What is Lemon Balm?

Lemon Balm is a native to southern Europe and northern Africa and has been cultivated for over 2000 years. It has a long history as a healing herb and was also part of a drink that ensured longevity. The branches were strewn on floors to freshen a room, as mentioned by Shakespeare in “The Merry Wives of Windsor”.

The Arabs introduced it as medicinal herb, a tea that was taken for anxiety and depression. Melissa tea is still known in France today as a remedy for fatigue and headaches. Melissa derives its name from the Greek for honeybee. The leaves were rubbed onto beehives to prevent swarming and to encourage the bees to return to the hives. The Greek physician Dioscorides wrote about it being used for scorpions stings and insect and dog bites.

Herb Description

Lemon Balm is a citrusy and fresh scented herb. It is very prolific and easily grown. Fresh or dried leaves are used.

Preparation and Storage

Fresh leaves can be stored in plastic bags in the fridge for a few days or they can be frozen. Dried leaves should be stored in an airtight container. To dry leaves, avoid exposure to light or heat, spread out on newspaper or hang in bunches in a dark airy place. The leaves lose some of their flavour when dried. Dried leaves can be used as an ingredient in pot-pourris.

Culinary Uses

Because of its delicate lemon flavour, lemon balm has a wide culinary potential. Apart from using fresh leaves as an attractive garnish, Chopped fresh leaves can be used to to add zest to sweet or tangy dishes. It combines well with allspice, bay leaves, mint, pepper, rosemary and thyme. Fresh herbs with essential oils, however, are less potent and should be added at the end of cooking. A wonderful addition to fruit salads, green salads, herb butters, fruit drinks, sorbets.

It can also be used in egg dishes, custards, soups and casseroles. It works well in stuffings for poultry,lamb or pork. Its subtle flavour is a perfect for sauces and marinades for fish. Lemon balm and chervil are also good combination. Lemon Balm is the basis of the cordial eau des Carmes and is also found in Benedictine and Chartreuse.

Health Benefits of Lemon Balm

Lemon balm tea was known to have powers of longevity. Today the tea is taken to treat colds and flu, lower blood pressure and for insomnia and indigestion. Balm is an excellent carminative herb that relieves spasms in the digestive tract, and is used in cases of flatulent dyspepsia. Because of its mild anti-depressive properties, it is primarily indicated where there is dyspepsia associated with anxiety or depression, as the gently sedative oils relieve tension & stress reactions, thus acting to lighten depression.

Primary chemical constituents of this herb include essential oil (citral, linalool, eugenol, citronellal, geraniol), tannins, bitter principle, resin, tannins, polyphenols, flavonoids, succinic acid, and rosmarinic acid. The volatile oils appear to act between the digestive tract and nervous system. It may be used effectively in conditions of migraine that are associated with tension, neuralgia, anxiety induced palpitations, and/or insomnia.

Lemon balm has a tonic effect on the heart and circulatory system causing mild vasodilation of the peripheral vessels, thus lowering blood pressure. It can be used in feverish conditions such as influenza. Hot water extracts have anti-viral properties, possibly due in part to rosmarinic acid and other polyphenolics constituents.

A lotion-based extract may be used for skin lesions of herpes simplex, the anti-viral activity having been confirmed in both laboratory and clinical trial. It also inhibits the receptor binding and biological activity of immunoglobulins in the blood of patients with Graves disease, a condition which results in hyperthyroidism. German studies show that the essential oil of Lemon Balm acts upon the part of the brain governing the autonomic nervous system and protect the cerbrum from excessive external stimuli. This is a safe herb for children, and it tastes very good. Fresh leaves can be used to sooth insect bites, and a linement made with lemon balm will help heal cold sores.

Growing Lemon Balm

Lemon balm is a pretty plant that prefers rich moist soil and partial shade . It can tolerate direct sunlight but plants grown in shade tend to be larger and more succulent. It is related to mint in appearance, but it is not as invasive and easier to control. A clump-forming herbaceous perennial with heart shaped, deeply veined leaves that are covered with stiff hairs, it grows up to 1-2 feet high. Bluish-white or yellow flowers grow from the axils of the leaves and bloom from May to October. After pollination, long oval brown seeds appear. The leaves should be harvested before the flowering for optimum flavour and fragrance. The plant should be cut back in the fall.

Other Names

Balm mint bee herb Sweet balm Garden balm Honey plant Melissa

Scientific Name

Melisa officianalis Family Lamiaceae

Lemon Balm Recipes

Lemon Balm infused oil

1 cup of oil
1/2 cup of fresh herb

Let stand 4-5 days at room temperature and the herbs will settle to bottom. Put into clean jars, discard the herbs and store in the fridge for up to 6 months

Lemon Balm Tea

(with fresh or dried leaf) 1 heaping tablespoon of dried leaves or 2 tablespoons of fresh leaves for each cup of boiling water (or make sun tea by placing herbs and cool water in covered jar in the sun for a few hours) strain add honey and, or lemon.

Image by Monfocus from Pixabay