Three Easy Ways to Work with Melissa officinalis (Lemon Balm)

This year, we planted new herbs in our garden hoping to both experience the joy of watching them grow and make medicine with them.  One of the herbs my daughter chose is Melissa officinalis commonly called lemon Balm. She loves the taste of lemon balm as tea and wanted to try fresh lemon balm in addition to the dried. We planted a single plant in a pot, and she grew with little maintenance or effort aside from an occasional watering.

Lemon Balm is a perennial plant in the mint (Lamiaceae) family that is easy to grow and a treasure for both bees and people in the garden, and as a medicine. Melissa is Greek for “bee” and because this plant was so loved by honeybees she was named after them. There are records of the medicinal and culinary qualities of Melissa o. starting in ancient Greece with the philosopher Theophrastus of Eresus (372-287 BCE) in his Historia Plantarum and continued in Spain and Europe until modern times. To read an excellent summary click on this link (http://cms.herbalgram.org/herbalgram/issue115/hg115-herbprofile.html) to the HerbalGram entry in The Journal of the American Botanical Council.  

Some of the chemical constituents found in this lemon scented plant are antioxidant phenolic acids, rosmarinic acid; flavonoids (luteolin-3’ -O-glucurinde), and essential oils (citronellal, neral, and geranial) (Engels and Brinckmann, 2017).  

According to several sources, the chemical properties in lemon balm may have medicinal benefits in many situations such as to release excess body heat in cases of heat stroke or fever, help decrease the activity of the herpes virus (including chicken pox and shingles), may calm nerve pain in those afflicted by multiple sclerosis or fibromyalgia, may help as an exhilarant (potentially helpful in cases of anxiety or depression), useful in sleep formulas, and may help soothe and calm those who need it. Lemon balm tincture may be helpful to persons with Grave’s disease or goiters (Cech, 2016).  Lemon balm can be used alone or in formula with other plants to enhance the desired effects. You can talk with an herbalist (such as myself) to discuss your specific situation if needed. In general, lemon balm is safe for everyone and does not have any known herb/drug interactions.

Lemon balm in my garden.

Three easy ways you can incorporate lemon balm into your life are through tea, tincture, and infused wine. The main way my family consumes lemon balm is as a dried herb in tea. Lemon balm is very soothing and calming so when I know either myself or a family member is headed for a high stress day, I add a generous portion of lemon balm to our tea blend. There are so many variations you can try! I change it up depending on the specific circumstance for the day as well as the individual’s personal taste. Of course, JUST lemon balm is perfectly fine too!

The following information is for educational purposes. I am not a doctor and cannot diagnose, treat, or cure any diseases.

Tea:

You will need: container such as french press or mason jar, strainer or cheesecloth (unless you used a french press), spoon, herbs, water, tea pot or container to boil water, teacup or mug. I’ve purchased my dried lemon balm in bulk from Mountain Rose Herbs; however, if you are reading this in August 2020, shipping is behind about three weeks because of the Coronavirus. I am not affiliated with MRH and I do not receive anything from them for the recommendation.

If you already have a preferred method for making loose tea, follow that. A general herb to water ratio is 2 – 3 tablespoons of herbs to 16 ounces of water.

  • Boil water.
  • Pour boiling water over the herbs, use a lid or cover so the precious essential oils do not evaporate.
  • Steep at least 15 – 20 minutes or until cool enough to drink
  • Strain and serve.
  • You may use honey if desired.
  • For a medicinal dose, I drink at least one quart per day of any tea.  

 Sample blends:

  1. Uplifting – Equal parts: lemon balm, tulsi, calendula, and ½ part rose petal
  2. Sleep Blend – Equal parts: lemon balm, catnip, chamomile, passionflower and wood betony or skullcap.
  3. Calming – lemon balm, tulsi, catnip, and peppermint (may include St. John’s Wort as long as you are NOT taking pharmaceutical drugs)
  4. Comforting – lemon balm, linden, hawthorn berry, chamomile, and tulsi
  5. Fever Reducing – Lemon balm and elderflower
Beginning of tea stepping in a French Press. You can stir the herbs before putting the lid on (I only had one hand while taking the video :)).

Fresh Lemon Balm Tincture:

You will need: fresh lemon balm leaves, 100 proof vodka, mason jar, label.

After the tincture has macerated and you are ready to strain, you will need: strainer and cheese cloth, funnel, amber bottles with droppers for storage, labels.

  • Harvest the fresh leaves from your plant. I harvest mid-day when the sun is out, and the leaves are dry. Often, I will spread the leaves on a piece of parchment paper while I prepare for the next step so any insects can escape.
  • Coarsely chop the leaves to increase the surface area and fill a mason jar between ½ packed or 2/3 loose. Cover with alcohol such as vodka. The leaves will expand a little, and you may need to add more alcohol over the next few hours or days. Basically, you will want to have alcohol to the top of the jar fully covering the leaves. Screw the lid on tight and label your jar with the contents and the date.
  • Keep the jar in a warm place out of direct sunlight, such as in a cabinet. Shake the jar once or twice a day for 4-8 weeks.
  • Strain the mixture using a tea strainer, cheesecloth, milk nut bag, etc…. anything that is sterile and will remove all the plant material from the tincture. (You can watch my Tincture straining video on youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VDOQbqqoV3U)
  • Bottle and label.
  • Alcohol-based tinctures will keep almost indefinitely if stored properly in amber bottles in a cool dark place.

Lemon Balm Infused White Wine

Full disclosure, I have not tried this yet. In one of the herbal videos I watched, herbalist and educator Katya Evans of Common Wealth Center for Holistic Herbalism, suggested a lemon balm infused chilled white wine as a wonderful gift to bring to a dinner party where you anticipated heated political discussions. I don’t know about you, but I think we all might need chilled lemon balm infused white wine this election year 😊.

You will need: herbs, white wine (save bottle to re-bottle if you want), 16-ounce mason jar, strainer, funnel, labels

  • In a 16-ounce mason jar, add approximately 3 inches of lemon balm or a combination of lemon balm with other herbs of your choice.
  • Pour the entire bottle of wine over the herbs and close with a lid.
  • Label the jar with the date, herbs, and type of wine.
  • Shake the bottle daily for at least a few days and up to one month. The longer you leave the herbs, the stronger your extract will be. Store in a cool dark place.
  • Strain the herbs using the mesh strainer or cheese cloth (make sure there are no herbs left in the wine). You can re-use the same wine bottle if you saved it; otherwise store in a colored glass bottle. Label.
  • Chill and serve!

Before trying something you read on the Internet, it is a good idea to do your own research and consult your physician or pharmacist. 

Peace and Love,

Jennifer

Resources:

Cech, R. (2016). Making plant medicine. (4th ed).Williams, OR: Herbal Reads.

Engels,G. and Brinckmann, J. (2017). Lemon Balm [Monograph]. Retrieved from http://cms.herbalgram.org/herbalgram/issue115/hg115-herbprofile.html

Grieve, G. (1971). A modern herbal. (vol 1). New York: Dover.

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