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