Lemon Balm, a Powerhouse of a Medicinal Herb

 “Lemon Balm is sovereign for the brain. It strengthens

the memory and powerfully chases away melancholy”.

John Evelyn, an English herbal physician

Did you know that lemon balm, Melissa officinalis, has been used medicinally for centuries? Lemon balm is native to Southern Europe. Still, with its strong lemony smell and deliciously pleasant flavor, it was so popular that by the middle ages, it was cultivated throughout all of Europe, even making its way to the Middle East. Avicenna, an 11th-century Arab herbalist, said of the herb: “It causeth the mind and heart to become merry.” Melissa means “bee” in Greek, and as the name suggests, bees adore Melissa’s tiny but sweetly scented flowers. Legend has it that medieval beekeepers rubbed the crushed lemon balm in hives to encourage nesting. The Swiss physician and alchemist Paracelsus (1493-1541) believed that lemon balm was an “elixir of life” and claiming that it would increase strength and lengthen life. North America, too, was soon enamored with lemon balm brought over by the colonists who used it for tea and potpourri, as well as for increasing production of honey by honeybees.

Lemon balm is a powerhouse of a medicinal herb; in fact, it treats so many conditions it could be considered a cure-all. It has been used for treating dyspepsia, IBS, acid reflux, stress and anxiety, herpes simplex, brain health, hyperthyroid, Alzheimer’s, and insomnia, to name a few. Lemon balm long known for its ability to improve digestion contains volatile oils, known as terpenes, which help to relax muscles and relieve symptoms of gas, food stagnant, ease abdominal cramping, and promote the overall digestive health.

Some herbalists consider lemon balm as a nervous system trophorestorative(Hoffmann, 2003), a word which indicates that over time, it tonifies and repairs the nervous system. Part of the reason for this is that lemon balm contains rosmarinic acid, which increases the availability of GABA in the brain, where low levels are believed to be associated with anxiety and other mood disorders. In addition, rosmarinic acid has antioxidant and antimicrobial properties, with studies indicate that using topically on herpes simplex sores has shortened healing time and recurrence (Gaby, 2006). If that wan not enough, recent research has shown that lemon balm is also radioprotective and shields DNA from radiation-induced damage (Zeraatpishe et al., 2011). An extract of lemon balm is one of the treatments, based on research, suggests that it stops the processes that over-activate the thyroid from binding with the thyroid receptor, specifically in patients with Grave’s disease (Auf’mkolk, 1985). Clinical research shows that taking a standardized extract of lemon balm daily for four months reduces agitation and improves symptoms of mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease (Akhondzadeh, 2003). For the first time, chronic Melissa officinalis L. leaf extract treatment has been demonstrated to improve mild-to-moderate anxiety disorders, its associated symptoms and insomnia in humans (Cases, 2011)

Once you realize all the ways you can benefit from the many uses of lemon balm, I’m sure you’ll be itching to grow some in your garden. Lemon balm can be grown from seed, but in Central Oregon with the wind, heat, and its short growing season, I recommend starting lemon balm from established plants, rooted stem cuttings, root divisions, or seedlings from a nursery. It prefers fertile, loamy soil, with mid to full-day sun, but always appreciates a bit of afternoon shade and soils that retain moisture.

As a perennial herb (which means it will come up year after year), it can reach heights of 12-24 inches with equal width of spread. Lemon balm is hardy to zones 3 and 5, making it perfect for Central Oregon’s growing climate. If starting lemon balm from seed, you have several options, including starting seed in the spring, in the fall, or indoors. When starting seed in spring wait until the soils have warmed up and the danger of frost has passed or if planting in fall, plant seed in early fall to late winter. The challenge of fall planting is that with soil movement from ice and snow, the seeds can become too deep to germinate in the spring. To start lemon balm indoors, sow seeds six to eight weeks before the last frost. I sprinkle seeds in small pots filled with a seed starting mixture and barely cover. Seeds generally take seven to fourteen days to germinate at 70°F, but longer if indoor temperatures are cooler. Once seedlings have their second set of true leaves, either thin them or repot individual seedlings into larger containers, after all, the danger of frost has passed, seedlings should be set in the garden twelve to eighteen inches apart. Whichever method you choose, recognize that lemon balm seeds are slow to germinate. Once your lemon balm plant is established, and if left to go to seed, you will have many lemon balm babies the following year.

Lemon balm can always benefit from mulching year-round, but winter mulch is of the utmost importance to insulate the plant from being heaved out of the ground in times of repeated freeze and thaw cycles. To prevent scraggly or spindly growth, divide mature plants every three to five years. Lemon balm also is an excellent companion plant for squash as well as it repels mosquitoes and squash bugs.

Harvesting lemon balm is super easy, you can harvest a handful of fresh leaves to use immediately, or you can collect and dry the leaves for later use. Harvest the leaves just before its flowers open when volatile oils are at their most potent concentration. It is often possible to get two harvests a year, once in mid-summer and another in the fall, just remembering not to remove more than two-thirds of the growth at a time. For lemon balm, I remove the leaves from the stalks by holding the tip (top) of the stem firmly between your left thumb, index, and ring fingers. With the same three fingers of your right hand, pull firmly downwards along the stem. For drying, I either use a dehydrator set on low or spread the leaves on a cookie sheet and set somewhere that does not get direct sun and has good air circulation. Luckily living in Central Oregon herbs dry fast and are typically done in two to three days.

Lemon Balm Cold Sore Salve

  • 1 cup of coconut oil
  • 15 g St John’s wort dried herb
  • 15 g Lemon Balm dried herb

Step #1-Melt coconut oil in a double boiler/in a glass bowl over water that has reached a simmer, add herbs and mix well, infuse for two-four hours. Strain through cheesecloth/nut milk bag. Return oil to the bowl and heat slightly.

Step #2-Melt two tablespoons chopped/grated beeswax and two tablespoons grated cacao butter into the slightly heated lemon balm oil. Remove from heat, let cool slightly and add ten drops of lemon balm essential oil.

Step #3-Pour the oil into lip containers or small pots, let cool and harden.

Optional ingredients:

  • Two drops of clove oil pain relief
  • Four drops peppermint essential oil anti-viral, cooling, pleasant scent
  • Two drops tea tree essential oil anti-viral

So now that your garden is full of lemon balm, how do you use it? Lemon balm is quite versatile as either a culinary or medicinal herb. As a medicinal herb, the most obvious preparation is to infuse the leaves in hot water for tea. Typically, a therapeutic dose of an herb is one ounce of herb to 2-3 cups of water. Put the lemon balm leaves in a mason jar, pour in hot water, cover with a lid and let sit for 10-15 minutes, strain and drink throughout the day. One example of a tea formula that includes lemon balm for addressing digestive issues is to combine, one heaping teaspoon of chamomile flowers, lemon balm leaves, and catnip leaves, along with a half teaspoon of fennel or dill seeds. Pour boiling water over herbs and steep for ten minutes.

Fresh lemon balm can be used in drinks or added to steamed vegetables and fruit salads. A great way to use fresh lemon balm leaves is to make a lemon balm pesto. Just mix one-part new lemon balm to one-part fresh basil leaf along with olive oil and garlic (if desired), and you have yourself a delicious pesto, that is ready to add to pasta, chicken or fish. If that was not enough, lemon balm could be used as a base for making a liqueur. Add four tablespoons of chopped lemon balm, a scraped peel of a fourth of a lemon, one-quarter teaspoon of coriander seed, and one-third of a cinnamon stick, four leaves of peppermint, and one cup of vodka. Place all the ingredients in a bottle, shake vigorously, and steep for three weeks. Shake the jar daily during the steeping period. Strain and filter into a dark bottle, adding sweetener to taste, let sit for two months, and then enjoy it.

Lemon Balm Martini

A favorite of mine is a lemon balm martini. Combine one ounce of lemon juice, four ounces of vodka, two to three teaspoons of simple sugar, along with a handful of lemon balm leaves. Pulse ingredients in blender and strain into a shaker filled with ice. Stir, then strain into martini glasses with a spring of lemon balm as a garnish.

When taking any herb, it is essential to determine if it might interfere with any medications or health issues you have. This website has detailed information on dosing and interactions https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-437/lemon-balm.

Holly Hutton, Herbal Goddess Medicinals

References:

Akhondzadeh, S., et al. (2003). Melissa officinalis extract in the treatment of patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial. Journal of Neurosurgery Psychiatry, Jul; 74(7): 863–866. doi: 10.1136/jnnp.74.7.863

Auf’mkolk, M., et. al. (1985). Extracts and auto-oxidized constituents of certain plants inhibit the receptor-binding and the biological activity of Graves’ immunoglobulins. Endocrinology, May; 116(5):1687-93

Cases, J., et. al. (2003). Pilot trial of Melissa officinalis L. leaf extract in the treatment of volunteers suffering from mild-to-moderate anxiety disorders and sleep disturbances. Medical Journal Nutrition Metabolism, Dec; 4(3): 211–218. Published online 2010 Dec 17. doi: 10.1007/s12349-010-0045-4

Hoffman, David. Medical Herbalism. (2003).

Gaby, A. R. (2006). Natural remedies for Herpes simplex. Alternative Medical Review, Jun;11(2):93-101.

Nettle Gomasio

I don’t know about you, but I love Gomasio.  Gomasio is a dry condiment traditionally made from toasted unhulled sesame seeds and salt.  It is often used as a toping sprinkled over rice.  In my case, I sprinkle it over just about everything that comes out of my kitchen.

Gomasio is typically made with tan or black sesame seeds. The seeds are toasted before being mixed with the salt. Occasionally the salt is also toasted. The ratio of sesame seeds to salt varies according to taste and diet, generally ranging between 5:1 (5 parts sesame seeds to 1 part salt) and 15:1.

Gomasio made it claim to fame in the US as part of the macrobiotic diet movement and is thought to be a healther alternative to ordinary salt. Generally, the gomasio used in macrobiotic cuisine contains less salt than traditional Japanese gomasio (a ratio of 18 parts sesame seeds to 1 part salt.

Interesting factoid: Gomasio is also used in Japaneese to describe a head of hair containing both white and black hair strands that intermingle, similar to the English idiom for hair that is salt and pepper.

In this version of Gomasio, I started with left over Nettle Chips.  If you haven’t had nettle chips, it is just a variation on the more popular Kale chips populating the grocery isle.

Nettle Gomasio

Suribachi

4 cups of Nettle chips

1/2 cup of pine nuts

1/2 cup of sesame seeds

1/4 cup of nutritional yeast

2 T. of kelp

1 T. of rosemary

2 T. of corriander seed

1/2-1 cup of Himalayan Pink salt

 

 

Step one: dry roast the sesame seeds by gently warming them in a pan over medium heat, tossing or stirring constantly, until brown, then move to a bowl.

Step two: combine the corriander seed and pine nuts in the same pan and dry roast until slightly brown, then combine in bowl with sesame seeds.

Step three: combine the remaining ingredients into the bowl and stir together until well mixed.

Step four:  place ingredients in food processor, suribachi or other type of grinder.  Process until done and store in glass jar.

Sprinkle on soups, pizza, rice, cooked vegetables and anything else you can think of that you would be using salt for.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Changing Of The Seasons, Herbal Tune-Up

In Chinese medicine, autumn is the season of the element Metal (or air). Grief is the emotion of the Metal element-missing, separation, and “letting go.” metal How many of you feel a bit of grief as summer turns to fall and the leaves start falling from the trees?  Healthy letting go is important as we make this transition.  If the energy of Metal is blocked or imbalanced within us, our expression of grief can become imbalanced and inappropriate. Furthermore our emotions are tied to our emotional health.

Metal is associated with the “lungs” and as many of you have experienced it is also the time of the year that we often find ourselves catching a cold.  In TCM, the transition from Summer to Fall is a time when our ability to fight off pathogens is most unstable.  Now is the time to prepare for winter by  “tuning-up”  or strengthening your immune system.

In Chinese Traditional Medicine a healthy immune systems helps us to fight pathogens that invade our body manifesting with colds, flu and fevers.  There are many things that we can do to strengthen our systems including changing activities, food and starting an herbal regimen.  Now is the time to start to eat cooked foods, avoiding ice cream, iced drinks, raw foods (particularly if you have a weak digestion, since we know the link between healthy digestion and a healthy immune system), or at least cutting back on the above.  Sometimes we try to keep summer alive by eating certain foods, but again, that isn’t “healthy letting go”.  Having chai , cinnamon or ginger tea is an excellent way to add some warming herbs and spices to your routine that help to heat up your metabolism and combat pathogens.

This is the time of year I start to cook with herbs.  I have found that if I incorporate herbs into my food, I am often more successful at addressing ongoing issues.  There are several herbs that I always use; astragalus and codonopsis, along with a handful of others.  This is a dish I made that from pork steaks, with tomatoes from my garden IMG_3419and adding astragalus, red dates, codonopsis, lily flowers, black and shitake mushrooms.  I cooked this for several hours on 300 in the oven. I ate the pork chops and the next day, I took all of the remaining items and made a broth out of it.  During the fall I basically clean out my refrigerator at the end of the week, throw in a handful of herbs and cook it all in a crock-pot overnight.  I use this broth in soups, for cooking grains, etc.  Here is a slightly more complicated recipe that I use in my classes.

Changing of the Seasons Soup

Ingredients:

You will need equal parts (1.5 oz each) of the following herbs.

  • Codonopsis root-This herb will help to tonify and strengthen “Qi” energy. It helps to build blood and nourish body fluids.
  • Astragalus root– Astragalus is a root that helps to strengthen protective defenses, strengthen Qi energy, nourish the spleen, and tonify the blood and lungs.
  • Red Dates-restores vitality and enrich blood
  • Lycii berries (wolfberries)-Lycii berries help to strengthen the liver and the kidneys.

 Additional ingredients:

  • One Organic whole chicken
  • ½ cup Shiitake mushrooms, chopped-tonifies blood and enhances immunity
  • 1 cup Carrots, sliced-high in Vit. A
  • 1 cup Potatoes, cubed-Tonifies Qi
  • 1 cup of Winter Squash, cubed-Tonifies Qi and blood
  • 1cup of Onions, chopped-tonifies and regulates Qi
  • 1 cup of Kale, chopped –vit. K and detoxifying
  • 3 cloves of Garlic, minced-promotes Qi and blood
  • ½ cup of brown rice-Tonifies Qi
  • 3 T. Toasted Sesame seed oil

Instructions:

  • Fill a large stockpot with water 2/3 full. Add the above herbs to the pot and place the lid on. Bring to a boil and simmer for 4 hours. If the water level boils down, add water to refill if necessary.
  • Strain herbs and add broth back into pot and then add whole chicken. Bring to a full boil over high heat. Skim off any foam that may develop and discard. Slowly boil all this for as long as you can bear it. Three hours is ideal. Two will do. Add extra water as needed to keep the pot around two-thirds full.
  • Strain and set chicken aside until cool enough to handle. Put broth in refrigerator, skim off fat.
  • In the mean time in a fry pan add a 3 Tablespoons of sesame seed oil. Sauté onions and garlic until soft. Then add carrots, winter squash, and potatoes. When vegetables are soft set aside.
  • By this time the chicken should be cool enough to handle, remove meat and add to broth.
  • Combine sautéed vegetables into stock pot and bring to a simmer.
  • Add brown rice, (more if you want it thick).
  • When rice is cooked, add Kale and cook until wilted. Soup is ready.

Have a cup or bowl twice a day for 12 days, then once a week throughout the fall and winter.

IMG_3421Another important household standard during the fall and winter is fire cider. You can find recipes and examples of this all over the internet.  It is often called master tonic, cyclone cider, etc, but it is all based on a similar recipe, which you will see below.   At the very first indication of a cold I always take a jigger of this 3 times a day.  In TCM herbs that warm up the metabolism help to disperse the cold and repel the pathogens. In the case of fire cider, the ingredients help to heat up our metabolism (sweat-inducing) to fight off pathogens, this along with lots of antiviral and anti bacterial properties it can literally kick a cold away.

Fill a mason jar with 

  • 1 part minced garlic
  • 1 part grated horseradish (let it sit for three minutes in a bowl before adding it to the mix.)
  • 1 part grated ginger (no need to peel)
  • 1 part minced onion
  • 1 dried cayenne pepper

Cover with organic apple cider vinegar and let sit for 4-6 weeks or months if possible. Strain and bottle.  I often use this recipe as a base and add other ingredients including turmeric, long pepper and a bit of prickly ash.

yellow-orange-mapleFall is the time to start to readjust our biological clocks, clean out our closest, establish an exercise routine, wear a scarf around your neck, enjoy the fall colors, learn a new skill and most importantly get outside to breathe the fresh crisp air.