Lemon balm was a sacred herb in the temples of Artemis and Diana, and it has been used by beekeepers since ancient times to keep honeybees happy and well-fed with nectar.
In the ninth century AD, the Roman Emperor Charlemagne thought lemon balm so beautiful, and so valuable to the health of his subjects, that he ordered it to be planted in all monastery gardens. Pliny referred to the magical property of lemon balm when he wrote that the herb when it was tied to a sword which had inflicted a wound, it will stop the bleeding. In 40 AD, Dioscorides recommended applying lemon balm leaves to “the stings of venomous beasts and the bites of mad dogs”. Lemon balm also seemed to be a favourite of William Shakespeare: in his day, lemon balm was used as a secret messenger or code in the language of flowers between lovers to signify sympathy. Lemon balm was used to ward off evil, and to promote good health, love, and good cheer. In ancient times, lemon balm was planted just outside the entrances to people’s homes, to repel evil spirits and ill fortune. It is reputed that a lemon balm sachet placed under your pillow or near your bed will induce a refreshing and relaxing sleep.
Hot infusions of lemon balm are used to induce sweating, and are useful for treating colds and flu. An important medicinal use of lemon balm is to promote menstrual periods and ease period pain. Lemon balm is recommended for nervousness, depression, insomnia, and nervous headaches. Lemon balm extracts can deter certain viruses, especially those that cause mumps and herpes, so it is an excellent remedy to apply topically for cold sores. Herbalists refer to the plant as lemon balm, and aromatherapists refer to the essential oil as Melissa: both are referring to the same plant. Lemon balm has a long reputation for having calming properties. It has a mild sedative effect, antibacterial and antiviral properties, and an ability to relieve cramps and gas, stop spasms and relieve pain caused by irritable bowel syndrome. The essential oil, Melissa, is also used for depression, restlessness, excitement, headache and insomnia. The tea of lemon balm is drunk for colds and flu, and is helpful for nervous or excitable children, indigestion, depression, and insomnia. It also has some antibacterial action and so makes a lovely mouthwash. And, while you're out working in the garden, crushed leaves rubbed on the skin will help keep bugs away.
Toni Green is a Launceston-based naturopath, herbalist and health writer. It is her passion to pass on this knowledge of natural therapies to others so that they might live a stress-free life with health and vitality.