LEMON BALM / BEE BALM (Melissa officinalis)
Southern Europe to Central Asia
Lemon Balm is an ancient herb, an aromatic perennial in the Mint family. Cultivated for over 2,000 years, tea brewed from the leaves of this plant is therapeutic, soothing away melancholy & reviving the tired brain.
Wrinkled leaves of Melissa Officinalis are heart-shaped or oval, & lemon-scented. Small, fragrant flowers – SOFT YELLOW opening to WHITE – appear at intervals along the stems in summer. Lemon Balm grows from one to two feet tall, preferring moist soil in sun or part shade.
“An extremely useful plant to colonize dry, dusty areas of the garden where nothing else will grow. The smell is an added bonus – crush a couple of leaves whenever you walk past to release the tangy lemon aroma”.
Grow Your Own Drugs, James Wong, Collins, 2009
A visually unassuming herb, Lemon Balm has quite a reputation as a bee plant. The nectar of the tiny flowers is irresistable to bees – read some of the historical comments below. Melissa Officinalis has long been planted as a herb for the benefit of humans as well as bees.
The qualities of Balm (Melissa Officinalis, Lemon Balm) have been known for thousands of years, by many countries and cultures.
“Balm, being leaves steeped in wine, and the wine drunk and the leaves applied externally, were considered to be a certain cure for the bites of venomous beasts and the stings of scorpions.”
Dioscorides Greek 40 AD – 90 AD
“Lemon balm is most popular as an ingredient of herb teas, having a pleasant flavour and calming effect.” Paracelsus (Swiss) (1493-1541) called it “the elixir of life“..
Deni Bown, RHS Encyclopedia of Herbs & Their Uses
“It is profitably planted where bees are kept. The hives of bees being rubbed with the leaves of bawme, causeth the bees to keep together, and causeth others to come with them.”
John Gerard English 1545 – 1612
“It causeth the Mind and Heart to become merry, and reviveth the Heart fainting to foundlings, especially of such who are overtaken in their sleep, and driveth away all troublesome cares and thought..”
Nicholas Culpeper English 1616 – 1654
“Balm is sovereign for the brain, strengthening the memory and powerfully chasing away melancholy.”
John Evelyn English 1620 – 1706
The Power of Lemon Balm Terri Conroy Danu’s Irish Herb Garden
Terri Conroy makes a strong case for Lemon Balm on her website Danu’s Irish Herb Garden. We see it growing in the garden & being harvested in the polytunnel. Terri then takes the basket of Lemon Balm cuttings into her kitchen to make a herbal infusion. Nervine and anti-spasmodic, the tea infuses for 15 minutes & is both therapeutic and delicious.
Other names: Balm, Bee Balm, Blue Balm, Common Balm, Cure-All, Dropsy Plant, Dropsywort, English Balm, Garden Balm, Heart’s Delight, Honey Plant, Mountain Balm, Pimentary, Sweet Balm, Sweet Mary, Tea Balm. Estonian: Sidrunmeliss. Finnish: Sitruunamelissa. French: Baume, Citra, Citronnelle, Valverde boutons de fievre creme. German: Bienenfang, Frauenkraut, Honigblatt, Riechnessel. Hindi: Baadranjboyaa, Billilotan. Hungarian: Citromfu, Mehfu, Mezontofu, Orvosi Citromfu. Italian: Citronella, Cedronella, Erba Limona, Melissa Vera. Korean: Kyullhyangphul. Persian: Badranjboya, Taragarbha. Polish: Melissa Lekarska. Portuguese/Brazilian: Erva-cidreira, Melissa. Russian: Melissa Lekarstvennaja, Limonajamjata, Ptschel’nik, Papotschnaja Trawa. Slovak: Citra. Slovenian: Navadna Melisa. Spanish: Balsamita Mayor, Citraria, Meliza, Toronjil. Swedish: Citronmeliss, Hjartansfrojd, Honungsblomma, Melissort.
We had Lemon Balm in front & back gardens years ago, but did not know of its medicinal qualities as a tea or infusion. We will grow it again, keeping some aside for humans & allowing the rest to flower for the bees.