Lemon Balm - Melissa officinalis

Lemon Balm leaves; veins clearly visible, opposite growth and toothed edges.

Lemon Balm leaves; veins clearly visible, opposite growth and toothed edges.

Why Get to know this plant:

This plant, although not a native of North America, has spread from gardens and often pops up as a weed. It has a beautifully pleasant aroma and is gentle and soothing both to the digestive tract and to the nerves. Lemon Balm leaves are great in tea to help relieve gas, indigestion and discomfort, but also is useful to calm the nerves and lessen anxious tendencies if they are playing a roll on the digestive tract. This is a great plant for use for those who suffer from irritable bowel and stress induced indigestion. The smell and taste is slightly lemon, sweet and aromatic both when dried or when used fresh to make a cold lemon-iced tea type drink. The leaves are also strongly antiviral and therefore immune boosting for fighting a viral cold or flu. It combines well with liquorice for a strong antiviral effect. Also combines well with chamomile and valerian, skullcap or passionflower for a complete sedative/nervine.

Topically it is used to treat cold sores due to its strong anti-viral ability.

 

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Where This Plant grows:

This plant is not native to north America but has spread from gardens. Bees love lemon balm, in fact sometimes it is called bee balm. You can findit pop up in gardens, along forest edges and in fields. Keep your eyes open and you will see it, the distinct lemon smell and mint appearance make it easy to identify.

 

How to Identify:

As a member of the mint family this perennial grows and spreads as it is able to. It has upright, branching, alternate leaves and 4 sided stems, grows to 10 to 20 inches high. Leaves are opposite and oval, with coarsely marked veins, hair and rounded teeth along the margins. Flowers are small white to pink, popping up in clusters around the stem.

 

Parts Used:

Harvested and cleared lemon balm and chamomile flowers for a relaxing, digestive tea blend. Must be spread out to dry

Harvested and cleared lemon balm and chamomile flowers for a relaxing, digestive tea blend. Must be spread out to dry

Fresh young leaves are most aromatic, plant is best harvested just before the flowers open.

 

Medicinal Actions:

Relaxant, antispasmodic, increases sweating, carminative, antiviral, nerve tonic

 

Tips from Experience

Remove the leaves from the stems for quickest drying. Fresh leaves in a lemonade type drink or iced tea are delicious.

 

Caution: 

Caution in those with hypothyroidism or other thyroid conditions since lemon balm may interact with the action of thyroid hormones.

 

Flowers around the stem at the middle of the plant.

Flowers around the stem at the middle of the plant.

Constituents in the plant:

Volatile oils: citral a and b, caryophyllene oxide, citronellal, geraniol, linalool, nerol

Flavonoids: isoquercetrin, apigenin-7-O-glucoside

Triterpenoids, rosmarinic acid

Tannins, ursolic acid, caffeic acid, polyphenolic agents

 

References:

Boon, Heather and Smith, Michael. (2000) The Botanical Pharmacy: The Pharmacology of 47 Common Herbs. 2nd Ed. Quarry Press. p. 220-224

Hoffman, D. (2001)  Medical Herbalism: the Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Healing Arts Press. p. 567  

Mills, Simon (1991) The Essential Book of Herbal Medicine. 2nd Ed. Pinguin Press. London. p. 677