Plant Spotlight - Lemon Balm
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
The scent and tactile nature of herbs can evoke strong memories. Lemon Balm is pushing confidently through the soil outside my kitchen door, robust and fortifying, it makes me think of my friend and herbal partner in crime, Maya Thomas.
Maya worked with me at Soho Farmhouse and came to my rescue with a steaming mug of fresh Lemon Balm tea, when I was struggling with awful period pains. It’s as simple as putting some fresh sprigs in hot water. The uplifting smell and taste of that drink instantly cleared my head, steadied my breath…and gave me the strength to mainline some paracetamol – I’m not a total purest when it’s desperate measures! I can still remember the fog lifting and the remarkably calming effect it had on me before the tablets kicked in.
Indeed it is a nervine, known for its calming effects and used for panic attacks, anxiety and stress. Try drinking a cup before a job interview, important meeting or exam! It is also highly antiviral and I’ve made infused Lemon Balm oil to add to lip balms which can help prevent or lessen cold sores. I also made the best Kombucha of my life infused with Lemon Balm and Elderflower.
The Latin ‘Melissa’ comes from the Greek ‘Mel’ meaning bee or honey and its common name is Bee Balm. Not surprising as bees flock to its delicate white flowers. When crushed the leaves release a heavenly lemon aroma. It was once a popular strewing herb, used to scent rooms.
Frustratingly for me, Lemon Balm is not great for people with an underactive thyroid as it can affect TSH levels. But I still feel a connection to this plant and need to find out from a herbalist if it is a total no go for me - if you have thyroid issues you should do the same.
Lemon Balm is perennial so will keep returning year on year. It can be grown from seed – I’ve grown it successfully as a delicious microherb for pastry chefs – but you’ll get quicker establishment if you buy a potted plant. It is in the mint family so can be invasive in beds, although is easily dug up. It grows happily in containers and will tolerate most soil and positions.