Calming Melissa: How to use lovely lemon balm

lemon balmIt didn’t seem out of the ordinary to be struggling through the last couple of weeks of pregnancy and sometimes feel a little fractitious…ill-tempered…grumpy. Or so I reasoned as I stripped bare the flourishes of spring growth of my lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) 3 days into spring. I’d been hitting the stuff hard those last couple of weeks. Back aches, leg strains, hip disjointedness, cramping, false contractions and an internal, infernal and nocturnal baby I may name Bruce Lee–I was getting beside myself ever-waiting.

So on a little spirit-lifting jaunt to the country, I spied a huge abundant bush of beautiful lemon balm beside a farm gate at a friend’s place, dove in, wriggled around for awhile and collected a bunch for medicinal purposes. Some will sit nicely on my windowsill smelling all lemony and enticing and make a lovely tea on it’s own or added to my pre-natal nettle tea to make it palatable. I’ve also been mixing it with parsley and thyme and adding it to my couscous. But most of my leafy little friend has been tinctured for use at any time as dried lemon balm tends to lose its fragrance and appeal.
fresh lemon balm

Lemon balm is light in a little herbal bushel

Lemon balm makes happy, relaxed, sun-shiney people. Even it’s Latin binomial is lovely and light — Melissa officinalis and it is often referred to simply as Melissa. What could be more friendly than that? It is a member of the mint family native to Europe that has naturalised well in NZ and Australia and commonly found on roadsides.

The herb is cooling, sedative, and calming; A nerve tonic — meaning it feeds, tones, rehabilitates and strengthens the nervous system. It’s effective but it’s mild so quite the fit for a pregnant woman. Other nervines you’ll know include chamomile, valerian, hops, passionflower.

It works it’s cool charm magic on many of the bodies systems. On the nervous system it will relieve nervousness, depression, panic attacks, insomnia and help with headaches. Cardiovascularly, lemon balm will calm anxiety and heart palpitations and reduce a fever. The digestive system will benefit when there is an upset stomach, flatulence, nervous indigestion, nausea and vomiting. It’s also said to boost memory, stop painful periods and work wonders on cold sores, burns, blisters and stings.

If my preschooler is being too excitable, I’ll make up a pot of lemon balm tea and we’ll sit down and drink it together. Whether the bigger calming effect comes from the lemon balm or the tea ‘ceremony’ itself doesn’t matter. The point is we both feel better afterwards.

 

lemon balm Melissa chopped

How to tincture lemon balm

Gather thy ingredients

You’ll be needing some vodka…I so often think that, or brandy or tipple of choice. You’ll be needing something over 40% alcohol by volume or 80 proof, which is your stock-standard from the bottle-store spirit. This simply means 40% of the liquid in the bottle is alcohol and that’s the bit you need to extract the good bits of that lemon balm. There are non-alcoholic methods but I’m relaying how I do it, so I suggest googling.When gathering my lemon balm I like to be a bit choosey and take the top third of the stem — where the best quality leaves are. I’ll wash the leaves, shake and dry well before chopping them all up. The more surface area, the better the extraction.

Cleanliness is next to godliness

No one wants bad bugs in something that’s meant to make them better. Carefully clean and dry your jar and lid.

Pack it

Get that gorgeous green stuff in the jar and cover liberally with the vodka. I usually go an inch or two over the herb. But keep an eye on it for the next day or two as some of the vodka will be absorbed. You want all that plant material covered.

Label it

I label my tinctures with what they are, when they were made and the date they will be ready. As this is just the leaves brewing, I’ll give it 4 weeks. If I’m doing a tincture with roots or seeds, I leave it for 6 weeks.

Give it some loving

I try to shake my jar every day. It gets things moving and I try to infuse some healing energy by thinking how it will heal my family. Intention counts for a lot. Some people say a little prayer – whatever works for you. Leaving the jar out of harms way but within sight stops me from forgetting about it.

Strain

Those four weeks are up and now we strain it. A sieve might be enough but I prefer to put it through a muslin cloth. This allows me to wring out as much of that vodka as I can.

lemon balm tincturing

Getting some herbal healing

Evidence to date supports mild relaxant and cognitive enhancing actions by lemon balm in healthy persons, and results from one small trial suggest similar effects in Alzheimer’s patients.” — Royal NZ College of General Practioners

In Fisher and Painter’s Materia Medica of Western Herbs for the Southern Hemisphere, the dosage recommendations for lemon balm are for 2-4g of dried herb three times a day. Or 2-6 ml of tincture three times a day. Matthew Wood suggests a dropper full of tincture in a cup of hot water, but a couple of drops should be effective and safe enough for children.

Spring is a bit early to be making tinctures. Waiting until late summer when the smell of the leaves is all thick and sweet, you’ll know that those leaves are ready to be picked. But do wait until the early morning to harvest so you capture all of those delicious volatile oils.

Growing

Lemon balm is so easy growing – from seed, cutting or root division. It is a cousin of mint, so do keep it contained in the garden or you may have invasion issues later.

It looks more luscious and lovely when kept moist but the essential oil content is actually higher if grown in drier conditions and heat. If it gets too wet it will rust.  It flowers December-May and you’ll want to cut it back hard after that.

 

Lemon balm tea blend

Come summer, I suspect with a baby and toddler in tow I shall be drinking a lot of this recipe.

Rosemary Gladster’s Melissa Tea Blend

3 parts lemon balm
1 part borage flowers
1 part chamomile
1 part lemon verbena
1 part St Johns wort

Pour boiled water (1 cup of water to 1 tablespoon of herb) over them to infuse for 30-60 mins.

 

More lemon balm recipes

My culinary adventures with lemon balm have been limited, outside of the tea-drinking arena. I did flavour some butter cookies with it and they were delish and I use it chopped up in tabbouleh and salads. But this is my ‘Lemon Balm To Try’ List:

How to make Carmelite water
Lemon balm popsicles
Wild Lemon balm limoncello
Lemon balm and cashew pesto
Lemon balm ice cream
Rose petal and lemon balm jelly
Lemon balm bread
Roasted lemon balm chicken

Let there be science

Comments

  1. This post came just at the right time. Every morning it seems the lemon balm has grown another foot, and the plant I let go to seed last year has sprinkled seeds in every nook and cranny — it’s nice to step on while walking on the path… don’t worry, I have hundreds of these plants, so a few squashed ones are no sacrifice. Thanks for all the great information. Sue

    • Nice to hear from you Sue. Many years and several gardens ago I had read somewhere to plant lemon balm all through your garden as it was such a wonderful companion plant. 6 months later I couldn’t get rid of the stuff with it’s tough stems invading everywhere. You’ve just reminded me how much I used to curse it there for awhile. And that’s maybe I how I began drinking so much of it. Timely indeed. ~A

  2. 40% alcohol? Wouldn’t it be too much to make you dizzy? Worth the try though. Very interesting. Thanks for sharing.

    • Hi Howard,

      40% is your stock standard, off the shelf spirit. Since you’re only having a couple of mils at a time it’s unlikely to make you swaggery. Though I guess that depends on your constitution.
      🙂
      Anna