Lemon balm. We just had to highlight it this month because it’s all over our gardens! If you’ve ever grown lemon balm, you know. It comes back year after year – sometimes in the most unexpected places. Luckily, it’s pretty and aromatic and when it blooms the bees are all over it! In fact, its other name is Melissa, the Greek word for ‘honeybee.’ In ancient mythology, the group of nymphs called 'melissai' were credited as those who discovered honey.
The use of lemon balm goes back thousands of years. One of its first recorded uses – a wine-infused liniment – is found in the herbal De Materia Medica authored by Dioscorides, a Greek physician, pharmacologist and botanist practicing in 1st century Rome. St. Hildegard of Bingen, abbess, mystic, visionary and naturalist born in 1098 C.E. in present day Germany said, “Lemon balm contains within it the virtues of a dozen other plants.”
In his book From Saint Hildegard’s Kitchen, famed French Chef Jany Fournier-Rosset has compiled recipes from Hildegard’s writings. She believed "foods of joy" revitalized us and helped preserve good health in every sphere -- physical, spiritual, and psychological. Below is a great recipe from that book.
Lemon Balm Soother
Take 1 part lemon balm to 3 parts fennel leaves, boil together in water, strain out the plants, and drink the remaining liquid. This is an elixir used to combat mental confusion. “Lemon balm reduces the effects of harmful humors and prevents them from gaining the upper hand,” says Hildegard. “The juice from the fennel plant puts the person in a proper, cheerful mood.”
Nicholas Culpepper, an English botanist, astrologer, physician, herbalist, and author of the Complete Herbal, written in 1653, said that lemon balm was ruled by the planet Jupiter and associated with the zodiac sign of Cancer, therefore having an association with the water element and thus an effect on emotions. To uplift the spirits, Culpepper suggests that dried lemon balm may be made into a fine 'electuary' with honey.
Lemon Balm-infused Honey
Fill a jar half way with dried lemon balm. Pour honey over the herbs to fill the jar. Cover tightly and put the jar in a sunny windowsill. Tilt the jar from time to time to get the most out of the herb. Wait for at least a week (although a longer steep gives better results) and your infused honey – ‘electuary’ is ready. Stir into tea or take it by the spoonful straight from the jar.
In an ancient text of the Middle East recounting Azerbaijani folk medicine practices called the Tibbname, a bath in lemon balm tea was believed to support heart health and to promote healthy skin. Drinking lemon balm tea is said to calm the stomach and balance mood. According to herbalist Matthew Wood, "melissa will generally calm most people."
Lemon Balm Tea
(with fresh or dried leaf) 1 heaping tablespoon of dried leaves or 2 tablespoons of fresh leaves for each cup of boiling water (or make sun tea by placing herbs and cool water in covered jar in the sun for a few hours) .Strain. Add honey and/or lemon.
We hope you will take the time to get to know lemon balm and all its wonderful uses and remember:
“Lemon balm causes the heart and mind to become merry”