Lemon Balm Health Benefits And Culinary Uses

Discover lemon balm health benefits and culinary uses of this lemon-scented herb. From its role in culinary applications to its soothing properties in herbal teas, explore cultivation tips, preservation methods, and important considerations for safe usage. 

Lemon Balm Health Benefits

For as long as I can remember, plants have been a significant part of my life. From the towering oaks in my childhood backyard to the tiny pots of herbs on my kitchen windowsill, they’ve given me peace and purpose. But among all the flora that have graced my life, lemon balm holds a special place in my heart.

Lemon balm grew freely, and so did nettle in my old country, Poland, and it was a very popular healing herb used by people and folk medicine. Traditional Polish healers, known as “znachorzy,” often recommend lemon balm to reduce anxiety, aid digestion, and promote restful sleep. From an early age, I learned about lemon balm health benefits and culinary uses.

Polish grandmothers (known as “babcie”) often pass down recipes and remedies involving lemon balm. A common practice is to prepare a simple infuse of lemon balm leaves to calm children before bedtime or to soothe an upset stomach.

Lemon balm, or Melissa officinalis, has been used for centuries in various cultures for its medicinal benefits. Its name, Melissa, is derived from the Greek word for “honeybee,” reflecting its popularity among bees and its use in attracting them to gardens. Medieval herbalists revered lemon balm for its ability to lift spirits and promote longevity.

My grandmother used lemon balm for insomnia and anxiety. I also use it for anxiety because lemon balm is soothing, and drinking lemon balm tea is my daily ritual.

Finding solace in the simple things can make all the difference in a world that often feels overwhelming. For me, lemon balm is more than jus an herb—it’s a symbol of hope, healing, and the deep connection we can cultivate with the natural world. It has taught me the value of slowing down, caring for myself and others, and finding beauty in the small, everyday moments.

So, the next time you feel overwhelmed or need a little peace, consider reaching for some lemon balm. Brew a cup of tea, inhale its soothing aroma, and let its gentle magic work wonders. As I did, you might find that sometimes the simplest remedies are the most powerful. Here, you will learn all about lemon balm’s health benefits and culinary uses.

What is Lemon Balm?

Lemon balm, scientifically known as Melissa officinalis, is a perennial herb in the mint family, Lamiaceae. It is native to Europe, Central Asia, and Iran but has been cultivated and naturalized in various parts of the world due to its aromatic properties and medicinal benefits. Here’s a deeper dive into what makes lemon balm special:

Botanical Description Of Lemon Balm

Lemon balm grows to about 70-150 cm (2 5 feet). The plant features:

  • Leaves: Heart-shaped, green leaves with a wrinkled appearance and a distinctive lemon scent when crushed.
  • Flowers: Small, white or pale yellow flowers that bloom in the summer, attracting bees and other pollinators.
  • Stems: Square and hairy, typical of mint family members.

Historic and Traditional Uses

Lemon balm has a rich history dating back over 2,000 years. Here are some notable aspects:

  • Ancient Greece and Rome: Used for its purported healing properties. Pliny the Elder and Dioscorides, both ancient physicians, recommended it for its ability to uplift spirits and treat wounds.
  • Medieval Europe: Cultivated in monastery gardens, lemon balm was used to redu e stress and anxiety, improve sleep, and aid digestion. It was a key ingredient in Carmelite water  a medicinal tonic developed by Carmelite nuns in the 14th century.
  • Traditional Medicine: Employed in various folk remedies to alleviate headaches, reduce fever, and treat insect bites.

Culinary Uses of Lemon Balm

  1. Herbal Tea: Lemon balm is commonly brewed into a soothing herbal tea. To enjoy its mild, lemony flavor, simply steep fresh or dried leaves in hot water for a few minutes.
  2. Flavoring: The fresh leaves can add a subtle citrus flavor to salads, soups, sauces, and marinades.
  3. Beverages: Lemon balm can be infused into water, lemonade, or cocktails for a refreshing twist.
  4. Baking: For a unique flavor, chopped lemon balm leaves can be added to baked goods like cookies, cakes, and muffins.
  5. Cooking: It can be used in savory dishes, such as fish, chicken, and vegetable dishes, to enhance flavor.
  6. Infused oils and vinegar: It is easy to make lemon balm oil or lemon balm-infused vinegar.

Medicinal Uses- Benefits of Lemon Balm

  1. Stress Relief and Anxiety: Lemon balm has calming properties on the nervous system and can help reduce stress and anxiety. It can be consumed as a tea, taken in capsule form, or used in tinctures.
  2. Sleep Aid: Lemon balm, known for its sedative effects, is often used to promote better sleep and sleep quality. It is sometimes combined with other herbs like valerian or chamomile.
  3. Digestive Health: Lemon balm helps alleviate digestive issues such as indigestion, bloating, and gas. Drinking lemon balm tea after meals can be beneficial.
  4. Cold Sores: Topical application of lemon balm ointment or cream can help speed up the healing process of cold sores and reduce symptoms.
  5. Herpes Simplex Virus: Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) can help manage herpes virus (HSV) infections. Its antiviral compounds, such as rosmarinic acid, inhibit virus replication and reduce outbreak severity. Topical application of lemon balm cream or diluted essential oil can soothe herpes lesions, speed healing, and alleviate symptoms. 
  6. Antiviral and Antibacterial: Lemon balm has antiviral and antibacterial properties, making it useful in treating minor infections and boosting overall immunity.

Aromatherapy and Personal Care

  1. Essential Oil: Lemon balm essential oil is used in aromatherapy for its calming and mood-enhancing effects. It can be diffused in the air or added to bathwater.
  2. Skin Care: Due to its soothing properties, lemon balm is often included in creams, lotions, and balms designed to calm irritated skin or treat minor wounds.
  3. Hair Care: Infusions of lemon balm can be used as a hair rinse to add shine and soothe the scalp.

Gardening

  1. Pollinator Attraction: Lemon balm is great for attracting bees and other pollinators to the garden, which can help with the pollination of other plants.
  2. Companion Planting: It can be planted alongside other herbs and vegetables to deter pests and improve the health of neighboring plants.

Household Uses

  1. Natural Insect Repellent: Lemon balm can be used to repel insects. Rubbing the fresh leaves on the skin or placing bunches around the house can help keep pests away.
  2. Potpourri: Dried lemon balm leaves can be used in potpourri mixes to add a pleasant, fresh scent to indoor spaces.

Traditional and Cultural Uses

  1. Herbal Remedies: Lemon balm has been used in traditional medicine for centuries to treat various ailments, from headaches to menstrual cramps.
  2. Spiritual Practices: In some cultures, lemon balm is used in rituals and ceremonies for its calming and uplifting properties.

Lemon Balm contains Rosmarinic acid, which is a natural polyphenolic compound with strong antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties. It is found in various herbs, including rosemary, oregano, and lemon balm.

Benefits of Rosmarinic Acid

  1. Antioxidant Properties: Rosmarinic acid helps neutralize free radicals, protecting cells from oxidative stress and damage. This can contribute to overall health and may reduce the risk of chronic diseases.
  2. Anti-Inflammatory Effects: It can reduce inflammation by inhibiting the production of pro-inflammatory chemicals in the body. This makes it beneficial for conditions associated with inflammation, such as arthritis and allergies.
  3. Antiviral and Antibacterial: Rosmarinic acid has been shown to have antiviral and antibacterial properties, which can help fight infections and support the immune system.
  4. Anti-Anxiety and Mood-Enhancing: It can influence neurotransmitter activity in the brain, contributing to its calming and anxiety-reducing effects. This is one reason why lemon balm is often used to help with anxiety and stress.
  5. Cognitive Benefits: Some studies suggest that rosmarinic acid may improve cognitive function and protect

Herbal Action of Lemon Balm

Here are its primary herbal actions:

1. Antiviral

Lemon balm has demonstrated antiviral properties, particularly against the herpes simplex virus (HSV). Compounds like rosmarinic acid inhibit viral replication and help manage outbreaks.

2. Antioxidant

Rich in antioxidants, lemon balm helps neutralize free radicals, protecting cells from oxidative stress and damage, which can contribute to overall health and reduce the risk of chronic diseases.

3. Anti-inflammatory

Lemon balm’s anti-inflammatory properties help reduce inflammation and can alleviate conditions associated with chronic inflammation, such as arthritis and allergies.

4. Anxiolytic (Anti-Anxiety)

Lemon balm has a calming effect on the nervous system, making it effective for reducing anxiety and promoting relaxation. It can be consumed as a tea or in supplement form for its anxiolytic benefits.

5. Sedative

Due to its mild sedative properties, lemon balm is often used to improve sleep quality and treat insomnia. It can help relax the mind and body, making it easier to fall asleep.

6. Antispasmodic

Lemon balm helps relax smooth muscles, which can relieve spasms and cramps in the gastrointestinal tract. This makes it beneficial for digestive issues like indigestion and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

7. Carminative

As a carminative herb, lemon balm aids in the expulsion of gas from the digestive system, relieving bloating, gas, and colic.

8. Digestive Aid

Lemon balm stimulates the digestive system, promoting the production of bile and easing digestive discomfort. It can help alleviate symptoms of indigestion, bloating, and gas.

9. Diaphoretic

Lemon balm can induce sweating, which helps in detoxification and can be useful in managing fevers and colds.

10. Antimicrobial

Lemon balm exhibits antimicrobial properties, which can help fight bacterial and fungal infections. This makes it useful for topical applications to treat minor wounds and infections.

11. Tonic

Lemon balm acts as a general tonic, supporting overall health and vitality. It can strengthen and invigorate the body, improving general well-being.

Growing Lemon Balm

Lemon balm is a hardy and adaptable plant that can thrive in various environments. Here are some tips for growing it:

  • Soil: Prefers well-drained, fertile soil but can tolerate poorer conditions.
  • Light: Grows best in full sun to partial shade.
  • Watering: Needs regular watering, especially in dry periods, but can withstand some drought once established.
  • Propagation: Can be grown from seeds, cuttings, or by dividing established plants. It spreads easily and can become invasive if not controlled.

How to Use Lemon Balm

  • Tea: Steep 1-2 teaspoons of dried lemon balm leaves (or a handful of fresh leaves) in a cup of boiling water for 5-10 minutes. Strain and enjoy.
  • Tincture: Follow the instructions on commercial tinctures or make your own by soaking fresh lemon balm leaves in alcohol for a few weeks.
  • Capsules: Take as directed on the packaging for stress relief or sleep aid.
  • Topical Application: Apply lemon balm creams or ointments to affected areas as needed.
  • Culinary: Add fresh leaves to dishes as desired or infuse into oils and vinegar for added flavor.

When to Harvest

Lemon balm can be harvested throughout the growing season, but there are optimal times to do so:

  • Best Time: Harvest in the morning after the dew has dried but before the heat of the day. This is when the essential oils and leaves are at their peak.
  • Growth Stage: The best time to harvest is just before the plant flowers, usually in late spring to early summer. This is when the leaves contain the highest concentration of essential oils.

Post-Harvest Handling

  1. Washing: Rinse the harvested leaves under cool water to remove any dirt or insects. Shake off excess water and pat them dry with a clean towel.
  2. Drying:
    • To preserve lemon balm for later use, dry the leaves. Bundle the stems with a rubber band and hang them upside down in a cool, dry, dark place with good air circulation.
    • Alternatively, you can spread the leaves on a screen or drying rack in a single layer. Turn them occasionally to ensure even drying.
  3. Storage: Once the leaves are completely dry and crumbly to the touch, store them in an airtight container away from light and moisture. Dried lemon balm can retain its potency for up to a year.
  4. Freezing: For a fresher taste, you can freeze lemon balm leaves. Place them in a single layer on a baking sheet and freeze. Once frozen, transfer the leaves to a freezer-safe bag or container.

Using Freshly Harvested Lemon Balm

  • Herbal Tea: Use fresh leaves to make a r refreshing tea. Simply steep a handful of fresh leaves in hot water for 5-10 minutes.
  • Culinary Uses: For a subtle lemon flavor, add fresh leaves to salads, soups, sauces, and other dishes.
  • Aromatherapy: Crush a few fresh leaves and inhale their soothing aroma for a quick mood boost.

Ice Cube Method:

  1. Chop: Chop the fresh leaves into small pieces.
  2. Fill Tray: Place the chopped leaves into ice cube trays, filling each compartment about halfway.
  3. Add Water: Fill the compartments with water or olive oil.
  4. Freeze: Freeze the trays until solid 
  5. Store: Pop the lemon balm cubes out of the trays and store them in a freezer-safe bag or container.

Making Lemon Balm Extract

Creating an extract or tincture is another way to preserve the medicinal properties of lemon balm.

  1. Harvest and Rinse: Harvest fresh leaves, rinse them, and pat them dry.
  2. Chop: Chop the leaves roughly to increase the surface area. Fill Jar: Fill a glass jar about halfway with the chopped leaves.
  3. Add Alcohol: Pour a high-proof alcohol (like vodka) over the leaves until they are completely submerged.
  4. Seal and Store: Seal the jar tightly in a cool, dark place. Shake the jar gently every day.
  5. Strain: After 4-6 weeks, strain the liquid into a clean jar using a cheesecloth or fine mesh strainer.
  6. Label and Store: Label the jar with the date and contents, and store it in a cool, dark place.

Infusing Oils with Lemon Balm

Infused oils can be used for culinary purposes or in skincare products.

  1. Harvest and Rinse: Harvest fresh leaves, rinse them, and pat them dry.
  2. Chop: Chop the leaves roughly.
  3. Fill Jar: Fill a glass jar about halfway with the chopped leaves.
  4. Add Oil: Pour a neutral oil (like olive or almond oil) over the leaves until completely submerged.
  5. Seal and Store: Seal the jar tightly and store it in a sunny window. Shake the jar gently every day.
  6. Strain: After 2-4 weeks, strain the oil into a clean jar using a cheesecloth or fine mesh strainer.
  7. Label and Store: Label the jar with the date and contents, and store it in a cool, dark place.

Side Effects of Lemon Balm

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is generally considered safe for most people when used appropriately. However, like any herb or supplement, it can cause side effects and may not be suitable for everyone. Here are some potential side effects and considerations:

Common Side Effects

  1. Allergic Reactions: Some individuals may experience allergic reactions, such as skin rashes, itching, or difficulty breathing. If you notice any signs of an allergic reaction, discontinue use and seek medical attention.
  2. Gastrointestinal Issues: Lemon balm may cause mild digestive problems in some people, such as nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, or diarrhea. Reducing the dosage can sometimes alleviate these symptoms.
  3. Drowsiness: Due to its sedative properties, lemon balm can cause drowsiness or lethargy, especially when taken in large amounts or combined with other sedative medications or herbs.
  4. Headaches: In rare cases, lemon balm might cause headaches.

Specific Populations

Certain populations should exercise caution or avoid using lemon balm:

  1. Pregnant and Breastfeeding Women: There is limited research on the safety of lemon balm during pregnancy and breastfeeding. It’s best to avoid use unless directed by a healthcare provider.
  2. Children: While lemon balm is sometimes used to treat anxiety and sleep problems in children, it’s essential to use it under the guidance of a healthcare provider to ensure proper dosage and safety.
  3. People with Glaucoma: Lemon balm may potentially increase intraocular pressure, so individuals with glaucoma should avoid its use unless advised otherwise by their healthcare provider.

Medications

  1. Sedatives and CNS Depressants
    • Examples: Benzodiazepines (e.g., diazepam, lorazepam), barbiturates, alcohol, and other sleep aids.
    • Interaction: Lemon balm may enhance the sedative effects of these medications, leading to increased drowsiness and sedation.
    • Advice: Use caution when combining lemon balm with these substances, and avoid activities that require alertness, such as driving.
  2. Thyroid Medications
    • Examples: Levothyroxine and other thyroid hormone replacements, antithyroid medications (e.g., methimazole, propylthiouracil).
    • Interaction: Lemon balm can affect thyroid function and may interfere with the efficacy of these medications.
    • Advice: Individuals with thyroid conditions should consult their healthcare provider before using lemon balm.
  3. Anticoagulants and Antiplatelet Drugs
    • Examples: Warfarin, aspirin, clopidogrel, heparin.
    • Interaction: Lemon balm may have mild blood-thinning effects, potentially increasing the risk of bleeding when taken with these medications.
    • Advice: Consult your healthcare provider before combining lemon balm with blood-thinning medications.
  4. Antiretroviral Drugs
    • Examples: Medications used to treat HIV/AIDS, such as zidovudine.
    • Interaction: There is some evidence that lemon balm might interfere with the effectiveness of antiretroviral drugs.
    • Advice: Patients on antiretroviral therapy should seek medical advice before using lemon balm.
  5. Antiepileptic Drugs
    • Examples: Phenytoin, carbamazepine, valproate.
    • Interaction: Lemon balm may potentiate the sedative effects of these medications.
    • Advice: Use caution and consult a healthcare provider.

Herbs and Supplements

  1. Other Sedative Herbs
    • Examples: Valerian, chamomile, hops, passionflower, kava.
    • Interaction: Combining lemon balm with other sedative herbs may enhance the overall sedative effect, increasing drowsiness.
    • Advice: Use with caution and consider reducing the dose of one or both herbs.
  2. Blood-Thinning Herbs and Supplements
    • Examples: Garlic, ginger, ginkgo biloba, ginseng, fish oil.
    • Interaction: The combination may increase the risk of bleeding.
    • Advice: Monitor for signs of bleeding and consult a healthcare provider.

Alcohol

  • Interaction: Alcohol can enhance the sedative effects of lemon balm, leading to increased drowsiness and impairment.
  • Advice: Limit alcohol consumption when using lemon balm, especially if using it for its sedative properties.

Sources of Lemon Balm & What to Look For

When sourcing lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), it’s important to consider the quality and purity of the product, whether you’re purchasing it fresh, dried, as a supplement, or in another form. Here are some tips on where to find lemon balm and what to look for:

Sources of Lemon Balm

  1. Home Gardening
    • Growing Your Own: Lemon balm is easy to grow in home gardens or containers. It prefers well-drained soil and partial to full sunlight.
    • Seeds and Plants: Purchase seeds or starter plants from reputable nurseries or garden centers.
  2. Local Farmers’ Markets
    • Fresh Leaves: Local farmers’ markets often sell fresh lemon balm, especially during the growing season. 
  3. Health Food Stores
    • Dried Leaves: Health food stores usually carry dried lemon balm leaves for tea or culinary use. Look for organic, non-GMO options to ensure quality.
    • Supplements: Capsules, tinctures, and extra ts are commonly available in health food stores. Choose products from reputable brands that use high-quality, organic ingredients.
  4. Online Retailers
    • Wide Selection: Online retailers offer a wide range of lemon balm products, from seeds and plants to dried leaves and supplements. Look for well-reviewed products and reputable sellers.
    • Specialty Herbal Shops: Many online herbal shops specialize in high-quality, organic herbs. These shops often provide detailed information about the sourcing and processing of their products.
  5. Pharmacies
    • Supplements and Tinctures: Pharmacies often stock lemon balm supplements and tinctures, especially those focused on natural health products. Look for products that have been tested for purity and potency.

Lemon balm, with its beautiful, lemony scent, is a powerful medicinal plant with many health benefits and applications. 

More On Herbs

How To Use Herbs In The Kitchen

What Herbs to Use for Cold Weather Wellness

Herbs To Fire Up Your Libido

Homemade Elderflower Syrup (Cordial)

Refrences:

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/38381912

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34449930

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33475068

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16635970

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27167460

Lemon Balm Health Benefits And Culinary Uses

Lemon Balm Tea

Discover lemon balm health benefits and culinary uses of this lemon-scented herb. From its role in culinary applications to its soothing properties in herbal teas, explore cultivation tips, preservation methods, and important considerations for safe usage. 
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Course: Drinks
Cuisine: Herbs
Keyword: Lemon balm, Lemon balm tea
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp Dried lemon balm leaves or 1/2 cup fresh leaves
  • 1 tbsp Chamomile flowers dired
  • 1 tbsp Lavender dired
  • honey optional
  • lemon optional

Instructions

  • Prepare the Herbs: If using fresh lemon balm leaves, rinse them gently and pat them dry. If using dried herbs, measure out the specified amounts.
    Combine Ingredients: In a teapot or infuser basket, combine the dried lemon balm leaves, chamomile flowers, and lavender flowers.
    Boil Water: Heat water in a kettle until it reaches a gentle boil.
    Infusion: Pour the hot water over the herbal blend in the teapot or infuser basket.
    Steep: Let the herbs steep in the hot water for about 5-10 minutes to extract their flavors and beneficial compounds.
    Strain: After steeping, remove the tea infuser or strain the tea into cups to remove the herbs.
    Sweeten (Optional): If desired, sweeten the tea with honey or add a squeeze of lemon for additional flavor.
    Enjoy: Sip and savor the calming and soothing effects of your homemade anti-anxiety tea.

Notes

  • Adjust the proportions of herbs to suit your taste preferences and desired strength of the tea.
  • Feel free to experiment with other calming herbs such as mint, passionflower, or valerian root to customize your blend.
  • Enjoy your anti-anxiety tea warm for a comforting experience, or chill it in the refrigerator for a refreshing iced tea option.
Yum

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