Lemon-y Balm

It’s the height of summer. Most of the herbs have already bloomed and are starting to die back except … the greenest part of my garden nine months of the year is the Lemon Balm bed. It’s so bright it almost shines.

Lemon Balm Melissa officinalis gets it nickname from its lemony scent and “Balm” is a derivative of “Balsam”, which means it has balsamic-type volatile oils. You will hear most aromatherapists and herbalists refer to it simply as “Melissa” to prevent confusion with other “Balms”.

Dried Melissa doesn’t smell nearly as wonderful as fresh. That’s because the oils that make it smell so good are volatile and dissipate quickly in the drying process. The leaves also don’t have nearly as much volatile oil as, say, Rosemary, making it one of the most expensive essential oils on the market. However, it is very easy to grow, being a member of the mint family, so you can easily have a pot of it on your deck. If you plant it in the garden, beware! Like any other mint it will spread quickly, taking over space you’ve allocated for other plants.

Melissa is one of my favorite herbs to use. It is anti-spasmodic, antiviral, antibacterial and mildly sedative. It has been used for centuries for its restorative and healing powers. As far back as the early Greeks, it was steeped in wine as a remedy for snakebites and scorpion stings. In the 17th century, French Carmelite nuns made their “Carmelite Water” with Melissa as an elixir thought to improve memory & vision, and reduce rheumatic pain, fever, melancholy and depression.

Aromatherapists use the essential oil to relieve anxiety, shock, depression and nightmares. Depending on the circumstances, it may be used in a massage oil, or inhalation of the vapors of the essential oil.

One of the best known uses for Melissa is for herpes. Herpes simplex is a virus that, once contracted lives in the body, occasionally manifesting itself in “cold sores” (often at the most inconvenient times). Applying Melissa essential oil diluted in Vitamin E oil will quickly clear that unsightly sore. Using a lip balm made with Melissa may help keep the virus dormant, reducing the chances of  a cold sore erupting in the first place.

You can also make a tea with the leaves and use it as a wash for skin prone to acne. Combine it with German Chamomile as a wash for eczema and skin allergies.

A cup of Melissa tea can ease headaches, indigestion and nausea. Since it causes a slight dilation of the blood vessels, it can be used to help lower blood pressure. It is somewhat cooling and is a good addition to teas made to reduce fever. Its sedative properties are also great for relieving tension in our stress-filled world. (I love to relax with a cup of Melissa tea after a long day at the office, or sun-infused iced tea after a hot day in the garden.) If blended with other herbs, it adds a cheery note to the tea.

One caveat: Melissa may interfere with the action of thyroid medications. Check with your doctor if this may be a problem before using Melissa.

Melissa’s sedative properties make it a wonderful ingredient in spells to heal people with nervous disorders or to simply bring a little peace to a stressful life. It has been used in Arabian magic to attract love: steep a handful of fresh leaves in a bottle of wine for several hours, strain and share with a friend.  (You don’t need to do magic for this … if you use white wine it’s very tasty!)

It’s going to be a hot day. I think I’ll head out to the garden, pick a few stems and get a jar of Melissa tea going in the sun.

1 Comment

  • Laura Perry Posted July 16, 2010 8:58 am

    I make Balm Water (Carmelite Water) – it’s one of my favorite homemade liqueurs. I use it for, ahem, medicinal purposes; it will knock out a headache in no time flat. But it’s also just plain delicious as an after-dinner drink. It’s easy, since the lemon balm does its best to take over the back yard on a regular basis LOL

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