Why lemon balm is a must-have for the home apothecary

lemon balm hydro
Above: Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) steam distilled into hydrosol.  Unfortunately, when distilling lemon balm in small batches, you are most likely not going to get a measurable amount of essential oil.  However, the hydrosol is a very useful byproduct of this process.

Growing lemon balm

Lemon balm is not like lavender.  I didn’t have to make multiple attempts to grow it before having success.  I went down to one of the bottom fields in early spring and scattered seeds in a plot.  From there, the lemon balm has taken over.   It didn’t spread so bad that it’s becoming a nuisance, but it did surprise me with its resilience and vigor.

Now I know it depends on the zone you live in, but lemon balm can usually be grown easily in most of North America.  Specifically, in USDA zones 4a through 9b.  The soil you choose to grow it in may make a difference.  Although it will grow in many soil types, it prefers soil that is well-draining and rich in organic matter.  It is also not too picky about whether it is in full sun or partial shade.  The plot where I grow mine is in partial shade, as it is at the wood’s edge.  It does not require fertilizer, which can cause the plant to become less aromatic.  Instead, if you are interested in keeping your lemon balm happy, make sure that it has plenty of organic matter in the soil.

Lemon balm plants are said to require regular watering, but I have to admit that I have never watered mine.  I can’t get water to that area easily, but because it is in the bottoms, the morning dew is heavy on the plants there.  I attribute this fact to why my lemon balm plants are still alive.

Using lemon balm

Do you suffer from anxiety, stress, or a lack of rest?  Lemon balm may be able to help.  She has been used for centuries to help calm the body and mind, as well as to lift the spirits.

Her nervine properties aren’t the only gifts she boasts.  Lemon balm is also very effective when it comes to fighting viral issues.  Specifically, lemon balm can help treat viral lesions like cold sores and shingles.

Because she is a member of the mint family, it is no surprise that she can also be used to help with digestive issues.  Other noteworthy medicinal properties of lemon balm include supporting healthy liver function, stabilizing blood sugar levels, and relieving muscle tension.

Oil infusion or salve

Because not everyone has a still to extract essential oils from plants, a great way to harness the healing power of lemon balm (while capturing some of its precious oil) is to create an oil infusion.  Fill a jar with dried or wilted lemon balm and then cover it with a carrier oil.  Close the lid and give it a good shake every day for about a month.  When the time is right, strain it out.  This can be applied directly to viral lesions, or you can use this infused oil as a base to make a salve.  To make a salve, you would need around one cup of infused oil and one ounce of beeswax.  Melt the beeswax in a double boiler and then remove it from heat and add the lemon balm-infused oil.  You may also choose to add essential oils, depending on what you want to use the salve for.  A salve is nice and thick, making it easy to spread on an affected area and stay put.

Tea

Tea is one of the easiest and tastiest ways to use lemon balm!  Drinking a cup before bedtime can help promote a more restful night’s sleep.  Of course, it can also help melt tension and stress away.  I dry some of my lemon balm and crumble it into a tea tin to use as needed.  I fill up one of my stainless steel tea balls and infuse it into a cup of hot water for several minutes before removing it.  It tastes great on its own, or you can add raw honey to sweeten it a bit.

Tincture

A tincture is one of my favorite ways to use a plant for several reasons.  First, it preserves it so I don’t have to use right away.  Second, it is a bit more concentrated and thus stronger than tea.  A tincture of lemon balm is great for those times when you need relief from tension or anxiety right away.  Just put a dropper-full under your tongue and viola!

A tincture of lemon balm can be created by filling a jar with the chopped (fresh or dry) plant material and then covering it with at least 80 proof alcohol.  Close the lid and store it in a cool, dark place for a month to six weeks.  You may have to top it off again after 24 hours because the plant material soaks up the alcohol and leaves some exposed.  Shake it as often as you can remember and strain it out when it is ready.   Many tinctures last for years, so it will be there when you need it for a long time!

Essential oil and Hydrosol

Lemon balm essential oil is expensive.  This is because it really takes a lot of plant material to get any essential oil.  Although it is expensive, it is well worth the investment.  I highly recommend it for treating shingles and other viral lesions.  It will need to be diluted before application to the affected area.  Try diluting two drops in one teaspoon of carrier oil and see if you notice any progress.  If you do not get the results you would like to see, try upping the amount to three drops.

It can also be added to carrier oil and beeswax to create a lip balm.  (This recipe, as well as more recipes that include lemon balm essential oil, are detailed in my book, Organic Aromatherapy & Essential Oils: The Modern Guide to All-Natural Health and Wellness which can be found here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1646114027)

I am able to make my own hydrosol and I love how it smells.  It does not smell like you think it would.  Hydrosols seldom do.  It smells rich, deep, and lemony but with a pungent base note.  It works great for spraying on skin rashes and lesions It can even be drank (in small amounts) for the treatment of viral infections.

Go for it!

If you haven’t yet, try growing some lemon balm this spring/summer. You may be surprised at the results, even if you don’t have a “green thumb.”  Whether you need it for viruses, digestive issues, or to help relieve stress, lemon balm is up to the challenge!

To learn more about how to distill your own essential oils and hydrosols, enroll in our School of Aromatic Distillation!  If you’re interested in learning more about other medicinal plants, as well as how to create your own herbal remedies, enroll in The Bitter Herb Academy today: https://thebitterherb.com/

 

 

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