Carminative, diaphoretic, febrifuge, and mild sedative properties are attributed to lemon balm. A hot tea promotes sweating in colds accompanied by fever.
The volatile oil contains citral, citronellal, eugenol acetate and geraniol. In laboratory testing, hot water extracts have been shown to possess strong antiviral qualities against viral infections, mumps, and other viruses. The oil also has antibacterial properties.
General Herb Information
Every herb garden should harbor this herb with its strong but delicate lemon scent.
It is an upright, tender perennial native to southern Europe and naturalized in England, France, and the eastern and western United States. Lemon balm grows to two feet high. Its stems are branching and hairy. The two- to three-inch-long leaves are oval or heart-shaped, deeply wrinkled, and have scalloped edges. The light blue to white flowers occur in whorls around the leaf axils. They are about one-half inch long and appear in May to August. One cultivar has variegated leaves.
Lemon balm is easy to grow from seed sown in the spring or early fall. Plants self-sow freely; lemon balm can become a weed if young seedlings aren't transplanted or given to a needy herb gardener. Cuttings can be made from the vigorous summer growth or the roots can be divided, preferably in the springtime. Give seedlings one foot spacings.
A fertile, moist, slightly acid to alkaline soil (pH 5 to 7.8) is best for lemon balm. It likes a cool habitat and thrives in moist open spots of California's redwood forest. If grown under full sun, lemon balm may wilt during hot, dry spells. Plants grown under shade tend to be larger and more succulent than those grown in direct sunlight. Light, dry soils cause the leaves to yellow. In regions where ground freezes and heaves, the crowns should be mulched during winter months. An acre may produce 800 to 1,800 pounds of dried herb.
Harvest just as the plant comes into bloom. Care should be taken not to bruise the leaves from the harvest through drying. Lemon balm dries quickly and easily but loses much of its lemon scent upon drying. When dry, store in tightly closed containers. If hung to dry in bunches, lemon balm can be rapidly processed by rubbing each bundle across a half-inch mesh screen. The leaves crumble and fall through the screen, leaving the processor with a handful of stems.
The fresh leaves make a refreshing tea, either iced or hot.
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Stir 1/4 of a teaspoon into a glass of water and consume 3 times daily, with meals.
Do not use if you are currently on thyroid or hormones medication.
No significant adverse effects from lemon balm have been reported. Unlike sedative drugs, lemon balm is safe even while driving or operating machinery. Lemon balm's sedating effects are not intensified by alcohol.
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