by Susan Stanton, Staff Herbalist
Too hot to sleep on this muggy July night, Ihave lingered in the garden, entertained by fireflies and heat lightning. Dragging my feet toward the house, accidentally brush against a bushy knee-high plant. Pow! All at once the unmistakable lemony aroma reaches me and restores my enthusiasm.
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is sometimes called “the gladdening herb,” a name that barely begins to describe its usefulness for, among other things, improving one’s mood. In the dead of winter combine the tincture or glycerite of lemon balm with St. John’s wort tincture for adults with mild to moderate depression related to Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.). Research and clinical practice have confirmed that Melissais helpful for acute anxiety, encouraging sleep, and quelling agitation in Alzheimer’s patients.
Lemon balm is a great first medicinal plant to introduce to children. It is not only safe and effective for many childhood ailments, but also delicious prepared as a glycerite, medicinal honey, or tea with or without a little added honey. In a 2014 study a combination of lemon balm and valerian extracts were very helpful for grade school children who had trouble with concentration, restlessness, and impulsiveness. Parents reported that the same 169 children had improved sleep and social behavior.
Young and old can also appreciate lemon balm’s effectiveness for colds and other viruses. One particularly good birthday party started quietly in the living room and ended on the front lawn with earthworms, drums, and much dancing barefoot in the rain. Igreeted the next day with a terrible head cold, fever, and emotional let down. somehow managed to get lemon balm from the garden, crush it up with my hands, stuff it in a mason jar, and cover it with hot water. A spoonful of honey later, the effect was miraculous. My breathing cleared, fever abated, and mood picked up. Happy birthday! Lemon balm is expectorant, antiviral, diaphoretic, and a favorite remedy for summer colds.
Lemon balm is proven remedy for herpes family viruses, including some strains that are resistant to the antiviral drug, acyclovir (according to in vitrostudy). Both oral and genital herpes respond to topical use of lemon balm salve, crème, essential oil, or tincture (tincture may sting at first). Parents report that a salve made with lemon balm alleviated the itch of the children’s chicken pox lesions. For any herpes-type virus including chicken pox and shingles, a tea, tincture, or capsule (supercritical extract) can be ingested at the same time lemon balm is applied topically. Since herpes attack the nervous system, the soothing nervine effect of ingested lemon balm augments its antiviral action.
For digestion, like many other members of the mint family lemon balm can help with a “nervous tummy” or “butterflies” in the stomach. If you’ve eaten too fast, or in the midst of great distraction, lemon balm can soothe your nerves and, as a mild antispasmodic, your digestive system as well.
Back in the garden, what started as a small plant has become a low hedge of lemon balm. I’ve seen this resilient perennial flourish everywhere from harsh Southwest deserts to a swamp in New England. In this time of extreme weather unpredictability Melissais adaptable, sustainable, attractive to bees, and unlike certain other members of the mint family, not likely to take over. New seedlings emerge around the plant that dropped the seeds and can be easily pulled, given to friends, or harvested for medicine. As for the medicine, learn how to make the most of all that lemon balm you planted in two classes in the BFC Community room this month. See the BFC calendar for details.
Susan is a clinical herbalist. FDA Disclaimer: These statements and products have not been evaluated by the FDA. They are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or condition. If you have a health concern or condition, consult a physician. Always consult a medical doctor before modifying your diet, using any new product, drug, supplement, or doing any new exercises.