Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Wholesome Wednesdays: Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)

I planted some medicinal style herbs this spring, and am very happy with my lemon balm. I hadn't really used it much until i made some sun tea - i think i'm sold! Combined with the Stevia plant i also planted this spring - i got naturally sweetened, lemony tea. Great on a hot afternoon, of which we have plenty.

Lemon balm is a member of the mint family (as is basil, i believe - those two being the only members i can stomach, can't stand the taste and smell of most mints) and grows in a lovely mounding shape. It's beautiful and lush, and smells amazing - plant along a walkway to enjoy the delightful aroma released when brushed against. It grows low to the ground, mounding up to about 2-3 feet at tops, much like most oreganos. Lemon balm won't spread by seed as much as some mints - but it divides wonderfully and can be propagated with cuttings.  Bees will love this plant when it flowers little white flowers. Lemon balm prefers mostly sun and slightly moist soil, but will grow in dry soils - as mine is doing presently.

Lemon balm has many uses and benefits. Check out this lovely page for some excellent information. Here is an excerpt:
In the Middles Ages lemon balm was used to soothe tension, to dress wounds, and as a cure for toothache, skin eruptions, mad dog bites, crooked necks, and sickness during pregnancy. It was even said to prevent baldness. As a medicinal plant, lemon balm has traditionally been employed against bronchial inflammation, earache, fever, flatulence, headaches, high blood pressure, influenza, mood disorders, palpitations, toothache and vomiting. A tea made from Lemon balm leaves is said to soothe menstrual cramps and helps relieve PMS. -
 This table is an excellent resource (also taken from

 This herb is excellent for promoting mental clarity and for relaxing the muscles and gastrointestinal system. Feeling down in the dumps? The fresh citrus scent is delighting to the senses, and the oils found in lemon balm may be relaxing to the muscles and calm stomach upset.

Lemon balm is a versatile herb and can be used in cooking, medicine and cosmetics. An excellent pairing with fish, vegetables or poultry - lemon balm is wonderful chopped fresh or mixed into a white wine sauce in replacement of lemon fruit. Around the house lemon balm is great as a laundry rinse, yummy smelling potpourri mixes or mixed into a furniture polish by infusing in linseed oil and turpentine. Infuse the leaves for a mild tisane/tea for an upset stomach, or apply leaves directly to insect stings to relieve the pain.

For my lemon balm tea i simply plucked a handfull of lemon balm leaves and a short stem with leaves of stevia plant. I set these along with a bag of green tea in the sun covered in saran wrap (in a pitcher of water of course) out in the sun for several hours. I lifted out the leaves with my hands and squeezed the last of their goodness out before discarding them to the compost. This tea is naturally sweetened by the stevia and has a bright, lemony flavor - not tart like lemonade, but quite lovely and refreshing. I might feel less depressed, and my headache is gone - so who knows - the herbal benefits may be kicking in already!

Do you grow a favorite herb to make teas with?

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