Thursday, December 23, 2010

Lemon Balm Leaf

I enjoy a good cup of tea year round, but especially in the winter months.  When it is cold outside a warm cup of tea feels cozy and comforting.  I drink a variety of teas; green, black, ginger, chamomile, mint, olive leaf, to name a few.  I usually start my day at work with a cup of green or black tea, after lunch and often again in the evening I enjoy a cup mint, chamomile, ginger or one of the many others I have on hand.  Lately I have been enjoying lemon balm leaf tea. 

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis L.) is a lemon scented member of the mint family.  It has a delicate fresh green flavor and makes a refreshing tea.  It has been used throughout history as a medicinal herb, lemon balm has mild sedative properties and has been used for digestive problems, to reduce fever, and to relieve headaches or menstrual cramps.  Both oil and hot water extracts of the leaves have strong antibacterial and antiviral qualities.  Lemon balm tea 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.  Some say the tea improves memory and lemon balm oils have been used as aromatherapy for Alzheimer's patients.  It is also said to lower blood pressure.

Lemon balm is a perennial that grows well in zones 4 through 9, though in zone 4 it will need to be mulched to survive the winter.  It prefers full-sun, but is moderately shade tolerant and as with most herbs, prefers well-drained soil.  The plant will spread and in some areas is considered a noxious weed, so plant in an area where it can spread and not become a problem.

Young leaves can be harvested during the growing season. Harvesting is best done by cutting the leaves early in the morning following then evaporation of the dew on the leaves. The best lemon balm leaves are the ones that grow early in the season. The fragrance may deteriorate as the leaves age and this will effect the taste.  The plants should be pruned regularly so that fresh shoots will appear. A shady and airy location is ideal to hang the harvested plants to dry. Airtight jars must be used for storage once the leaves are crisply dry.

Lemon balm can be used in cooking, adding the leaves to marinades, sauces, soups and stews.  Fresh leaves make a good addition to salads.  The flavor pairs well with fish, chicken and vegetables.

Although lemon balm is considered a safe herb, if you plan to take large doses of the herb in capsule form the University of Maryland cautions that pregnant and nursing women should not take lemon balm and it also cautions that it may interact with sedatives and thyroid medications.

Lemon balm can be used topically on cold sores for both adults and children.  Steep 2 to 4 teaspoons of crushed leaf in 1 cup of boiling water for 10 to 15 minutes.  Cool.  Apply with cotton balls to the sores throughout the day.

Lemon Balm Tea for Cold Relief
½ cup dried basil
½ cup dried lemon balm
Whiskey or brandy, optional
Honey, for taste
Hot water

In a bowl, mix the dried basil leaves with the dried lemon balm leaves. Take a tea ball and place the mixed leaves inside as you would for brewing black tea. Boil water. Place the tea ball inside a pot filled with boiled water. Let the leaves steep for about 5 to 7 minutes. If you have a head cold, it's traditional to add a shot of whiskey or brandy in the tea. But if you have been prescribed or are taking over-the-counter cold medicine, then don't add whiskey or brandy to your tea. Add honey to the hot lemon balm tea and drink it immediately.

Lemon Balm Astringent
1 tablespoon fresh lemon balm
1 cup witch hazel

Combine the ingredients in a jar with a tight-fitting lid.  Allow to steep for 1 week.  Strain.  Use 1 teaspoon per application with a cotton ball.  Refrigerate if you wish.

Sense of Home / Homemade Living / Healthy Living