Melissa ~ Lemon Balm

 This plant is one of the most useful medicines anyone can grow in their garden. In herbal medicine we literally use Melissa officinalis (Lemon Balm) from top to bottom! We grow and harvest Melissa to make tinctures, glycerites, hydrosols and to dry for tea mixes.

It’s most known as a nervous system relaxant relieving stress, anxiety, insomnia and generally calming the nerves. I often include it in tincture formulas or tea mixes to treat these imbalances of the nervous system that often accompany other conditions. For some patients I use Melissa in anti-depressant formulas as it certainly does have uplifting thymoleptic effect. In particular, it is suitable for mothers post partum alongside other post-natal depression herbs I favour like Motherwort and Scullcap.

Melissa has a soothing and relaxing action on the upper digestion making it useful for dyspepsia and stomach aches and pains. I often use it in the first stage of treatment for chronic H-pylori infections. Here it is used to alleviate high levels of stress exacerbating the condition rather than being one of our stronger antibacterial herbs specific for Helicobactor pylori infection. Melissa is an excellent antispasmodic herb which I would consider specific for irritable bowel syndrome and certainly a top favourite to consider in clinical treatment of other inflammatory bowel diseases, especially where stress is an ongoing factor. For colds and flu’s Melissa is a plant to add into remedies if there are muscle aches and pains and as a tea induces sweating in mild fevers. Every herbalist I know could add another number of medicinal uses to Melissa’s long list of virtues making it a favourite in clinal practice. One thing to be aware of is that Melissa has been shown to inhibit the effect of TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) so best to avoid in medicinal doses or frequent use if you have an underactive thyroid. In clinical practice some herbalists use it in formulas for hyperthyroidism.

Another (yes another!) fantastic way to use Melissa is in skin care products. For this, I like to make Melissa hydrosol by steam distillation and use it as an ingredient in lotions, creams, salves, skin cleansers, skin toners and added into bath water. The dried and powdered leaves can be used in deodorant talc mixes. Melissa essential oil, which is also produced by distillation or can be bought in shops is a nice addition to homemade lip balms. It an anti-viral against Herpes simplex making it effective for cold sores. The essential oil is very strong and mostly found in a diluted form in shops which you can use neat or in balms etc. I use pure Melissa in our Shingle Tingle cream at 1 drop per 50mls as it’s so strong!

There are so many uses for Melissa in supporting children’s health. It’s an everyday tonic for kids that may be experiencing ongoing stress which can manifest in stomach aches, restlessness, poor sleep, lower digestive cramps, irregular bowel motions or unusual irritability. Some of the ways to use Melissa for kids are: as a tea; as a strong tea added to bath water; as a hydrosol spray at night time; as a glycerite or honey for digestive issues; or simply grow it in the garden so they can interact with it regularly.

Our little Tilia loves to rub the leaves in her hands to smell the fresh lemony scent as she passes it in the garden. As I typed this Roan and Tilia have harvested and made their own Lemon Balm tea. The decided to add in fennel leaves too.

 

Growing and Harvesting

 

It’s very easy to propagate from seed or split to create more plants. Some people find it a spreader like Mint (of which it is the same Lamiaceae family). We have never found it to overly spread and keeping it at bay is not something you should worry about. To combat this, you can split it every 3 years. We do this for the health of the plant. Dig it up when it has completely died back in winter, chop it in half with a spade (or quarters – depending on size desired) and replant some in the same spot and the rest in a new place or gift to friends and neighbours.

 

We always have lots of Melissa growing as we harvest from it throughout the summer. If you find the time and it is a good summer, for Ireland, you should be able to cut back your Melissa for remedy making 3 times over the season. To harvest Melissa cut back before flowering. Cut the whole stem and leaf a few inches above the ground. No need to separate stem from leaf - use all aerial parts. If you have space in a polytunnel it’s definitely worth planting it there as you will still be harvesting it into Autumn and have it early in Spring to pick for fresh tea. Other fun ways of getting more Melissa into your diet are in eggs, lemonades, ice creams, herbal honey’s or butters! This summer make the most of your Lemon Balm 😊

 

About Ivywood

Herbalists Ross Hennessy and Marina Kesso have moved their businesses and family to a new piece of land in Co Clare. They are busy creating new spaces on the land to reestablish their clinical practice and medicinal herb nursery. Formerly Bareroot Botanicals and Iona Herbal they have now renamed the woodland and business Ivywood.

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