Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Lemon Balm: Food Or Medicine

Lemon Balm picked from my herb bed.

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) seems to be a herb that many people are curious about. I will be honest with you, I did not know much about it myself until I started growing it. A local lady had some plants to share on Freecycle so I went to her house and she offered me some lemon balm.

I planted it in the center of one of my raised beds. This bed is round, and I couldn't have any plants that I would need to dig around underground for, since this used to be our house's previous owners' dump. There were old rugs, tin cans and much, much broken glass in this bed. So I put big rocks around it in a circle of sorts, and added a lot of compost to it. I decided to use it for a herb bed so that all I had to do was to harvest  the herbs. Once they were growing, I would not have to dig around in the bed. It has worked great. I have chives, oregano, and a couple of flowers as well, as the lemon balm growing in it. The lemon balm though, will take over the whole bed if you allow it to. I cut it back often and harvest it almost all summer long. I also cut it way down in the fall after the frost has hit it.

Lemon Balm has a very good reputation, as it is a herb that many mothers will give to their children. It is known for being a relaxing herb and one that will relieve stress. Well publicized is the fact, that it relaxes you and will cause you to fall asleep if you are having trouble sleeping. It is also used for digestive upsets. But is used for far more than that!

Dried lemon balm stored in a tin.

I use it as a dried leaf tea or infusion. Infusions being made by adding about an ounce of it or so, to boiling water. I use a handful of the dried leaves and put in a quart size canning jar. Then fill the jar with boiling hot water and cap. I usually do it overnight and let it sit, at least eight hours. In the morning, you can strain out the herb if you choose or not. Add sweetening if you want and drink it through out the day. To make tea, put the dried or fresh leaves in a tea ball and add boiling water. Let it sit for a little bit and then take out the tea ball. Add sweetening or drink plain. Either way is good.

An oz. about a handful in a jar, add boiling water.

Lemon Balm extract has been found to contain acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is a messenger compound that is found to be lacking in the brain cell cultures of Alzheimer's patients. It has also been used for period cramps, headaches, toothaches, digestive upsets, nervousness, colds and sleeplessness. Poultices of the leaves are used for tumors, sores and insect bites. In Europe extracts of lemon balm are sold for genital herpes and cold sores. Germany approves it's use for sleeplessness stemming from nervousness, and also for digestive upsets. It contains 8 antiviral compounds, 8 sedative compounds and 12 anti-inflammatory components. The leaves contain antibacterial, antihistaminic, antispasmodic and antioxidant activity.

I also use it in cooking and adding it to ice tea for the lemon scent and slight taste. It is not as strong as a lemon, but it is a good addition to any dish. I notice that at times the lemon scent is stronger than other times. Sometimes I will cut long stems of it, and put it in the kitchen in a vase, just to give us that wonderful lemon scent in the house. So refreshing! Many times I add it to stuffing, potato casseroles, spaghetti sauces, chili, soups, stews. Just about anything, as it is not a real powerful lemon flavor. Fresh leaves are a welcome addition to our fresh salads all summer long. I make salads with a variety of wild, as well as my own homegrown greens.

Capped and wait overnight to drink.

I researched this information from various sources.  But my biggest and most reliable source, I use for all my herbal use for wild foods or medicinal plants are the Peterson Field Guides. This one is my constant use book, Eastern Central Medicinal Plants and Herbs written by Stephen Foster and James A. Duke. This book is exceptional! I highly recommend it if you are using wild plants for any use.

Copyright © 2010  Kathleen G. Lupole

All Photographs Copyright © 2010  Kathleen G. Lupole

Clinical studies and double blind tests have not been done and are therefore not endorsed by the FDA. Information provided is for educational and experimental purposes only and my opinion only. If you have any questions, please consult your physician.

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