Melissa (Melissa officinalis) is known by its more common name Lemon Balm. If you pick one of the leaves and crush it between your fingers it is easy to see why. The leaf exudes the smell of a freshly cut lemon. In fact, if you were blindfolded and only used the smell to tell between a lemon and lemon balm, you might not be able to tell the difference.
The reason for the similar scent to lemons has to do with the chemicals contained in the plant. One of the terpenes contained in lemon balm that is also contained in citrus fruit rinds is the chemical Limonene. Limonene has a familiar lemony scent. The extract is used in many foods and product applications for flavoring and scenting.
How To Grow Lemon Balm
Lemon balm is a plant in the mint family. If you observe the leaves closely they look like oversized leaves of other plants in the mint family, for example, spearmint or peppermint. It is a perennial plant that is native to Europe, parts of the Middle East, and Asia. It has been naturalized to grow in temperate regions throughout the world, including the US. In our area of the Ozarks I grow it in containers, but you can make it a part of your flower garden as well. If you choose to grow it in the garden just beware. As with all plants in the mint family it is a prodigious plant. It can easily spread and take over the garden if you don’t control it.
Lemon balm prefers warm weather and will return each year after winter cold has passed. Plant lemon balm in early spring when all danger of frost has passed. This plant flowers in June or July and although the flowers are not large and showy they will produce viable seeds that will spread the plants from their original planting area. The best way to keep these plants from spreading and to make sure you have plenty of the leaves is to cut the plant back. It will become bushy with plenty of the leaves we want to use.
Uses For Lemon Balm
Lemon Balm is known for being a safe and effective mood enhancer. It can be uplifting when you are down and can help you deal with stress. It is also great at helping you deal with nervousness and anxiety. Not only that, but it can also be used to help you fall asleep and stay asleep. It is useful for stomach ailments such as indigestion or nausea. It has traditionally been used by women to help relieve the symptoms of menopause and by those who suffer from menstrual cramps. Furthermore, it may even be able to help relieve cold sores. As you can see, it can be used medicinally for a host of issues. It is also safe for children. You can create an alcohol-free glycerite using vegetable glycerin in place of the alcohol you would use in making a tincture. To learn more about making glycerites you can read this article.
Use It In The Kitchen
Use fresh lemon balm anywhere you would use lemons such as fish or chicken dishes. Finely chop fresh leaves and use them to garnish your dish. You can also add them to the dish as it is cooking to add a mild lemon taste. I also dry some to use in soups and gumbo during the winter months using a food dehydrator. Although you won’t have quite as much lemony flavor as using the fresh herb, you can simply add more to make up the difference. The leaves are edible, and they are high in antioxidants, Vitamin C, and Thiamine. When used in hot dishes it is best to add fresh leaves toward the end of cooking the dish to maximize the flavor.
The leaves can be used to make a tea which has a mild lemon flavor. Steep fresh leaves in boiling water for 5-10 minutes, strain, and drink. Make a sun tea by adding chopped leaves and water to a jar and sitting it out in direct sunlight. You can also add the leaves to a pitcher of tea to get a lemony flavor in the tea without using lemon juice.
For more great recipes using lemon balm you can check out this online PDF from The Herb Society of America.
Now that you know some great uses for lemon balm and how easy it is to grow let us know how you use it in the comments.
If you don’t want to grow your own lemon balm you can get some of the same benefits from Lemon Balm Essential Oil.
For more information about other wild medicinal plants and essential oils you can visit our list of articles.
Disclaimer: This article should not be construed as medical advice. The health information in this article is not intended to assess, diagnose, prescribe, or promise a cure for any medical condition. Consult with your health care professional before considering any natural supplement or plant remedy for your health and wellness. We assume no liability for the use or misuse of the material presented above. Always consult with a medical professional before changing your diet, or using manufactured or natural medications.