Lemon Balm: A Friend for the Bees
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) is a member of the Lamiaceae (Mint) Family. Melissa, the genus name is from the Latin melisso phyllum, meaning, “honey bee” as it is a favorite flower of bees. The species name officinalis means that the herb has long been used by apothecaries.
Lemon balm also goes by the folk names Balm, Bee Balm, Dropsy Plant, Heart’s Delight, Melissa, and “Elixir of Life” (a name given by Paracelsus). Lemon balm was widely used in ancient Greek and Rome. This herb was sacred in the temple of Diana, and priestesses of Aphrodite were called Melissa. Avicenna, the great Arab physician (980-1037) said, Lemon Balm “causeth the mind and heart to be merry.”
The above-ground portion of the place is used as an antibacterial, antidepressant, antihistamine, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antispasmodic, antiviral, aromatic, carminative, cephalic, chologogue, diaphoretic, digestive, emmenagogoue, febrifuge, hypotensive (mild), nervine, parturient, rejuvenative, sedative, stomachic, tonic, and vasodilator.
Lemon Balm is used to treat allergies, amenorrhea, anxiety, asthma, attention deficit, bronchitis, chicken pox, chronic fatigue, colic, colds, depression, Fever, flatulence, Flu, Grave’s disease, headaches, herpes, homesickness, hyperactivity, hypertension, hysteria, indigestion, insomnia, menstrual cramps, migraine, mumps, muscle spasms, nausea, nervousness, Newcastle disease, nightmares, heart palpitations due to nerves, pain, restlessness, senility, shingles, smallpox, stomachache, and teething. Lemon balm clears heat, calms the heart, cleans the liver, improves chi circulation and lifts the spirits. German studies indicate lemon balm’s essential oils help protect the cerebrum from excess external stimuli.
Topically, Lemon balm is used as a compress or poultice for swellings such as boils, burns, eczema, gout, headache, insect bites, sunburn, and tumors. Lemon Balm is made into facial toners, and beauty lotions.
Its essential oil is diluted and applied to herpes, lesions and shingles. It does not kill the virus, but interrupts its replication by binding with the receptor sites, needed by the virus to multiply. The essential oil is included in perfume and massage oils. The herb is included in sachets to repel moths and aid sleep.
Lemon Balm is certainly edible. The chopped leaves can be added to salad, fish and poultry dishes, marinades, pesto, greens, jellies, custards, vinegars, or used as a garnish. Simply put a sprig into your day’s bottle of drinking water to give it a lemony lift. It is included in the alcoholic beverages Benedictine, Chartreuse and many cordials. It is used to make Eau des Carmes, a mixture dating from the seventeenth century by the Carmelites.
Lemon balm was once used for strewing on dirt floors. It makes an uplifting bath herb. In Magical traditions, lemon balm is dried and burned as an incense to attract love and offer protection from negative energies, such as when planted in the garden it will repel many pests.
German studies show that the essential oils of lemon balm act upon the part of the brain governing the autonomic nervous system and protect the cerebrum from excessive external stimuli.
Lemon balm is sour, cold, and dry and long associated with the moon/ Venus, Jupiter,
the element of water and a yin or feminine energy.
It contains vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, volatile oil (citral, linalol, eugenol, citronellal, geraniol), tannins (catechin), bitter principle, resin, polyphenols, flavonoids, succinic acid, and rosmarinic acid.
Lemon Balm, native to Europe, grows in disturbed areas, and open woods. A perennial, it grows to about two feet tall and has a four sided stem. The lemon scented leaves are opposite, oval pointed, and round toothed, the flowers are borne on the auxiliary stems and are a light yellow, white to lavender color. The herb thrives in full sun to partial shade, needs only moderate watering, and prefers well-drained soil. Bees love it and growing lemon balm in the garden and/or rubbing the leaves inside bee hives will attract these beneficial pollinators close to home, truly Nature’s allies.
This is a safe herb for children and good tasting. Lemon balm can lower thyroid function, which is good for some and not for those with hypothyroid conditions. The essential oil is expensive and sometimes adulterated with citronella oil.
Lemon balm has long been associated with the Sun, Mercury, Jupiter and the Moon.
Lemon balm tea is best when made from fresh, rather than dried plant, as far as flavor is concerned. This is a flavorful, refreshing, pleasant lemon scented herbal tea that helps soothe the nervous system. It is suitable for daily use. It can be steeped for ten minutes or longer, as it does not become bitter with longer steeping. It is lovely hot or iced, even made as a simple sun tea and suitable for daily use. Liven up yourself with lemon balm!