Lemon balm has a long, illustrious history as a medicinal herb. A favorite of the ancient Greeks over 2,000 years ago, it was dedicated to Diana, the Goddess of the Hunt, and used to promote uninterrupted sleep, treat insect bites, calm anxiety, soothe tension, and alleviate symptoms of indigestion. Following civilizations have found many uses for lemon balm from everything from poultices to apply to wounds of warriors to comforting teas created to ease feelings of nausea. Fortunately, this useful plant is easy to cultivate.
Growing Lemon Balm
As a member of the mint family, lemon balm is a lush, herbaceous perennial that grows from between to to three feet tall, has highly fragrant foliage, and grows well in poor conditions. It can be grown indoors in a container when placed in a sunny southern exposure in an area with optimal air circulation. It thrives in classic herb and kitchen gardens, but like many plants in the mint family, it often grows out-of-bounds and becomes invasive. Many of those who grow this herb keep it contained in pots. Lemon balm also adds fresh flavor to certain dishes when used as a culinary herb. For instance, it can be used with oregano, rosemary, and thyme to create an herbed crust for lamb roasts, and many people still use the dried leaves to brew a healthy and flavorful tea. For those who choose not to grow it themselves, lemon balm supplements in capsule form are readily available from retailers. You can also purchase it as a tincture or buy it as a either a loose-leaf dried tea or in tea bags.
The volatile oils of the plant are believed to contain compounds that act as mild muscle relaxants, making it a popular home remedy for menstrual and stomach cramps, and as mentioned earlier, it’s long been prized for it’s calming properties. Research suggests that lemon balm has a sedative effect on the central nervous system of laboratory mice. Lemon balm supplements specifically designed to alleviate insomnia and reduce anxiety frequently contain valerian root as well.
Other conditions that have been found to benefit from topical or oral ingestion include herpes, cold sores, shingles, strep throat, and a variety of viral afflictions. It is used in Europe to regulate hormones produced by the thyroid and to treat Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Recent studies have shown that lemon balm is potentially instrumental in lengthening attention spans, improving memory, and generally increasing mental clarity in those afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
Although lemon balm doesn’t have any toxic properties, pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid using the herb in high amounts. People who are taking certain thyroid medications should limit use of lemon balm, and oral treatments to babies and young children should be administered with care.