Nestled in herb gardens and often found peeking through wild spaces, Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) is more than just a pretty face in the plant world. Its citrus-scented leaves, reminiscent of lemons (hence the name), have been a staple in both culinary and medicinal herb gardens for centuries. This perennial herb, a member of the mint family, is not only easy to grow but comes packed with an array of benefits that make it a must-have in your garden.
A Touch of History and Lore
Lemon Balm’s journey began in the Mediterranean region and quickly spread throughout Europe. It was cherished by the Greeks and Romans for its calming properties. Legend has it that even bees couldn’t resist its charm, which is fitting since ‘Melissa’ in Greek means ‘honey bee’. The herb was believed to bring love and success and was used in various magical practices. In the language of herbs, Lemon Balm symbolizes sympathy and is often planted to attract bees and butterflies, bringing your garden to life.
Growing Lemon Balm
One of the best things about Lemon Balm is its forgiving nature. It thrives in well-drained soil, loves the sun but tolerates shade, and is resilient to neglect. Whether in a pot or in a garden bed, this herb spreads joy (and itself) quite easily. Be mindful, though, it can be a bit invasive, so you might want to keep it in check unless you want a Lemon Balm takeover!
The Many Benefits of Lemon Balm
Now, let’s talk about why Lemon Balm is not just another pretty leaf. Traditionally, it’s been used to ease stress(I make a glycerite of Lemon Balm and Chamomile for this specifically), help with sleep, and boost cognitive function. Its calming effects are renowned, often used in teas and tinctures to soothe nerves and improve mood. As a mild sedative, it’s a go-to herb for those restless nights. And for the skin? It’s a natural healer, often used in balms and creams for its antiviral and antibacterial properties. Lemon balm has also been shown to reduce the length and pain of a herpes infection.
Culinary Uses: Beyond the Tea Cup
In the kitchen, Lemon Balm’s lemony zest transforms dishes. It’s a wonderful addition to salads, sauces, and dressings, bringing a refreshing twist. Lemon Balm infused water or cocktails? Yes, please! Its subtle lemon flavor makes it a fantastic herbal alternative to lemon zest.
Harvesting and Preservation
Harvesting Lemon Balm is a breeze. Just snip off the leaves as needed. The best time to harvest is right before it flowers when the leaves are packed with oils. To preserve, drying or freezing works wonders. You can also create Lemon Balm oil or vinegar for a delightful culinary treat.
A Word of Caution
Though generally safe, it is noted that Lemon Balm can interfere with sedatives and thyroid medication. As with any herb, check for allergies and consult with a healthcare provider, especially if you’re pregnant, nursing, or on either of those medications.
Lemon Balm is So Worth Growing
Lemon Balm is not just an herb; it’s a multipurpose plant that caters to your garden, your kitchen, and your well-being. Its ease of growing, coupled with its myriad of uses, makes it a favorite among gardeners and herbalists alike. So, why not add a touch of lemony zest to your life with this charming herb?