Lemon balm is right up there with lavender in the herbal relaxant department. A European plant, it has been used to take the edge off for hundreds if not thousands of years. And the best part? Its makes a really nice tea. In addition, it can be used to heal broken skin and is especially good with chapped lips!
Chapter from “Thirty Plants That Can Save Your Life” by Dr. Douglas Schar
Chapter from “Gardening Book”
Part Used: Leaf and essential oil
In a Word: Nerve tonic and skin healer
Uses: Depression, tension, anxiety, problem skin, and where these two worlds meet: herpes sores!
This plant soothes the body! Balm . Even the word is soothing. Lemon balm is a comforting substance. It smoothes the mind and the lips! Since antiquity, lemon balm has been used in healing, particularly healing the mind and the lips.
Have you ever encountered a mint-like plant that emits a lemony smell when you crush it? That’s lemon balm. The plant has been around so long that no one is quite clear where it started out, but today it grows all over the world, partly due to its reputation as a panacea, partly due to its vigorous growth.
A relation of the mint, lemon balm is perhaps one of the most widely used herbs outside of the United States. A hundred years ago, Americans used it medicinally too. A classic blood purifier was made out of lemon balm, yarrow, saffron, and mountain rush. The ingredients were boiled together for a tea said to clean the body of impurities and restore health. Today, we don’t do this anymore, and Americans treat lemon balm like it’s another weed.
In looking backward to discover forgotten information, a traditional concept we see over and over again is that illnesses are caused by impurities in the body and that if the body can be cleansed, health will return. Though we tend to dismiss the old health ways as ridiculous, we are starting to learn scientifically that this idea is not far from the truth. Exposure to and absorption of toxic material, whether chemical or viral, causes illness.
Though we have confirmed what everybody knew 100 years ago about internal body cleansing, we are only starting to learn what they also knew about which plants would do the tidying. Lemon balm was one of these plants.
Contrary to popular belief, lemon balm is not the plant referred to in the Bible as the Balm of Gilead. The biblical balm comes from the sticky buds of a Near Eastern poplar tree. The ancient Israelites apparently didn’t know about lemon balm, and that’s a pity. However, the Arabs of today are quite familiar with it. They make it into a delightful tea, which they serve sweet and find to be an antiviral, antispasmodic, and stomach-toning agent. The most interesting property is its antiviral action, but hold on to your seats, we will get to that later.
The Spanish are quite fond of lemon balm. Like people around the world, they feel that it is a calming plant. Today we believe that a big part of staying healthy is being kind and gentle to one’s self. The Spanish second the motion and recommend boiling a pot of lemon balm, adding the juice to a hot bath, and sitting in the warm water to rest the body and mind. When they moved into South America, they brought lemon balm along with them. The Venezuelans feel that the plant aids in digestion and helps overweight people shed a few pounds. The plant is also applied to any skin problems, including wounds, sores, and skin ulcers.
Like their Spanish ancestors, South Americans use lemon balm to treat a wide variety of nervous complaints and symptoms of stress. They feel that balm tea or, better yet, balm tea drunk during a balm bath defines soothing. Whenever tension enters the scene, South Americans reach for lemon balm the way North Americans reach for aspirin, one important difference being that lemon balm won’t burn the stomach and aspirin will.
Now let’s get to some scientific facts. Newcastle disease, mumps, herpes, simplex, and vaccinia have all suffered at the hands of lemon balm. The polyphenols contained in the plant are said to be the active ingredients in this process, but who really cares what little chemical does the trick? The fact is that the plant is antiviral, and most viruses cause downtime.
The plant has also proven to be antibacterial along with having antihistaminic and antispasmodic properties. The antibacterial effect is quite interesting in that one of the oldest uses for lemon balm is as a paste to prevent the infection of wounds. Along these lines, Gerard had a few choice words:
Smiths Bawme or Carpenters Bawme is most singular to heal up green wounds that are cut with iron; it cureth the rupture in short time; it stayeth the whites. Dioscorides and Pliny have attributed like virtues unto this kind of bawme, which they call iron wort. The leaves (say they) being applied, close up wounds without any peril of inflammation. Pliny saith that it is of so great virtue that though it be but tied to his sword that hath given the wound, it stancheth the blood.
Gerard also praised lemon balm as a mental-health plant, asserting that, “Bawme drunke in wine is good against the bitings of venomous beasts, comforts the heart, and driveth away all melancholy and sadness.” To think that our lawn-care companies have developed a special herbicide just to kill lemon balm is shocking!
The Shakers, who were quite fond of lemon balm, grew and sold it in great quantities in the mid-1800s. The plant has both a lemony scent and a distinctly lemony flavor, and when crushed in water and sweetened, it makes a very relaxing summertime drink. If lemons weren’t so good for you, I would suggest that we trade in traditional lemonade for the kind made with lemon balm, which, it could be argued, is even better for the body. Apparently, the Quakers like to take rest breaks from the summer’s heat with a cooling toddy of lemon balm and honey.
Culture after culture has used lemon balm to stimulate healing, healing of the mind and healing of the skin. What people have found is that this is one soothing substance, whether applied to skin sore from gardening or taken internally after a really long hard day. When soothing and smoothing is required, lemon balm is of service.
Lemon balm leaves can be ground and applied to sore skin and an immediate effect is felt. The skin feels better. Today, with contemporary technology, the essential oil of lemon balm is available. This oil seems to be the root of its affect on the skin. As such, the easiest way to use this is by using the essential oil or products that contain the essential oil. All manner of unhappy skin can be made happier with its application.
One of the very specific actions is as an anti-herpetic, that is it can be used to reduce the incidence or the severity of herpes outbreaks. Applied to the lips or where ever else the outbreaks occur, essential oil of lemon balm will take the heat out. This oil should never be applied directly, it should be diluted, one drop of essential oil to 9 drops of massage oil, before it is applied. Many people with terrible herpes outbreaks have been helped with this magical oil.
On the nervous system front, the best way to use lemon balm is in tincture form. A good tincture, taken three times a day, will greatly help the nervous system bear up to the onslaught called the modern age.
History: Long used for healing of mind and skin
Science: Contains polyphenols, which make it antiviral
Practitioners’ Opinion: Quick soothing results when used externally, internally it tastes great!
Chapter from “Thirty Plants That Can Save Your Life” by Dr. Douglas Schar
Being overwrought and a nervous mess is a bad thing anyhow you cut it, to repeat myself, stress kills. The modern world really works the nerves to the edge, and it is precisely when our nerves are most worked that our bodies give into disease, be it a cold or worse. Being uptight all the time is said to cause all sorts of ills, from heart disease to cancer, from stomach disorders to allergies. Relaxing, slowing down, chilling out could save your life.
People have the need to relax, their bodies need it. Unfortunately, many people choose to relax under the influence of alcohol, street drugs, and tranquilizers doctors pass out like vitamins. These substances are as bad for the body as the original condition, tension. Our next plant, balm, could help you out on that front, and is non-addicting, non-habit forming, and non-liver corroding.
This plant soothes the body and doesn’t ravage it at the same time.
Balm, even the word, is soothing. Like lip, lemon balm is a soothing substance, it smooths the mind rather than the lips, but the concept is the same. Since antiquity, lemon balm has been used in healing, particularly healing the mind, which controls it all.
What is lemon balm? Have you ever walked over a mint looking plant that when trod upon emits this cleaning product lemony smell? That’s lemon balm. If you haven’t experience this sensation, plant some lemon balm and after its taken root, walk on it, its worth the effort. The plant has been around so long no one is quite clear where it started out, today, globally, the lemony weed can be seen and walked upon.
Lemon balm has traveled and set down roots world wide due to its reputation as a panacea, or cure all. The mint relation is perhaps one of the most widely used herb outside of the United States , the Americans treat it like another weed. A hundred years ago we used it medicinally, but those days are long gone. In fact, a classic American blood purifier was made out of lemon balm, yarrow, saffron, and mountain rush. The ingredients were boiled together in a tea said to clean out the body of impurity and restore health. We don’t do this anymore.
In looking backward to discover information forgotten, one ancient notion we see over and over again is the concept of illnesses
as being caused by impurities in the body, and the solution being to cleanse the impurities out and then health is returned. Though we tend to look back at the old health ways as being ridiculous, we are starting to learn scientifically that this idea is not far from the truth. Most would agree that exposure and absorption of toxic materials, whether chemical or viral, lead to illness. The agent orange mentioned earlier is a toxic substance that while it was legal to use in the U.S. , was absorbed into the body and it caused cancer, and all sorts of nerve damage. (P.S., American companies still sell it to third world countries.) So in fact, we are finding out that dirty bodies lead to bad health. The ancients knew what they were talking about.
Though we have confirmed what everybody knew two hundred years ago about internal body cleansing, we are just starting to remember what they also knew about what plants would do the tidying. Lemon balm was just one of these plants. To get started with balm, contrary to popular belief, lemon balm, or balm, is not the plant referred to in the Bible as the balm of gilead. This biblical balm is, in fact, the sticky buds of a near eastern poplar tree. It doesn’t seem that the ancient Israelites were familiar with the plant, pity.
Though there are no references in the Bible to lemon balm, the Arabians today are quite familiar with it. The plant is made into a delightful tea served sweet. They find it to be anti-spasmodic, stomach toner, and anti-viral agent. The most interesting is the anti-viral action, but hold onto to your seats we will get to that.
The Spanish are quite fond of lemon balm, feeling that the plant is a calming and soothing one. A big part of staying healthy is taking care of yourself, being kind and gentle to self as we now like to say. The Spanish second the motion and the best health treatment yet is to boil a pot of lemon balm and add the juice to a hot bath and sit in the warm water resting the body and mind. When the Spaniards moved into South America they brought lemon balm along with them. The Venezuelans feel that the plant aids in digestion and aids overweight people in shedding a few pounds. The plant is applied to any skin problems, wounds, sores, and skin ulcers included.
Much like the Spaniards from whence they descend, South Americans use lemon balm to treat a wide variety of nervous complaints and symptoms of stress. Let’s get real on this being up tight syndrome, stress can and does in fact kill. The South Americans feel that balm tea or better yet balm tea drunk during a balm bath, defines soothing. Whenever tension enters into the scene, people reach for lemon balm the way Americans reach for aspirin, the only difference being that lemon balm is soothing to the stomach rather than burning. (aspirin has been known to burn wholes in the stomach whereas the same cannot be said for lemon balm.
Now lets get into some scientific facts. It seems that teas made from lemon balm do, in fact, exhibit strong antiviral characteristics. New castles disease, mumps, herpes simplex, and vaccinia have all suffered at the hands of lemon balm. The polyphenols contained in the plant are said to be the active ingredients that, in fact, do in viruses, but who really cares what little chemical does the trick, the fact is the plant is anti-viral, and most viruses cause down time.
The plant has also proven to have anti-bacterial powers along with antihisitaminic and anti-spasmodic influences. The anti-bacterial abilities is quite interesting in that the one of the oldest uses is as a paste on wounds to prevent infection. Along these lines Gerard has a few choice words, I have high lighted them for easy reading:
“Smiths Bawme or Carpenters Bawme is most singular to heal up green wounds that are cut with iron ; it cureth the rupture in short time; it stayeth the whites. Dioscorides and Pliny have attributed like virtues unto this kind of bawme, which they call iron wort. The leaves (say they) being applied, close up wounds without any peril of inflammation. Pliny saith that it is of so great virtue that though it be but tied to his sword that hath given the wound, it stancheth the blood.”
Gerard had quite a few things to say about the plant as a mental health plant:
“Bawme drunke in wine is good against the bitings of venomous beasts, comforts the heart , and driveth away all melancholy and sadness.
“The later age, together with the Arabians and Mauritanians, affirme balme to be singular good for the heart, and to be a remedy against the infirmities thereof; for Auicen in his book written of the infirmities of the heart, teacheth that bawme makes the heart merry and joyful, and strengtheneth the vital spirits.
“Serapio affirmeth it to be comfortable for a moist and cold stomach, to stir up concoction, to open the stopping of the brain, and to drive away sorrow and care of the mind. ”
Who would have thought that hateful plant, deserving of a special herbacide, developed just for it, would be such a potential mental health aid.
The Shakers were quite fond of lemon balm and grew it and sold it in great quantities in the mid 1800′s. As the name implies, the plant has a distinctly lemony flavor, and when crushed in water and sweetened, a very relaxing summer drink is made. If lemons weren’t so good for you, I would suggest that we should trade in traditional lemonade for the kind made with lemon balm, which it could be argued is even better for the body. Apparently the Quakers like to take rest breaks in the summer’s heat with a cooling alcohol free tody of lemon balm and honey.
The Hortus Sanitatis asserts that lemon balm “helpeth conception more.” Which is just another use for the plant, female reproductive health. The plant is said to be a real boon to girly health, making menstruation, birthing, and even conceiving much easier. In New Zealand, lemon balm is considered to be mother’s little helper in every sense of the word, any problem with the secret parts, as Gerard would say, are helped out with a little lemon balm.
While we are down there, lemon balm is also considered excellent for problems in making water, which we know is a bad thing.
Translation of Macer Floridus de Viribus Herbarum:
For pe bladder.
If pou haue ake and disease in pe / bladdere, or if pou haue pat euel pat is clepid stranguria, / pe whiche streynep pe meates and weyes of pe vryne, / so pat a man hauyp ofte-sithes difficulte for to pisse, pan drinke with / syn pe innus of pis, and pou shalt be al hoole. /
For those not familiar with middle English, how about a translation:
For the bladder. If thou have ache and disease in the bladder, or if you have that evil that makes it hard to pee, that which strains the bladder equipment, drink lemon balm, it will make it all better.
As previously mentioned, lemon balm is not a plant that one grows, it is a plant that one has to control. The plant can be had at the garden center or a pinch of a mother plant can be taken from a friend at any moment in the year. The good news is that the plant will produce more than enough herb for you to use for tension headaches all year round.
My assistant was picking up some supplies at the garden center recently and he noticed that on the list of invasive weeds that a certain product was supposed to eradicate, lemon balm was included. How sad that one of the most soothing of the plants is now on the most wanted list at garden centers coast to coast.
The truth is lemon balm is one invasive plant, a little goes a long way. Let me tell you a little story about lemon balm. I had two herb beds separated by a slab of concrete. The concrete slab was parted in two by a seem put in when the concrete was laid some 30 years earlier. The lemon balm spread from the one herb bed to the other herb bed via this crack, popping up when a little piece of concrete was missing. This is indeed a powerful plant, but hardly a despot.
Chapter from “Gardening Book”
“Thy look of love has power to calm
The stormiest passion of my soul;
Thy gentle words are drops of balm
In life’s too bitter bowl.”
Lemon balm is an herb that fe americans have a relationship with. A relative of the melissa family, it has relations on evrey continent . The lemon balm is called such as its flesh has a lemion odor and when crushed smells like a lemon. The plant actually smells more of lemon pledge than fresh lemons. I prefer to call it the lemon pledge plant.
Lemon balm is a vigorous plant , rivaling mint for toghness. It has spread from its location in my grden to the gracks in the concrete in a ajacent area. You dont grow lemon balm, you control. Just plant it once , and youll never be in need of lemon balm again. The modern gardener needs to work with such vigorous plants in creating a low care garden .
The word melissa is derived from the greek word meaning bee. Like many herbs lemon ball in bloom is a big bee draw. The plant yields a high amount of nectar and makes the bees work easier. The flowrs are not much to look at , but he bees like it. Balm is an english word that has it its root in the word balsam. Balsam is the best sweet smelling oils. Balm has been known as a soothing addition to human skin for a long time and many plants that are soothing are thus refered to as balms. Lemon balm has been used as a people soother for a long time and thus explains it alignment with balm.
John evelyn said of lemon balm, “balm is sovereign for the brain, strengthening the memory, and powerfully chasing away melancholy. In days gone by depression was termed melancholy,and lemon balm was used to treat depression. Turner says in his 1664, ” it driveth away poisons arising melancholly” it is said to be particulary good in cases of broken hearts.
Gerard says ” being applied, doth close up wounds without any perril of inflammation”. Lemon balm was used to bandage wounds. This is now been scientifically backed up. It would seem that balsimic oils contain almost no oxygen. Bathing a wound in one of the oils, say the oil of lemon balm, starve out bacteria, creating a steril envirment. I find it fascinating that many of the things that were used in ancient medecine are being born out by medecine. One of my points has been for a long time, herbal doctors used plants because they had conclusive evidence backing up what they used. They sealed wounds with lemon balm because people healed faster when they did this and slower when they didnt. We moderns approach old herbal medecine with great misgivings and doubt and tend to forget that herbs were life and death, they used what worked.
In grieves herbal, mrs. Grieve, tells the story of a man that drank lemon balm tea for fifty years and lived to the age of 116 years. Lemion balm has been considered such a longevity inducer that different herbal physicians said it had the power to revive the dead back to life. Im not so sure i would buy that idea, but, it does semm to perpetuate health in people that use it on a regular basis. Grieve goes on to say that emperor charles v used lemon balm on a daily basis.
The term king in hebrew, hamelech, literally means annointed with sweet oil. It usually translates to annointed, or annointed with oil. One has to think in terms of a differnt time to understand the significance of this. Today oil is a substanve pick up at the grocery without any work at all. In days gone by oil was a precious commodity. Oil could be had from olives only with a great amount of work. Oils are the purest part of a plant and the hardest to obtain. As an example, it takes two tons of rose petals to make a pound of rose oil. Thats a lot of roses to pick and squeeze the oil out of. So oils were a precious substance, not to be wasted. Balms were sweet oils and one plant that yielded an oil was the lemon balm. The term king, meaning the annointed one, can be found in many cultures, including several european. In old european coronation involved being anninted with rare and sweet oils. In shakespears king richard you can spot this reference,
” not all the water in the rough rude sea
Can wash the balm off from an annointed king. ”
Thus lemon balm factors into a very important european and world wide allusion.
The other symbol of balms is one of soothing. In the rape of lucrece , shakespeare once again refers to balm,” ill…drop sweet balm in priam’s painted wound”. Lemon balm is a very sooting herb and its interesting to note that science has confirmed not only its sooting capacity, but also its medeical benefits.
Lemon balm was used in many great societies as an herb to scent the house. One must remember the old days were really the smelly days. Without proper sewage facilities and bathes, the city was a pretty scary place. Housewives from days of old tried to make the house small nice. It was custom in the roman days to rub the furniture with lemon balm. This would impart a pleasant smell to the room. Interestingly enough the marvelous smell of murphy’s oil soap is scented with the scent melissa, or lemon balm. Did you ever wonder where the idea for lemon pledge came from, well now you know. Weve been rubbing our furniture with lemonys smelling things for 20 centuries.
Another example of the wisdom of old can be found in gerards work, “smiths bawme or carpenters bawme is most singular to heale up breene wounds that are cut with iron, it cureth the rupture in a short time; it stayeth the whites. Discorides and pliny have attriuted like vertues unti this kind of bawme, which they call iron wort. They were clearly aware of tetanus and its devastating effect. They not so innocently treated the tetanus bacteria with an anti-bacterial agent.
Balme is not used in this country for medcine or for household use. As a bare minimum it makes an excellant potpourris. The plant is so vigorous and over productive one plant will provide you with as much herb as you could ever use in the house. It can be dried and put in packets as a satchet for the clothing drawer. I keep some around in case i get a cut. After cleaning the wound carefully i apply a little lemon balm ointemnt to the wound and bandage it. Ive had amazing results doing this. Just take a handful of the leaves and blend in the blender with a little cooking oil. Lemon balm tea is made by throwing a cup full of leaves into a quart of boiling water. Sweetened with honey this is a delsightful lemonade as such. For cooking purposes lemon balm makes an excellant marinade for grilled meats. The main thing to do is to plant some lemomn balm and with the ensuing crop you will find lots of things to do with it. One of the best is to bring a big pot of water to boil, and a gallon of balm, simmer for five minutes, and add this water to a bath . You wont be disapointed.
This plant can be had through the traditional means, ordering, buying, etc. But it is such a garden weed if you check with your neighbors you’ll probably find someone that has more than they need and they will gladly give you a big chunk for your grden. Gardening can be a great community activity, and most gardeners are more than happy to share with you . Ask around your neighborhood before you go and buy some lemon balm. When i suggest people talk to their neighbors, or worse yet encourage them to ask their neighbors for a cutting of something they look at me in horror. Gardeners are a special lot, a union of the heart, and almost all gladly share what nature has so plentifully supplied them. Could be a way to meet some folks in your neighborhood.
As to planting lemon balm, this is easy. But i do suggest you select your site carefully. Lemon balm will take over the area you give it and does’nt mind encroaching in on somebody elses turf. Which is part of the reason its one for use to grow, it grows itself. I dont mind having to cut plants back, and keeping them in bounds. What i mind is plants that just don’t seem to take root. This is a great plant for the potted garden as well.
Lemon balm all but disappears in late fall and then does a big re-appearnce in the spring from the roots. So its not evergereen.
Disclaimer: The author makes no guarantees as to the the curative effect of any herb or tonic on this website, and no visitor should attempt to use any of the information herein provided as treatment for any illness, weakness, or disease without first consulting a physician or health care provider. Pregnant women should always consult first with a health care professional before taking any treatment.