Friday, August 15, 2008

Herb of the Day -- Lemon Balm

Lemon Balm
Melissa officinalis
Family: Labiatae (Mint)

Description: Up to 3’ high, 2 ft diameter. Leaves oval and serrated and come to a point. Flowers are small, white, tube-shaped, approximately 1/3 of an inch long. Whole plant smells strongly of lemon.

Melissa, in Greek, means Bee. The name seems fitting. Each morning for the last several weeks, I’ve woken up to the gentle buzz of bees working their magic from the Lemon balm flowers growing immediately outside my bedroom window. Lemon balm has a lengthy herbal history, and has been cultivated in the Mediterranean for well over 2000 years.

Lemon balm has historically been acclaimed as an herb “to make the heart merry,” according to Avicenna. Paracelcus called it the “elixir of life” and it was called the “heart’s delight” throughout southern Europe.

Lemon balm is considered to be cold, dry, sour, and slightly bitter in energetics. It’s actions are considered to be sedative, anti-depressant, diaphoretic, antiviral, antibacterial, carminative, antispasmodic, a restorative nervine, and a digestive stimulant.

Lemon balm has been indicated for a variety of uses that run the gamut from skin care to respiratory to digestive to circulatory to genito-urinary to nerves and emotions. It is especially useful for asthma, bronchitis, colds, and flus—and even more-so in children. It is helpful for indigestion, nausea, vomiting, and flatulence. It has been prescribed for painful menses and other menstrual problems—often as a result of emotional imbalance. It is often used for anxiety, depression, hypertension, insomnia, migraines, nervous tension, shock, and vertigo. Lemon balm is said to help one to revitalize the inner self, assisting in promoting calmness and centeredness. It helps to dispel dejection during times of grief or bereavement, engendering a state of quiet peace.

In Chinese medicine, Melissa is said to be sour, spicy, and cool. It affects the lungs and the liver. Its primary action is as a tranquilizer, however it is very gentle, albeit effective. The hot tea helps to bring on a sweat that can help to relieve colds, flu, and fevers. It has been prescribed for mumps, cold sores, and other viral conditions.

Ritual uses of Melissa have primarily been the pursuit of romance. It was often made into a charm to help bring a lover into one’s life and is said to attract romance.

I’ve got more Melissa officinalis than I need, so much, in fact, that this year, I’m going to experiment in every possible way. Apparently Melissa is quite useful as a culinary herb. I’ll include a few recipes to tantalize the taste buds. The French employ this herb in custards and both green and fruit salads. Just a few of the young leaves chopped and added over the top. It is also used to enhance the flavor of fresh steamed or sautéed vegetables, light grains, roast chicken and fish. It can be added to cooked rice, or in the dipping butter for artichoke leaves. Mmmm….Another suggestion is to stuff a handful of fresh leaved with minced green onions and garlic under the skin of chicken breasts, sprinkle with lemon-pepper and olive oil, and roast, bake, or grill. Fresh leaves can be chopped and added to yogurt with fresh berries, or added to a tall chilled glass of white or rose wine. Melissa is known as a traditional wine herbs, and is often used to flavor liqueurs and cordials. It can also be added during the brewing process for flavoring wheat and lemon-scented beers.


Blueberry Lemon Balm Muffins

12 lemon balm leaves
1 cup superfine or powdered sugar
6 Tbsp fresh lemon balm, minced
1 ½ cup fresh blueberries
1 cup chopped walnuts
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
¾ cup granulated sugar
½ cup milk
1/3 cup safflower oil
1 egg

Bury the 12 lemon balm leaves in the superfine sugar in an airtight container. Let stand overnight. Combine all ingredients, waiting to fold in the fresh blueberries until last. Divide batter into muffin tins. Sprinkle each muffin with a little of the lemon-scented sugar. Bake at 400 for 20 to 25 minutes, or until golden. When cool, sprinkle lightly with additional lemon-scented sugar. (An Herbal Collection)

Herb and Vegetable Stir-Fry

1 head cauliflower, cut into florettes
5 carrots, peeled and sliced thinly
1 bunch broccoli, cut into florettes
1 White onion
1 tsp ginger powder
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp dillweed, snipped fine
6 fresh lemon balm leaves, cut small
2 Tbsp oil
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
4 Tbsp Tamari
4 scallions chopped fine
1 Tbsp brown sugar or honey
1 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds
1 cup cooked rice or vermicelli noodles

Prepare sauce of oil, vinegar, tamari, scallions, sesame seeds, and brown sugar or honey. Set aside. Mix vegetables and herbs and sauté at medium heat in oil. Continue to stir slowly until tender crisp. Mix in the sauce and simmer slowly for a few more minutes and spoon over cooked rice or noodles.

Tropical Smoothie with Mint and Lemon Balm

1 medium banana, peeled and slices
1 medium mango, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1 medium papaya, peeled, seeded, and chopped
3 cups skim milk
¼ cup fresh mint leaves
¼ cup fresh lemon balm leaves
2 Tbsp honey.
Combine all ingredients in a blender,
puree, and serve immediately. Garnish with
sprigs of fresh mint or lemon balm, if desired.
(The Herbal Palate)


HERBALPEDIA™ by The Herb Growing & Marketing Network