As the day lengthens and the snow slowly disappears, I am planning the garden. I think I’ll create a new bed specifically for plants that cross from culinary to medicinal with ease. I am particularly interested in growing a large patch of lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) in the new garden.
Lemon balm is part of the mint family. Although most mints like to grow on the vertical axis, lemon balm is a humble plant: not exactly a creeper, but low growing like a very small bush. It has a scent sweet with lemon undertones, and leaves scalloped edges. The season here is not long enough for it to flower but if it did flower, they are quiet and not bold like the bee balm (Mondara spp.).
Balm, as fondly called by Europeans, has thrived in herb gardens for a very long time. Charlemagne in the 800’s, called The Father of Europe, ordered that balm be grown in every medicinal herb garden through his empire. In this way, he guaranteed his people a continuous supply of balm’s soothing medicine. Later European herbalist John Gerard (late 1500’s) suggested using balm to “comforteth the hart and driveth away all sadness.”
Lemon balm’s medicine is also loved in the Middle East. Arab herbalist, Avicenna in the 11th century wrote, “Balm causeth the mind and heart to become merry.”
Today balm is favored as a gentle but effect nerve tonic. But when I hear the word hyper attached to any condition (hypertension, hyperthyroid, hyper-acidity, hyperactive, hypersensitive, etc.) I think of lemon balm.
In traditional herbal medicine, hyper conditions are associated with excess heat and tension in the body and mind. Lemon balm cools hot conditions, including hot guts and hot heads. Like many mint family plants, lemon balm calms upset stomachs and improves over all digestion while quieting the mind.
Using a lemon balm tincture combined with another mint family plant, bugleweed (Lycopus virginicus) I have effectively quieted down the symptoms of a hyperthyroid. These two herbs effectively manage the sleeplessness, anxiety, heart palpations and sweating caused by an over active thyroid. Unfortunately they are strictly used to manage the symptoms and it takes more effort and variety of approaches to resolve the underlying issues causing the hyperthyroid.
Many use lemon balm effectively for insomnia. I am hesitant to suggest it as remedy for insomnia though. Not because of the herb, it is calming. It is my experience that insomnia has many causes. It is more a symptom than a condition. Simply recommending lemon balm for insomnia without understanding the underlying cause of sleeplessness, may be setting lovely lemon balm up for failure. But after a long stressful day, lemon balm is a perfect tea to unwind and relax before bed.
Lemon balm is great medicine for children. It has an anti-viral action and has a long history of being used as compresses to calm chickenpox and other herpes virus outbreaks. Offering an irritable, sick child a sweetened cup of lemon balm tea will quiet them down and ease them into sleep. For infants, adding a couple of cups of lemon balm tea to a bath will calm and soothe them.
In the last month of pregnancy a tea of lemon balm also comes in handy. It settles heartburn and calms the restless anticipation of labour. Many people like to use chamomile tea during this time. But I like the lightness lemon balm brings to the mind. It offers hopefulness to heart, a sense of optimism that I find chamomile lacks.
For this reason, it is also favored in formulas designed to ease depression, particularly when it associated with anxiety.
I really like offering lemon balm to someone who has been living on caffeine and adrenaline for months on end. It is perfect for taking them off the edge and re-establishing a sense of calm coping.
Mostly I offer lemon balm as a tea. But with the plants from the garden I make a fresh tincture. This is medicine made without drying the plants first. I find a fresh plant tincture of lemon balm carries the strongest and calmest medicine. Unfortunately by this time of year, I have used up all my fresh plant tincture and need to rely on dried herbs. Hence my plan to enlarge the garden with lemon balm. I am taking Charlemagne’s advise.