Thursday, May 16, 2013

Maligned Melissa

Grown in my garden last year. I hope I get a healthy crop at our new home.

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) -- not to be confused with Bee balm (Monarda fistulosa) --  is in my opinion, one of the easiest plants a person can grow. Left unhindered it grows to about two feet tall with lemon scented leaves and flowers that are borne on auxiliary stems and are a light yellow, white or lavender color. This herb will thrive in full sun to partial shade, needs only moderate watering, and prefers well-drained soil. Bees love it. Growing lemon balm in the garden will attract these beneficial pollinators to your garden. Being a perennial herb that is part of the mint family, it will spread like crazy and unless you are a serious Lemon balm aficionado, you'll definitely have to reign it in or have it coming out of your ears.



Personally, I prefer to simply let Melissa have her way and just plant my other herbs far enough away from her that they won't feel over-run. That said, this beautiful herb with an amazing scent, gets a bad rap from lots of non-herbalists because of her tendency to be overbearing. Rather than avoiding her altogether though, I'd like to offer you some reasons to propose a truce with the much Maligned Melissa.

History

Image courtesy Google
Lemon balm's reputation as a healing herb goes back centuries. According to Greek mythology, Lemon balm was given her name after the Greek nymph Melissa, who discovered and promoted the use of honey and also happened to be a protectress of bees. For those of you who want the science rather than the mythology, the genus name comes from the Latin melisso phyllum, meaning, “honey bee” and it is certainly a favorite flower of bees.

This herb was sacred in the temple of Diana and priestesses of Aphrodite were called Melissa. In those days, the herb was used as a tonic for the nervous system, to treat melancholy and heart ailments, and as a regulator for the hormonal system. Avicenna, the great Arab physician (980-1037) said of Lemon balm “(Lemon) Balm causeth the mind and heart to be merry.” The Arabs brought the plant to Spain and from there the Benedictine monks spread it to northern regions, where it was widely cultivated in monastery gardens. In Southern Europe, it was referred to as 'heart's content' and  the Swiss physician Paracelsus called it 'life elixir' as he believed that this herb could bring a man completely back to life. The Emperor Charlemagne, according to Michael Castleman in his book The New Healing Herbs, ordered every medicinal gardener to grow Lemon balm as its use as a tranquilizer and sedative had grown so popular.

Modern Day Uses


Lemon Balm can be used to treat a wide range of conditions including anxiety, chronic fatigue, colic, depression, headaches, hyperthyroidism, nausea, and nervousness. It's also been shown to be helpful in the treatment of ADD, ADHD, migraines, and a rather impressive list of other common ailments, including herpes (both of the cold sore and genital variety).  Dried, it is often included in herbal sachets to repel moths as well as in sleep pillows to help induce restful slumber.

Topically, it can be used as an antiviral and antiseptic poultice for skin conditions like boils and eczema, as well as insect and dog bites, sunburns, and ulcers. Due to the rejuvenating and anti-inflammatory properties, it also frequently finds its way into facial creams and salves for skin conditioning, toning and brightening. 

Lemon balm is delightfully edible and makes a delicious addition to salads as well as a yummy twist on the classic basil pesto. Simply adding a fresh spring of this aromatic herb to a glass of spring water will impart a pleasing, lemony lift and it is perfectly safe, even for children. The only serious warning I have run across in my study of the pulchritudinous Melissa is to be cautious of using her in the presence of hypothyroidism (under-active gland). 

That last bit about adding a sprig to a glass of water presents the perfect segue to what I wanted to talk about next. 

Making a Lunar Infusion

This image also courtesy Google
The idea of making a Lunar infusion might sound a little strange to some people, but it’s actually no stranger than making a sun tea (Solar infusion) -- only this is made by the light of a full moon. If you've studied at all with Rosemary Gladstar, Lunar infusions are nothing new at all and, in fact I find the process of making one adds an element of ritual that appeals to me on many levels. 

You will need:
  • 1 quart glass jar, with lid 
  • 6 tablespoons (approximately) of fresh Lemon balm
  • fresh water (my preferred choice is always pure spring water, but if you haven't got any, use what you have)
Just a bit before sunset, gather your supplies and go outside.
  1. Find a nice quiet spot where you will allow your tea to infuse but it won't be accidentally knocked over by random acts of Nature. Ideally, you don't want to put a lid on this, but you can cover it with a light layer of cheesecloth to keep out unwary flitter-bys if you feel strongly about it.
  2. Be sure to set your intention. What does this mean, you ask?  Well, think about what you're wanting to achieve with this infusion. Setting your intention means that you have a clear goal in your mind of what it is you want to accomplish by performing this particular act of making a Lunar infusion.
  3. At sundown, place the Lemon balm leaves into the jar, always keeping your intention firm in your mind.  
  4. Fill the jar with the cool water.
  5. Leave it overnight.
  6. Well before the first rays of sun are anywhere near your jar, retrieve it and strain the Melissa out. She can go into your compost pile.
Throughout the day, each time you sip your infusion, recall your intention and drink.  I believe you'll be pleasantly surprised by Majestic Melissa.






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