’ve named, lemon balm herb contains antiviral polyphenols that act against the herpes simplex virus.
The tea or tincture, taken regularly, can double the time between outbreaks and halve the time it takes cold sores to heal.
The cool, unsweetened tea can also be applied directly to a cold sore to hasten its disappearance.
If you want something you can carry around, here is an inexpensive Lemon Balm Lip Salve.
You can also purchase Melissa-Lemon Balm capsules to use on the run.
Ancient peoples believed that remedies made from the lemon balm plant had the power to strengthen the mind and memory.
According to the National Geographic Desk Reference to Nature’s Medicine the herb is currently being used to treat Alzheimer’s and dementia in the U.S.
Lemon Balm Extract
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This is the same as a tincture. When you steep fresh lemon balm leaves in hot water, you are extracting the medicinal properties into water.
Bottled lemon balm extract is made by steeping the leaves in alcohol or glycerin. This preserves the beneficial oils and creates a product that will keep for years if stored in a cool, dark location.
Lemon Balm Side Effects – Risks
Because of its ability to inhibit thyroid function, lemon balm tea or tincture is sometimes used by practitioners of alternative medicine to slow an overactive thyroid.
If you have an under-active thyroid, it would be best to avoid using any herbal remedy containing Melissa officinalis.