With its citrusy aroma and quilted lime-green leaves, lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) brightens our gardens and kitchens alike. This mint family medicinal is known as the “gladdening herb” for the uplifting qualities it brings to the spirit. Children have a particular fondness for its sunny aroma and sour flavor. Bees are equally fond of the herb—so much so that the Greek word for bee, melissa, is another name for the plant.
The origin of the word balm is similarly telling: it is derived from balsam, a plant or application with healing or restorative qualities. Lemon balm has long been thought to impart vitality and bestow longevity. Paracelsus, the Swiss alchemist, called the herb “the elixir of life.”
Medicinal Uses of Lemon Balm
MEDICINAL PREPARATIONS: Infusion, tincture, vinegar, honey, oxymel, infused oil, salve, pesto, finishing salts, compound butter, and condiment
ACTIONS: Nervine, hypnotic, carminative, antiviral, antibacterial, antianxiety, antidepressant, antioxidant, and diaphoretic
ENERGETICS: Cooling and slightly drying
Lemon balm is both soothing and uplifting. Tea is the best form for its nervine qualities, as the herb’s essential oils gently waft over the imbiber from the teacup. It is a gentle sedative, on par with mint (Mentha spp.), linden (Tilia spp.), and chamomile (Matricaria recutita), and safe for children or those with chronic illness. Lemon balm assuages tension headaches, anxiety, insomnia, restlessness, and panic attacks. Combine it with milky oats (Avena sativa), ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), and skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) as a tonic herb for stress.
As a carminative, lemon balm soothes intestinal gas and bloating, especially when stress-related. Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), mint (Mentha spp.), and catnip (Nepeta cataria) are all fine companions for lemon balm in a digestive tea for all ages. When breastfeeding, you can sip on the tea to help calm restless babies and mollify colic: the herb’s healing qualities pass into breast milk.
Lemon balm and lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) play a starring role in the centuries-old herbal toner known as Queen of Hungary’s Water. This garden cosmetic also features rose (Rosa spp.), calendula (Calendula officinalis), rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus), sage (Salvia officinalis), elderflower (Sambucus nigra var. canadensis), and comfrey (Symphytum officinale) infused in a base of vinegar or witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) extract. The fragrant elixir is an antioxidant and astringent toner—it is said to have kept the queen looking so sprightly that she attracted the attention of a suitor nearly 50 years her junior.
Precautions: The herb may lower thyroid levels; consult a medical practitioner and use cautiously in hypothyroidism and with thyroid hormone replacement.