Getting my little Lemon Balm plant in the mail from Jung’s nursery a few days ago has spurred me to do some research & figure out just what this yummy smelling plant is and what it can do for you. Turns out, Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) seems to be a jack of all trades. Mother Earth News notes that “scientific research has confirmed that hot-water extracts of lemon balm have antiviral, antibacterial, antihistaminic, antispasmodic, and antioxidant activity.” It has a long history of being used to calm the nerves & treat issues related to being overworked such as, as the Herbal Apothecary says, hyperthyroidism, hyperadrenalism, heart palpitations, high blood pressure, etc. I was especially excited to see that lemon balm is safe for pregnancy and is gentle enough for babies and children (Prescription for Herbal Healing).
The main purpose of lemon balm is to calm the nervous system. Rosemary Gladstar suggests a cup of lemon balm, honey, and chamomile tea to treat stress, depression, and insomnia. (Check here for how to make an infusion) Prescription for Herbal Healing suggests using it in conjunction with Valerian when taking it to treat insomnia or stress. This would be a great herb to have on hand when dealing with teething (for the parents or baby!) as a gentle pick-me-up, and as an addition to other infusions to help it taste a bit better.
It can be used along with stinging nettle to reduce the effects allergies thanks to its antihistaminic properties. (Rosemary Gladstar) I have been eagerly searching for something to replace the Benadryl in our household for spring and fall allergies. I will be looking into a tincture or infusion using this combination to hopefully produce something effective, safe for everyone, and without the side effect of making you feel like you got run over by a truck.
Other purposes include helping to reduce fevers, especially in children, and as an antiviral. From the multiple healthy/natural mom groups I am a part of on facebook, it seems like how to fight fever naturally is one of the most asked questions that pop up. Knowing that you can treat your children’s fevers with lemon balm & being prepared to do so ahead of time can give valuable peace of mind! Herbs for Children’s Health calls lemon balm, “one of the most important natural antiviral plants known.” and encourages its use for things like herpes, shingles, measles, mumps, and thrush. It is even suggested that you can take lemon balm as a preventative when you are exposed to viruses. Especially for families who chose not to vaccinate their children, this could be extremely helpful in fighting common childhood illnesses. I am super excited to look into this more and prepare a tincture to be prepared for sickness. According to Herbal Antibiotics, it can also be used topically to treat itchy skin blisters like those that occur with shingles.
Lemon balm also has antispasmodic properties (most concentrated in the essential oil) that make it useful for treating indigestion, menstrual cramps, and irritable bowel syndrome. (Prescription for Herbal Healing)
Lemon balm is also used in cooking to add a bit of tangy goodness to your recipes. I’ve seen suggestions for adding it to salads, marinating chicken or fish with it, making infused herb water, etc. Rosemary Gladstar also suggests that this can be made into a syrup. Combined with kombucha or water kefir, this could make a tasty homemade soda if that is your thing (not mine!) I even read about one mom adding it to her children’s playdough to make it smell good. I think it would be delicious combined with a bit of basil to season brown rice, or added to biscuits with some turmeric to give them some tang and a pop of color! (We add turmeric to everything to make it brighter & more appetizing.)
How much lemon balm do you use? The Herbal Apothecary suggests using lemon balm as either an infusion or tincture. To treat with a tincture us 1-10 drops 1-3 times per day. To use as an infusion, steep 1 tsp. of dried herb per cup and take 1-3 cups per day. It can be dried without losing its benefits, but many people find they enjoy using it fresh best because of its scent & flavor.
How to grow Lemon Balm? This is my first year growing lemon balm, but it is related to mint, so I am hoping that my general “blink and it is taking over everything” method works as well for lemon balm as it does for mint! (Though it apparently does not have the tendency to spread and engulf everything like mint does, and instead stays bushier.)I planted mine in full sun near our duck pen where we walk by it often & will remember to harvest it. The Herbal Apothecary describes Lemon Balm as a perennial that will grown happily in any type of soil and sun situation in zones 4-11. Mother Earth News notes that it actually does better in a slightly cooler environment and when planted in warmer climates does best in partial shade. Though you can start it from seed in spring or fall, I bought mine as a little plant to give myself a head start. I tend to do this more with perennials than annuals because it feels like a better investment to me.
Overall, I am super excited to learn more about lemon balm & be able bless my family with its many benefits. We will specifically be preparing it as an antiviral, and keeping it in mind when fighting fevers. Any herb that is actually easy to grow and is a perennial is a BIG plus in my book as well!