One of the first herbs my Aunt Pat (a wonderful gardener, cook and herbalist) gave me was lemon balm. It’s one of those herbs that is gorgeous, easy to grow, prolific, has multitudes of uses and smells great to boot. Lemon balm is a member of the mint family (hence it’s prolific growth) and is a perennial, one of those wonderful herbs that you only have to plant once. Lemon Balm’s botanical name, “Melissa”, is Greek for “bee” which is why it can also be commonly called bee balm. In fact, in the 16th Century, Lemon Balm was rubbed onto beehives to encourage the bees to produce honey.
Lemon Balm was used as far back as the Middle Ages to reduce stress and anxiety, promote sleep, improve appetite, and ease pain and discomfort from indigestion (including gas and bloating, as well as colic). Even before the Middle Ages, lemon balm was steeped in wine to lift the spirits, help heal wounds, and treat venomous insect bites and stings. Today, lemon balm is often combined with other calming, soothing herbs, such as valerian, chamomile, and hops, to help promote relaxation.
Lemon balm is used for digestive problems, including upset stomach, bloating, intestinal gas, vomiting, and colic; for pain, including menstrual cramps, headache and toothache; and for depression, anxiety and sleeplessness.
Lemon balm has also been suggested to be helpful in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Graves’ disease, rapid heartbeat due to nervousness, high blood pressure,cold sores, tumors, and insect bites.
You can steep lemon balm in hot water for a calming bedtime tea, chew or pound the leaves and apply as a poultice for stings, and of course use it in any number of culinary and beverage choices. Here are a few to get you started.
SUMMERTIME COOLER WITH LEMON BALM
6 cups fresh or reconstituted frozen orange juice
1 – 46-ounce can pineapple juice
¼ – ½ cup sugar, depending upon sweetness of fruit juices
2-3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice to brighten flavor
Fresh branches of lemon balm, lemon basil, and a mild spearmint to fill container halfway. No woody branches should be used.
Combine orange and pineapple juices, along with sugar in a non-reactive (glass or plastic) container fitted with a lid; stir until sugar is dissolved. Add lemon juice to brighten flavor and adjust sugar if needed.
Bruise branches of herbs by twisting to release essential oils. Add herbs to container of juices, packing in as much as possible but making sure herbs are covered with liquid.
Cover container and refrigerate overnight, to allow juice to become flavored. Strain juices, pressing out as much liquid as possible from herbs. Check for sweetness and serve over ice. Crushed ice may be pureed with juice to create a lemony “smoothie.
LEMON BALM SCONES
Makes about 2 dozen scones
2¼ cups unbleached white flour
2 teaspoons sugar
¾ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cup buttermilk
½ cup cream
2 tablespoons freshly chopped lemon balm
1½ teaspoons lemon zest, finely chopped
Preheat oven to 425°F. Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl and blend thoroughly. Cut in the butter until the mixture resembles a coarse meal.
Stir the buttermilk and cream together with the lemon balm and zest. Add the liquid to the dry ingredients and stir to form a soft dough.
Turn the dough onto a floured pastry marble or board, knead gently until it just comes together, and roll out to ½-inch thickness. Cut the dough with 1¾- or 2-inch cookie cutter and place on an ungreased
Bake the scones for 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown. Remove to baking rack to cool slightly before serving. The scones are best served warm and right after baking. If you want to prepare them in
advance, cool them completely and store them in an airtight container. Wrap them in foil and gently reheat them in a 325°F oven for about 10 to 15 minutes.
LEMON BALM HONEY
Use to flavor hot or cold tea, sweet scones, pastries, fresh fruit or try it drizzled over vanilla ice cream.
1½ cup honey
¼ cup hard packed, fresh lemon balm leaves
2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 strip of lemon peel
10 whole allspice
10 whole cloves
Heat honey in a small saucepan until very warm. Place remaining ingredients in a large, clean glass jar and pour warm honey over. Stir, cover and set aside for 2 days at room temperature.
MORE LEMON BALM RECIPES: Beekeeper’s Balm Cocktail, Lemon Balm Cookies, Rhubarb Lemon Balm Margarita, Lemon Balm Pesto, Lemon Balm and Parsley Spaghetti, Roasted Lemon Balm Chicken, Honey Lemon Balm Sore Throat Candy Drops, Double Lemon Tea Bread, Assorted Lemon Balm Teas