The plant commonly known as the lemon balm is so called because it has the scent of lemons, it belong to the genus Melissa, species officinalis, of the mint family Lamiaceae. Lemon balm is a hardy perennial plant that was traditionally used and preferred by the bee keepers in ancient eras. The ancient bee keepers used the crushed leaves of the plant as a rub on beehives so as to encourage the domesticated bees to return to their hives and the belief was that these bees would bring other bees along with them when they returned. The Greek word (melissa) for bee gives the plant its generic name. The lemon balm is also known by another common name in Europe - "bee balm", thus the association of this plant with bees has a long history of usage. Morphologically the lemon balm is an upright plant; it has hairy and branching stems that can reach a yard in height when fully grown. The herb also bears many light green colored and toothed ovate leaves which grow out in opposite pairs at each joint along the entire stem. From the month of June through September, white or yellowish two-lipped flowers appear on the branches and form along in small loose bunches located on the axis of the leaves - these floral outgrowths emit a strong lemony scent and give the plant its common name.
Aerial parts, essential oil.
Traditionally, decoctions made from the lemon balm have always been used to lift up the spirits and perk up morale. The herb is believed to induce longevity when it is taken on a regular basis. There are also many other traditional uses of the herb, such as in the healing of wounds, to bring relief from palpitations and to relax the heart, to treating toothache and other dental problems.
The herbal remedies made from the lemon balm are very effective in bringing soothing relief to the nerves and in lifting the spirits of people affected by ennui. Digestive disorders are also soothed by the lemon balm, and the herbal remedy is said to have particular affinity with digestive system disorders. Herbalist say it can calm and soothe problems such as nausea, vomiting, and other conditions like a poor appetite, cases of colic, as well as diseases such as dysentery, and colitis as well as all kinds of digestive problems due to stress. The liver and the gallbladder are also gently soothed down by the bitter principles present in the lemon balm and these tend to enhance the rate of digestion as well as absorption in the stomach. Remedies made from the lemon balm also become very useful in cases of nervousness, excessive anxiety or depression that effects the functioning of the heart, leading to heart pains or other problems like palpitations or an irregular heartbeat. The lemon balm remedy can also relaxes spasms that cause period pain in the reproductive system of women, these remedies can also bring relief from excessive irritability and depression related to PMS and other conditions. The remedies made from the lemon balm are also very useful as an aid in regulating menstrual periods and have found traditional use in relaxing and strengthening women during the process of childbirth and in bringing on the afterbirth. The lemon balm remedy can help bring relief from depression that occurs postnatal as well as the one that comes during menopause. The lemon balm herb has a relaxant effect, which can help in bringing relief from pain and spasms in the kidneys as well as in the general urinary system of a patient. The remedies made from the lemon balm are also excellent for the treatment of headaches, as well as problems such as migraine, problems like vertigo and buzzing sensations that occur in the ears. The lemon balm combined with the linden flowers helps in reducing elevated blood pressure in the body. The lemon balm when taken in the form of a hot infusion can induce sweating in the body, this helps in reducing fevers and makes it a very good remedy for many childhood infections, such as colds and flu, as well as various coughs and catarrh which tends to affect children. The lemon balm also has potent action as a relaxant and possesses mucous reducing properties, these powers are very helpful during cases of acute and chronic bronchitis, they are also helpful in treating harsh and irritating coughs as well as asthma in patients. The remedies made from the lemon balm are also excellent in treating allergies and the potent antiviral action of the herb makes it very excellent for the treatment of cold sores in patients. People with an overactive thyroid are also given the lemon balm remedy following the discovery of its potent anti-thyroid activity.
Other medical uses
The lemon balm is also used in many culinary preparations and cuisines in Europe. The fresh or dried lemon balm leaves can be added to green salads, to sandwiches, as well as to marinades and sauces, to vegetable soups and stews. It can also be used as a stuffing for pork, for veal, or for poultry, lemon balm can be used in dishes of vegetables, in many kinds of egg dishes, as well as in jams and jellies, and also in the preparation of herbal vinegar - especially the tarragon vinegar. The lemon balm has a rather delicate taste, and when using, use as much as you need and more in quantity then the other robust or pungent culinary herbs normally used in culinary preparations. The fresh leaves of the lemon balm can be initially crushed for them to release the lemony flavor inside before they are used in the various dishes. A refreshing herbal tea may be made by pouring some scalding boiling water over a bunch of fresh crushed lemon balm leaves. This must be steeped in the hot water for a few minutes in order to allow the herb to diffuse into the water. The herbal tea can be sweetened with some honey or some sugar can be added for taste before it is consumed. The crushed lemon balm leaves can also be added to summer punches and soft drinks to enhance the taste of such drinks. Many liqueurs can be fortified and flavored by adding the lemon balm oil, for example Chartreuse and Benedictine can be flavored in this way.
The fragrant lemon balm leaves can be used to enhance the fragrance of potpourris and floral sachets in the house.
Habitat and cultivation
The lemon balm is originally a native plant seen in areas of southern Europe, in parts of western Asia, as well as in northern Africa. Due to transplantation for horticulture, the lemon balm is now found around the world and grows successfully in many places. Humus rich, moist and well-drained soils which are slightly acidic or slightly alkaline form the best soils for growing the lemon balm. The plant tolerates a pH range from 4.5 to 7.6 and grows best between these ranges. While growing the lemon balm generally prefers exposure to full sunlight, but it also tends to grow well in partially shaded areas. The lemon balm seeds can be planted indoors, this can be done about eight to ten weeks before the last spring frost date in that area. The presence of light is essential for germination of seeds, for this reason, the seeds must be planted to a depth not exceeding 6 mm or 1/4 an inch into the soil. Once germinated, the seedlings tend to emerge in about eight to ten days. Once the danger of the frost has passed, the seedlings may be transplanted out of doors. When planting out of doors, the plants can be spaced about 45 to 60 cm or 18 to 24 inches apart from each other to achieve maximum growth in the soil. Another method is to plant the seeds outdoors late in the fall season, these then lie dormant through the cold of the winter and germinate normally next spring on exposure to sunlight. The lemon balm can also be propagated using stem cuttings and by the root division method. These stem cuttings can be taken from the vigorous growing plants during the summer season. The harvested roots can be divided during the spring or fall season, during division it must be ensured that each divided section of the root contains at least 3 or 4 buds - this is ideal. Roots that are divided during the fall season must be planted early enough in order to allow them sufficient time to become well established in the soil. The soil in which the lemon balm plants are planted must be mulched well for maximum protection from the cold during the winter months. The tender growth of plants can be ensured by dividing the plants during the spring or fall every three or four years during the lifetime of the plants. Foliage growth can be encouraged to increase by pinching the pack tops; this will also discourage the flowers from development. The soil in which the lemon balm is planted must be subjected to regular de-weeding; care must be taken as the lemon balm has very shallow roots while weeding the area. Once established lemon balm self-sows freely and will spread if unchecked. The lemon balm is likely to be attacked by many pests such as the chewing and sucking insects. However, late in the growing season, lemon balm is rather susceptible to infection from the powdery mildew. The soil in which the plants grow in very cold areas must be mulched well to protect the roots in the shallow soil. The light requirement of lemon balm plants which are grown indoors is more, and they may require at least five hours of direct sunlight a day or fourteen to sixteen hours of artificial light depending on other conditions. Cultivated plants must be pruned back to 20 cm or 8 inches for maximum ease of handling - the plants are ideally harvested while they are young.
The lemon balm contains a volatile oil, in particular citral and citronellal, which can calm the central nervous system according to the results of a German study. A strong antispasmodic action was also evident in the oil according to the results of the study.
The lemon balm also contains polyphenols which are antiviral in action. These oils especially combat the herpes simplex virus that causes cold sores particularly well. The average healing time of cold sores was halved to about five days as seen in one research study, the time between outbreaks also doubled during these trials. The compounds found in the lemon balm also tend to inhibit the functioning of the thyroid gland.
Lemon balm tea can be made using two tablespoons of the herb; this simple tea is prepared by steeping the powdered herb for ten to fifteen minutes in 150 ml of boiling water. Dosages of the herbal lemon balm tincture can be taken at 2-3 ml thrice daily. To cure and alleviate herpes lesions, the highly concentrated topical extracts can be applied three to four times daily. Many other medicinal plants are often combined with the lemon balm and used for treating a variety of other disorders affecting the body. Stomach problems are for example, vastly soothed by using a combination formula made from the peppermint and the lemon balm. To treat nerve pain and insomnia, the valerian herb is often used combined with the lemon balm. Grave's disease is treated using an herbal combination formula made from the bugleweed - Lycopus virginicus and the lemon balm.
Side effects and cautions
As far as it is known, there are no significant negative effects from the use of the lemon balm as yet. The lemon balm remedy can be used even while driving or operating heavy machinery. The effects of consuming alcohol does not change the sedating nature of the lemon balm. The use of any lemon balm essential oil is better avoided by individuals affected by glaucoma; this is due to the results obtained in animal studies where the possibility of this oil raising pressure in the eye was noticed. Excessive contact with lemon balm may induce a bout of dermatitis in some individuals. Care should be taken while harvesting lemon balm as a lot of honeybees like the lemon balm flowers and may sting the collector.
How it works in the body
The volatile oils found in the lemon balm have a relaxant effect on the muscles, and the main compound that soothes and calms the nervous system is also the oil. Research conducted on the herb supports this view, and the ability of the melissa herb to ease such actions, like the states of excitability, heart palpitations as well as depression, and headache was also noticed. The anti-viral action performed by the herb is largely a function of the polyphenolics in the herb, the rosmarinic acid in particular. Herpes simplex for example, can be defeated using a cream made from the lemon balm; this virus infection is commonly called cold sores. The outbreaks of the viral infection themselves become less frequent and the duration length of these outbreaks was halved on the use of the herbal remedy. The thyroid gland is also affected by the action of the lemon balm and the herb reduces the over-active gland - a condition known as hyperthyroidism. Menopausing women can benefit from the use of the herbal remedy, particularly where disorders of the reproductive system are concerned, symptoms such as hot flushes and anxiety and the regulation of menstrual periods can be achieved with the use of the herb. Pain that occurs during the onset of a menstrual period is also alleviated by the use of herbal remedies made from the lemon balm herb.
Collection and harvesting
Young leaves can be harvested during the growing season at anytime for immediate home use. Harvesting is best done by cut the leaves early in the morning following the evaporation of the dew on the leaves. Due to the tender nature of the leaves, the fresh leaves must be handled carefully to avoid bruising and discoloration. The best lemon balm leaves are the ones that grow early in the season. The fragrance may deteriorate as the leaves age and they can often taste rather stale and musty, the plants must be pruned regularly to ground level so that it produces fresh shoots year round. Lemon balm can be dried by regularly cutting the plants back to ground level as soon as the flowers appear. A shady and airy location is ideal to hang the harvested plants to dry. Airtight jars must be used for storage once the leaves are crisply dry. Alternately, ice cubes may be used to freeze the leaves for long term storage.
Monastic melissa spirits
Spirit of melissa is an ancient alcoholic heal-all, used to treat every kind of ailment, and it is experiencing a renaissance today. Whether it is headaches, nervous tension or insomnia, internal or external, all problems of life are relieved by the delectable Carmelite's Spirits, as this melissa wine was called. You can make it yourself.
Add the fresh balm leaves to the brandy, seal the container well and let sit for about 10 days. Strain the herbs through a cotton cloth and wring out the liquid. Dosage: no more than 10 to 20 drops a day. You can take your spirit of balm in a cup of hot water or balm tea, but don't drink more than 2 cups a day.
Lemon balm tea mixture
Remove leaves from the lemon balm twigs, and discard twigs. Mix leaves with rosebuds and orange blossoms, crushing as you combine. Use 2 teaspoons of this mixture to make 1 cup of tea, and sweeten each cup with 1 teaspoon of honey.