Lemon balm is a perennial herb in the mint family Lamiaceae, native to southern Europe and the Mediterranean region. It grows to 70-150 cm tall. The leaves have a gentle lemon scent, related to mint.
This easily cultivate herb originated from southern Europe and the Mediterranean.
It can be very invasive and may spread vegetatively as well as by seeds. Lemon Balm has many culinary and medicinal uses. It also has a very rich and flavorful history.
Balm got its name from the chief of sweet-smelling oils, Balsam. The lemon part of it is of course derived from the citrus aroma it emits.
The Swiss physician and alchemist, Paracelsus, prized this herb for his belief that it could revive a man. It was also well known for it's use as a mild sedative on the nervous system, especially on epileptic patients.
It has been referred to as one of the agents in the "Elixir of Life" along with other herbs. It has been reported that a tea made of lemon balm can increase longevity.
Lemon balm is often used in the same way as mint. Used for a sweet taste on roast chicken and other meats, it is also used on salads.
Many know lemon balm for its role in various herbal teas, for flavoring ice creams, and in many drinks. It is most often used in conjunction with spearmint and other sweet flavored herbs. When used in teas, if gives a relaxing and calming affect since it is a mild sedative. The teas made from lemon balm are often used to reduce or eliminate migraine headaches, toothaches, and other pains of the mouths. It is also said to aid in relieving stress.
When the leaves are crushed and rubbed on the skin, it's powerful aroma acts as an insect repellent just as citronella (which is one component in its chemical makeup). Used in this fashion it also relieves itching from bug bites.
As stated above, this herb has a calming and soothing effect on the central nervous system and is often used in patients with certain nervous disorders.
It is also said that lemon balm can cut down the duration or intensity of cold sore outbreaks. (Side Note: Always check with a doctor or professional when using herbs for medicinal or internal uses.) So with the cold and holiday season approaching, maybe you will find some way to incorporate Lemon Balm into your life.
Lemon balm should be avoided by those on thyroid medication (such as thyroxine) as it is believed that the herb inhibits the absorption of this medicine.
Sarah White is a contributing writer for Paula's Herbs and Plants. She is a recent high school graduate and plans to continue her education in the fall.