Lemon balm is an herb that earns its keep in the garden. True to its name, it has an uplifting lemon scent. Its Latin name is Melissa Officinalis and in ancient times this amazing herb was known as a cure-all and was steeped in wine to lift the spirits and heal wounds.
Lemon Balm is especially attractive to honeybees when flowering. For centuries, the beekeepers have planted lemon balm near the beehives. Its strong lemon fragrance is believed to attract and settle the honey bee swarms. Many ancient beekeepers would rub lemon balm leaves on their beehives to increase the production of honey inside. That's why in a few regions, lemon balm has been known as bee balm. (Not to be confused with the other Bee Balm, Monarda. And now you also know why herbalists prefer to use Latin names for plants! 😂) It is truly an attractive pollinator not only to bees but also to hummingbirds and butterflies.
Growing Lemon Balm
Lemon Balm is a perennial from zones 4a to 9b. Lemon balm is in the mint family. Anytime you hear the term, “in the mint family,” you can equate it with the term invasive. The mint family loves to spread. Lemon balm doesn’t spread the way other mints do, instead, it reseeds itself aggressively. You can vigorously prune lemon balm to just a few inches tall several times over the summer to control spread. Pruning prevents it from flowering and going to seed. It also helps the plant to grow bushier. That same invasive quality also makes it easy to grow from seed and propagate.
Sow lemon balm seeds ¼ inch deep. They should be lightly covered with soil to germinate. You can sow seeds indoors two months before your last frost day. You can also propagate lemon balm by taking a cutting from a healthy stem with new green growth at the tips and taking about a 2-3 inch cutting down the stem. Strip the lower leaves leaving only the new growth at the top of the cutting. Place the cut stem in water. In three to four weeks you will see strong roots develop. Then plant it. You can also place the cutting in soil and allow the roots to develop. Many gardeners believe that this method of propagation makes for a stronger, more resilient plant.
Lemon balm grows well in nearly all soil types but thrives best in rich, well-drained soil. It does best in full sun in northern climates and with a bit of shade in hot southern climates. It does not like soggy soil or humidity. Fertilizing the plant is said to lessen the strength of its scent so it's better to side-dress with aged compost.
It is a fantastic herb to dive into herbalism with because it is a gentle herb with very few contraindications. A contraindication is a term that herbalists throw around a lot and it simply means instances when it would be inadvisable for someone to take the herb.
Lemon balm slightly lowers blood pressure so it is contraindicated for those struggling with hypothyroidism. It is also capable of stimulating the uterus so it is inadvisable for those that are or may be pregnant. There is also a train of thought among many herbalists that say that lemon balm taken in proper dosage has no contraindications. As always, do your research before deciding to take or use any herb.
The properties of lemon balm are
Nervine - It acts on the nervous system to reduce anxiety and tension.
Sedative - Calms irritability, excitement, and nervousness.
Mild antidepressant - Treats mild depression.
Mild antispasmodic - Relieves muscle spasms.
Vasodilating hypotensive - Opens the blood vessels causing lower blood pressure.
Carminative - Relieves flatulence.
Diaphoretic - Promotes sweating.
Antiviral - Effective against viruses.
Lemon balm is a great herb for managing anxiety. It is especially great for nervous/anxious stomach aches. Lemon balm has both preventative and curative effects on anxiety. Its nervine properties calm down nervousness and edginess helping to avoid anxiety triggers. It helps cure stress and anxiety by triggering the production of a neurotransmitter called gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) which the brain uses as its main response to stress. GABA works by depressing neuronal activity. Lemon balm in calms down the hyperactive anxious thoughts of the brain.
Lemon balm's antiviral properties are famous for its ability to tackle the herpes virus. It is effective in reducing symptoms of both HSV1 (cold sores) and HSV2 (genital herpes). In one research study, the average healing time of cold cores was halved to about 5 days and the time between outbreaks doubled. It works by binding the virus and inhibiting its entry into cells. It also has anti-inflammatory properties that help reduce swelling and redness. Lemon balm works great for preventing the shedding of the virus and causing an outbreak as well as lessening the duration of an outbreak. It can be taken internally as well as applied topically to the skin.
Lemon balm helps reduce the frequency of heart palpitations episodes. Studies on rats have also shown that it contains an antiarrhythmic agent, offering protection from arrhythmia or irregular heartbeat. It also dilates blood vessels and lowers blood pressure making it indicated for hypertension. It also lowers cholesterol.
Studies have shown that lemon balm improves memory and demented states including Alzheimer’s disease. It helps dementia patients by modulating their mood. Lemon balm oil aromatherapy has been shown to make patients less agitated, less socially withdrawn, and more constructively engaged in just four weeks. Its high level of antioxidants is believed to offer some protection against the free radical damage associated with dementia.
Herbalists often use lemon balm as an indication for Graves disease, a hyperthyroid condition. It inhibits the thyroid-stimulating hormone and restricts Grave’s disease.
It inhibits histamine making it a great remedy to place on bug bites. It also helps with histamine-driven conditions such as eczema and headaches.
Lemon balm improves digestion and helps with stomach discomfort including flatulence, loss of appetite, indigestion, nausea, and nervous stomach aches.
Using Lemon Balm
Lemon balm’s lemony scent makes it a delightful cup of tea. To make an infusion use 1 tablespoon per cup of water. It pairs well with lavender, mint, ginger, rosemary, and more.
A lemon balm tincture can be made by filling a glass jar 2/3 full with fresh chopped lemon balm or ½ full of dried lemon balm and covering with 80-90 proof grain alcohol. Label and store in a dark location for six weeks. Strain the material. Use 0-60 drops 1-4 times per day in a little water.
Lemon balm can be made into salves and chapsticks for topical application. An herbal bath is said to reduce stress and improve acne.
Lemon balm is also a versatile culinary herb. It imparts a delicate lemon fragrance to foods. It tastes great in salads, on fish, chicken, or any dish that you would use lemon in. It makes a delicious lemony pesto.
Lemon Balm Recipe Round-Up
🍋 Lemon Balm Tincture https://www.growforagecookferment.com/lemon-balm-tincture/
🍋 Lemon Balm Lemonade https://theherbalacademy.com/lemon-balm-lemonade/
🍋 Lemon Balm Pesto with Shrimp https://artofnaturalliving.com/lemon-balm-pesto-with-shrimp/
🍋 Lemon Balm Lavender Popsicles https://www.growforagecookferment.com/herbal-popsicles-lavender-lemon-balm/
🍋 Cold Sore Lip Balm https://thenerdyfarmwife.com/super-healing-cold-sore-lip-balm/
🍋 Lemon Balm Poppy Seed Cookies https://homespunseasonalliving.com/lemon-balm-poppy-seed-cookies/
🍋 Lemon Balm Jelly https://www.justapinch.com/recipes/sauce-spread/jam/lemon-balm-jelly.html
🍋 Lemon Balm Biscuits https://homespunseasonalliving.com/lemon-balm-drop-biscuits/
🍋 Lemon Balm Vinagrette https://stepawayfromthecarbs.com/lemon-balm-vinaigrette/
🍋 Lemon Balm Soap https://thenerdyfarmwife.com/lemon-balm-soap/
🍋 Roasted Lemon Balm Chicken https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/214957/roasted-lemon-balm-chicken/
Lemon balm is a simple herb to grow and there are so many wonderful ways to utilize its delicious lemon scent as well as its medicinal qualities. This herb earns its keep in your garden!