Lemon balm (melissa officinalis) is a common herb found throughout North America, but it's usefulness is far from common. This member of the mint family is a talented and underrated plant, and has been a documented medicinal herb as far back as ancient Greece. Today, lemon balm's uses are being researched and documented for modern ailments, as well as inclusion in gourmet cooking.
Feeling anxious, can't concentrate, or depressed? Lemon balm might be the herb for you; inhaling the essential oil has been shown to improve concentration and relieve anxiety. Studies using melissa officinalis instead of the drug Ritalin for children with ADHD have shown considerable promise, as well as improving mental clarity in early-stage Alzheimer's patients.
The antiviral properties of lemon balm seems to weaken the stubborn herpes virus. Tinctures and salves of melissa reduce and clear oral and genital herpes sores, and shows promise for use in the treatment of HIV. For gastrointestinal disorders, lemon balm acts as a carminative to relieve gas and colic in children. Melissa has endocrine qualities and is used for holistic treatment of Grave's disease and hyperthyroidism, although it may inhibit the absorption of the thyroid medication thyroxine. The effects of radiation and oxidative stress are also reduced by melissa; a study using lemon balm infusions reduced the effects of radiation and oxidative stress on radiology staff with elevated radiation levels.
The medicine cabinet is not the only place for lemon balm, and the best medicine is often food; melissa performs extremely well in this area, and lends a lemony flavor to any dish. Pestos, salads, teas, sauces, and baked treats pair well with lemon balm. Food scientists are currently researching the efficacy of melissa as an antioxidant preservative for sausage processing.
Although lemony in taste and scent, melissa is a member of the mint family. And like a true mint, this plant can be extremely invasive if left to it's own devices. As a garden herb, though, it's hard to beat. Lemon balm requires little attention as a perennial and self-sows readily. It attracts bees with it's showy, fragrant white flowers and can withstand hard pruning several times a year - which means you can enjoy lots of lemon balm pesto during the growing season.
True lemon balm essential oil is expensive and hard to find; most melissa EO (essential oil) is in a carrier oil, and normally at a 10% dilution. If the price seems too good to be true, ask if the EO is 100% pure melissa and undiluted. A few drops on a cotton ball tucked into your pillow will ensure a sound, restful sleep. Adding some lavender essential oil will make for an even more delicious night's rest. Make an effort to include this herb in your life, and lemon balm will not disappoint you...and you'll know why the ancients held it in such high regard.
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