Leave it to Lemon Balm: The Ultimate Healing Herb
Longing for something calming? Look no further than lemon balm to lift your spirits and drive your stress away! While it’s notorious for helping to reduce anxiety and boost your mood, lemon balm has an impressive array of other uses and health benefits. So, what exactly is lemon balm, and why is it hailed for being the “cure-all” herb?
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is a perennial herb in the mint family with a distinct lemony scent and pleasant taste. Native to the Mediterranean and Southern Europe, this fragrant herb’s culinary and medicinal uses date back over 2,000 years. Today, it’s cultivated all over the world and continues to be used in a variety of practical applications.
Lemon Balm Throughout History
With nicknames like Bee Balm, Heart’s Delight, Honey Plant, and Sweet Balm, it’s no surprise that lemon balm has a long history with bees. In fact, its ability to attract them inspired the plant’s genus name “Melissa,” which means “honey bee” in Greek. Lemon balm was considered a sacred herb in ancient Greece and was used by beekeepers in the Temple of Artemis to help keep bees content. It was also placed inside empty hives to attract wandering bees and encourage them to return home after traveling.
Aside from keeping bees pleased, lemon balm was useful for polishing furniture and freshening rooms during the Middle Ages. Moreover, people living in the medieval era also recognized lemon balm’s uplifting qualities and healing powers. It was said to treat ailments ranging from earaches and toothaches to pregnancy sickness—even baldness and crooked necks! The plant was also steeped in wine to create a “healing elixir” for wounds, venomous insect bites, fevers, and a slew of other conditions.
Believed to be a promoter of health and longevity, lemon balm was consumed as a daily tea or tonic by royalty members, including the ninth century Roman Emperor Charles the Great, the thirteenth century Prince Llewellyn of Glamorgan, and the fourteenth century King Charles V of France. The royals also appreciated the herb’s calming effect, eventually leading to its introduction into medicine to address sleep disturbances, depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders.
Early colonists brought lemon balm over to North America for its valuable medicinal properties. Still, they also found that its delicate lemon flavor was suitable for a variety of culinary applications. Along with teas and tonics, the herb acted as a substitute for lemons in jams and jellies and was added to salads and soups, chopped into butter, and used as a decoration for main dishes.
Lemon Balm’s Uses Today
Lemon balm has become a staple herb for gardeners today. Not only is its nectar appealing to bees, but it’s also a favorite among butterflies, hummingbirds, and other pollinators that are essential for fertilizing and growing crops. While it may be one of the best-known secrets to a bountiful harvest, the plant has also made a name for itself as a must-have in the kitchens of chefs and home cooks alike. From appetizers and entrees to beverages and desserts, lemon balm’s mild citrus taste makes it an excellent ingredient for any recipe.
Lemon balm’s versatility goes beyond the culinary world. With a long history as a natural remedy for a range of ailments and health conditions, lemon balm continues to be widely used in medicine today in teas, tinctures, salves, capsules, and essential oils. Research suggests that its oil has antiviral properties that may be effective in treating cold sores from Herpes Simplex Virus and influenza, colds, and other viruses. The oil has also been shown to have an antihistamine effect, making it potentially useful for those who suffer from allergies. Additionally, lemon balm is a “carminative herb,” which means it can aid in digestion and relieve abdominal cramping, indigestion, gas, and bloating.
Lemon balm has long held a reputation for its ability to alleviate anxiety, insomnia, and stress. Thanks to extensive research, we now know the relaxing properties first recognized during ancient times can be attributed to an active compound found in the herb called rosmarinic acid. This polyphenol increases the brain neurotransmitter gamma amino-butyric acid, or GABA, creating a calming and soothing effect that can help promote emotional balance, mood, and a restful night’s sleep.
Along with its mood-enhancing benefits, evidence suggests that lemon balm offers neuroprotective effects through several different mechanisms. In addition to the compound mentioned above, rosmarinic acid, the herb contains eugenol, a potent antioxidant that prevents free radical damage in brain cells. Lemon balm also boosts the acetylcholine activity, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in memory and cognition. As a result, lemon balm is currently being studied for its potential effectiveness in reducing early Alzheimer’s and dementia symptoms.
Because of its potent antioxidant activities, lemon balm is commonly used in a variety of skincare and acne products. Its leaves contain powerful astringent and antibacterial properties that can help cleanse pores, reduce blackheads, and dry out oily skin to prevent outbreaks. Studies also indicate that lemon balm works as an anti-inflammatory agent and may reduce the swelling and redness associated with shingles, chickenpox, eczema, psoriasis, and other skin conditions.
With its proven medicinal uses and wide-ranging applications, it’s easy to see why lemon balm really is the bomb! Anxious to reap the benefits of this all-around healer? Keep calm and try lemon balm in our Lemon Vibration: Moodwise Tea!
While generally considered safe, consult your healthcare professional before using lemon balm as an alternative to medication.
Wise Words Written By: Lauren Kuda is a nutrition professional, recipe developer, content creator, and overall health enthusiast. She educates and empowers others to maximize their well-being through sustainable lifestyle changes and harness the healing power of whole foods. Connect with Lauren on her website.
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