Herbal Branch 24:
Building an Herbal Medicine Chest: Lemon balm uses
A refreshing summer tea that calms anxiety, restores depleted energy and helps hayfever. Is this too good to be true?
I’ve been working with a new herbal ally this month, and have made some great discoveries that I can now pass on to you. Each month, my herbal studies program at RavenCroft Garden has me focus on learning about one plant.
This month, I chose Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis), and as you will see, the timing couldn’t have been better. Lemon balm's uses are many.
John has been studying and studying for the past few months in order to take the National Boards for Acupuncture certification, and last week he finally had to take the test.
As the date approached, John got more and more stressed out and depleted. At the same time he was dealing with his yearly hay fever, which lasts throughout the month of June for him.
Meanwhile, I was reading about Lemon Balm, and guess what I discovered?
Lemon Balm is relaxing and soothing for the nerves!
Not only that, it’s a great general tonic.
Being a mild, nutritive herb it’s great to use every day. While it calms anxiety it also acts to restore depleted energy and revitalize us. Lemon Balm can also act as a decongestant and antihistamine, helping with even chronic problems like asthma or allergies.
Finally, I read that it has an old reputation for enhancing understanding and memory.
“John,” I said, “I think you ought to be drinking a Lemon Balm infusion every day.”
He agreed without even asking why, and I began making them for him that very day.
AND, it worked!
They tasted great to him, and he told me that he felt much calmer when drinking them. We’ll see when they send the test results whether the part about understanding and memory holds true as well…
Now, over the past couple of weeks in Washington it has also gotten HOT. The solstice has come and gone, and summer is officially here.
What we discovered is that lemon balm makes a wonderful iced tea. Not only does it taste great, it works with our bodies to lower our body temperature.
How to use Lemon balm
You can make a tisane with fresh cuttings of lemon balm from your garden by taking cuttings from your lush stand, chopping them up and pouring boiling water over them. I used about 3 handfuls for a 1⁄2 gallon jar. Let this steep for at least a couple of hours, then chill and serve.
Or you can make an infusion, using 1 ounce of dried herb per quart of water and letting it steep for at least four hours before straining and chilling in the refrigerator.
Be sure to put a lid on your jar for both the tisane and infusion. Lemon Balm has its fresh lemony scent because of its volatile oils and they will evaporate with the steam if you leave your brew to steep uncovered.
By the beginning of June, the Lemon Balm stand in my garden had grown above knee-height but was not yet flowering.
At this point, I cut it all back to the ground. I used those three handfuls to make a tisane that day, and dried the rest, hanging some in my bedroom out of direct sunlight and putting the rest in the dehydrator on low for about 1 day.
Now, the stand has rejuvenated itself and is about 5 inches tall already. I should get another complete harvest before the end of the summer.
This is great, because the lemon balm I dried is now almost gone.
Not only have I used it as infusions for John, and iced-tea for our family and friends, I’ve also been using it with Rowan. He’s had a viral infection that has caused small wart-like bumps on his chin and chest for a while now. Guess what? Lemon Balm is also an anti-viral herb, and so Rowan has been drinking lemon balm infusions daily as well.
We’ve also used it as a wash, dipping a rag in the infusion and dabbing it on the bumps each night before he goes to bed. Since we started using Lemon Balm the bumps have started healing!
See what I mean that the timing couldn’t have been better? This was the perfect month for our family to discover the many benefits of lemon balm, and this is the perfect time for you to harvest and dry some for yourself!
Enjoy your lemony iced-tea!