Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Herbal Profile: Lemon Balm

Lemon Balm (Melissa Officinalis)

Lemon Balm is a perennial herb in the mint family native to southern Europe and the Mediterranean. In North America, the herb has escaped cultivation and has spread into the wild... literally, this stuff spreads like wildfire! 

All of the parts of the plant can be used (flowers, stems and leaves) for medicinal purposes. It's role in medicinal treatments dates as far back as the time of the Roman Renaissance man, Pliny the Elder (A.D. 27-39).  The plant has a very pleasant scent and can be made into a tea, salve (topical ointment) or used in aromatherapy.

Due to the polyphenol tannins in lemon balm, it is regarded as an effective anti-viral treatment, especially the herpes simplex virus. The high selenium content in the herb assists with it's ability to regulate thyroid function and helps raise antioxidant levels, promoting immune system health.

Lemon balm is a calming herb for those who suffer from stress and anxiety. It is believed that the essential oil in lemon acts upon the part of the brain that controls the autonomic nervous system and can protect the brain from excess external stimuli. In addition to reducing stress it has been proven to improve mood, including mental preformance and memory.

The herb can also be beneficial for the gastrointestinal system. It can help to relieve flatulence, bloating, nausea, vomiting and cramps due to colitis. Sipping on a cup after dinner can alleviate the uncomfortable feeling you get after eating a large meal. Lemon balm also contains a pain reliever called eugenol.  Consumption of the herb may help to relieve headaches and muscle spasms including menstrual cramps.

Lemon balm is one of the few herbs that I will make into a tea for the taste alone (most others are used strictly for their medicinal value).  It has a very mild lemon flavor with a hint of mint.  I haven't had much sucess with it relieving menstrual cramps, but it definately helps calm me down when I'm feeling a bit stressed!
For a soothing cup of tea, bring one cup of water to a boil.  Pour water over 1-2 tsp. lemonbalm (in a teabag or tea ball).  Cover and let sit 10-15 minutes. Sip and feel the stress melt away...

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