Lemon Balm To The Rescue!

It is winter. The world is in chaos. If you’re experiencing some seasonal depression and stomach problems, you are not alone. The weather is the only thing that has chilled out on my little suburban homestead. Luckily, I have some lemon balm to soothe me and get me through all of the crazy.

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. Any information found on thegigglinggardengnome.com is intended for informational and educational purposes only and not intended to be taken as medical advice. If you have a medical condition or are seeking medical advice, please speak to your doctor or other medical professional.

Plant Info

Scientific name: Melissa officinalis 

Common names: Balm, Bee balm (not related to Monarda), Honey balm, and Lemon Balm

Family: Lamiaceae (mint)

Language of flowers meaning: Sympathy

Lemon balm is a perennial herb from the mint family and can grow to about two feet tall and wide. The leaves are jagged-edged and heart shaped. It has medicinal, culinary, and energetic uses and is taken as a tea, capsule, tincture, or essential oil.

Photo by Valeria Boltneva: https://www.pexels.com/photo/clear-glass-cup-filled-with-honey-1872902/

Lore

Originating in Europe and Asia, lemon balm has been used since antiquity to attract bees, love, and prosperity as well as treat conditions related to stress and depression. The name “Melissa” refers to the herb’s connection to bees and the ancient Greek nymphs associated with them. It has long been believed that planting lemon balm will keep bees happy and encourage them to stay nearby. 

Now lemon balm is used in aromatherapy to quell nervousness, depression, and insomnia. To do that, add leaves or essential oil (with a carrier oil)  to baths, incense, and sachets. It is also great in a diffuser when you feel anxious or depressed. You can also sprinkle dried leaves onto your floors. This was a common practice during the Middle Ages. Walking over the strewn herbs released their fragrance and helped imbue the home with the plants’ energetic properties.

Uses

Although more study is needed to conclusively prove lemon balm’s medicinal efficacy, it is showing a great deal of promise. It has been used as a remedy for the following: 

  • Digestive disorders
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Insomnia
  • Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV or “cold sores”)

Warning: This herb is considered to be generally safe, however, it does interact with sedatives and thyroid medication. It mildly disrupts thyroid levels, so if you have a thyroid condition, are pregnant or nursing, or are currently taking thyroid medicine or sedatives, do not ingest lemon balm.

“Let a syrup made with the juice of it and sugar… be kept in every gentlewoman’s house to relieve the weak stomachs and sick bodies of their poor sickly neighbors…”

Culpeper, Nicholas. The Complete Herbal. Evans, Richard, 1654, London

Culinarily, lemon balm is best used fresh. It doesn’t have that nice lemon flavor when it has been cooked. Macerated, fresh balm can be infused into vinegars or oils to make salad dressing. Chopping it and mixing it with soft cheese and other herbs is really good. Another common use is to add it to alcoholic beverages or tea.

Photo by Thomas Rehehäuser on Unsplash

Growing Information

I prefer to grow most herbs from started plants because their seedlings can be so dramatic and fussy. They are prone to damp off, but can dry up and die pretty easily as well. Also, balm needs stratification to germinate optimally. If you prefer to try to start from seed, start them a little over a month before your last frost date.

This plant loves lots of sun and well draining soil. You would think that it could stand a little dryness, but no. Like most mints, it prefers to be moist, but not soggy. Also, not too much sun because yuck! It just wants to be picky. 

Also like most mints, it is pretty invasive. I suggest keeping it in containers if you are concerned about it swallowing up the surrounding landscape. As stressed as I am of late, I think an antidepressant, anti-anxiety hillside might be exactly what my neighborhood is missing. If you do not mind an aggressive nurturer taking over your garden, space the plants about 18” apart in a spot that gets a lot of morning sun. To keep it somewhat under control, deadhead soon after flowering.

Conclusion

I wanted to write about an herb that has applications that could help someone right now. Seasonal depression is real even during the best of times and this is absolutely not the best of times. The hive-mind is abuzz with all kinds of unpleasantness. So, fill the air with that calming, lemony scent and brew a nice hot cup of cheer up and chill out tea. It’s time for hibernation.

Resources

Check out these sources for more information.

  • McVicar, Jekka. The Complete Herb Book. Introduction by Penelope Hobhouse, Firefly Books, 2007, P 152-153.
  • The New York Botanical Garden. Herbal Handbook. Clarkson/Potter Publishers, P 80-82.
  • Culpeper, Nicholas. The Complete Herbal. Evans, Richard, 1654, London.
  • Cunningham, Scott. Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs, Llewellyn Publications, 1985, 2000. P 43.
  • Conway, DJ.  Magical Folkhealing Herbs, Oils, and Recipes for Health, Healing, and Magic, Llewellyn Publications, 2019. P 48.
  • Miraj S, Rafieian-Kopaei, Kiani S. Melissa officinalis L: A Review Study With an Antioxidant Prospective. J Evid Based Complementary Altern Med. 2017 Jul;22(3):385-394. doi: 10.1177/2156587216663433. Epub 2016 Sep 11. PMID: 27620926; PMCID: PMC5871149.
  • Mahr, Susan. “Lemon Balm, Melissa officinalis”. Wisconsin Horticulture Division of Extension, https://hort.extension.wisc.edu/articles/lemon-balm-melissa-officinalis/ Accessed 18 January, 2024.
  • Mount Sinai. “Lemon Balm”. https://www.mountsinai.org/health-library/herb/lemon-balm Accessed 18 January, 2024.

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