Lemon Balm

Melissa officinalis
Life Cycle: Perennial
Family: Lamiaceae

Overview

Description

Sources date the medicinal use of lemon balm to over 2000 years ago through the Greeks and Romans. In the middle ages, lemon balm was deemed the ‘elixir of life.’ It is native to south-central Europe, the Mediterranean Basin, Iran, and Central Asia.  It was introduced in North America with early colonists. The plant itself has a very lemony scent, hence the name, and has edible leaves. It can grow up to two feet high and has clusters of small white flowers that grow where the leaf meets the stem during the summer time.   The herb has many uses, medicinal, culinary, and external and can also be used to attract bees. Some of these uses include as a digestive aid, sleep aid, and an anxiety and depression reliever.  

Parts Used 

Leaves

Lemon Balm leaves are similar in shape to mint leaves and come from the same family. The leaves are wrinkled and range from dark green to yellowish green in color. The leaves contain chemicals called terpenes which add to herb’s relaxing and antiviral effects. They also contain tannins, which are antiviral and eugenol which is calming. 

Medicinal Uses 

Relaxant, Anti-viral

Actions

Lemon Balm contains terpenes, tannins and eugenos which all assist in its calming, antiviral, and anti-microbial properties. 

Indications

Lemon balm can be used to treat cold sores, insomnia, anxiety, and indigestion

  • 81% of those who took an herbal combination of valerian and lemon balm reported sleeping better than those who took a placebo among people with sleep difficulties
  • Studies have found that lemon balm may help improve cognitive function and decrease agitation in people with Alzheimer disease.

Dosage

  • Infusion/Tea: Use 1.5 to 4.5 gram leaf in 150 ml water to prepare 1 cup of tea, as needed
  • Tincture: Take 2 to 6 ml by mouth 3 times a day. 

Safety

Women who are pregnant should not take lemon balm. 

If you are taking thyroid medications, sedative, or HIV medications: ask your doctor before taking lemon balm.

Cultivation

Growing Conditions 

  • Grow in zones 5 – 9, hearty 
  • Can start growing in the spring by seed or root division
  • Lemon balm will grow in a relatively wide pH range between 5.6 and 9.0 with a preferred range of 6.0 to 7.5.
  • Prefers a fertile, well-drained clay or sandy loam
  • Grown outdoors, prefers full sun, and is mildly shade-tolerant. In dry climates, it grows best in partial shade
  • remove flowers if you do not want volunteer seedlings the following season
  • best to water on a weekly schedule, making sure to water the plants evenly so the surface is moist but doesn’t have any puddles

Propagation

  • Start seeds indoors six to eight weeks before the last frost.
  • Lemon balm seeds germinate between 12 and 21 days.
  • Seeds to finished plugs, 6 weeks; plugs to saleable plants, 5 weeks
  • transplant out or direct in late March to mid-April.

From Root Division 

  1. Select a 6 to 12 inch long, low-growing flexible stem 
  2. make a small cut on the underside of the stem
  3. Place stem in prepared soil and cover it with 3 to 4 inches of soil
  4. Roots will sprout within 1 – 2 months 
  5. After roots have grown, transplant outside

From Seed 

  1. Spread a light covering over prepared sterilized potting soil
  2. Barely cover seeds
  3. Water to an absolute minimum – just enough to keep the medium from drying out. 
  4. Wait 10-14 days for germination 
  5. Once large enough to handle, transplant

Planting

Transplant outside

  1. When plants are at least 15cm tall, they can be permanently planted outside
  2. Choose a shady spot or a location where plants can be protected from midday sun
  3. Take plant out of pot without disrupting root system (as much as possible)
  4. Dig a hole larger than the roots to place seedling in
  5. Transplant seedlings at a spacing of 45cm (18″) into the garden.
  6. After seedling is transplanted, cover with soil 

Direct Planting

Lemon grows best in cooler weather, so it’s best planted in the spring after the last frost. However, you can also plant it in later summer when the weather starts to cool

  1. Choose a shady spot or a location where plants can be protected from midday sun
  2. Place seeds 1⁄4 inch (0.64 cm) beneath the soil
  3. Cover with a light layer of soil and keep moist until sprouted

Companion Plants

Winter and summer squash, Melons, Tomatoes, all members of the cabbage family (kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, etc.), Apples, Kiwi, Onions, Fennel.

Pests

Disease

Powdery mildew

Insects

Whitefly, Spider mites, Thrips 

Harvest

Harvesting Tools

  • Collection Basket: cloth or paper (something that breathes so that the herbs do not grow mold) 
  • Wicker Basket: breathable tool for collecting herbs
  • Hand sanitizer: avoid transferring contaminants to the plant
  • A small stool or sitting mat, optional. May be helpful when harvesting for a long period of time

Harvesting Procedure 

Harvest lemon balm one plant has grown a few stems, usually in June

  1. Sanitize hands and equipment 
  2.  Relax and direct generative thoughts toward the plants 
  3. Check stalk for brown flowers or leaves. If there, pick them off
  4. Pinch off sprig at the base where it attaches to stem and snap off 
  5. Place in basket 
  6. Repeat until you have desired amount of lemon balm

Drying & Production

Tincture

Items for Production    

  • Disposable Vinyl gloves
  • Alcohol 80 – 100 proof
  • Batch jars 
  • 1 gallon wide mouth glass
  • Lids for batch Jars
  • Scale
  • Tincture press
  • Cheesecloth or Press filter bags

Procedure 

  1. Put on a pair of disposable vinyl gloves.
  2. Weigh the materials and document the weight.
  3.  Fill the jar up to its shoulder with lemon balm
  4. Fill with alcohol to completely cover plant material.
  5. Place the lid on the jar and store in a cool dark place.
  6. Let the jar sit for 6 weeks or more.
  7. Shake jars up periodically during that time.
  8. After this point the tincture is stabilized and can be used as needed.
  9. Drain off the liquid into another batch container.
  10. Place the dregs into a cheesecloth pouch or tincture press filter bags.
  11. Use the tincture press to press the remaining liquid out of the dregs.
  12. Press hard enough to retrieve all of the liquid.
  13. For internal consumption the menstruum should be 100-140 proof alcohol which is 50-70% alcohol
  14. Measure and document the yield.
  15. The tincture may be stored in batches or decanted into dropper bottles for distribution.

Dried Lemon Balm Tea

Items for Production

  • Disposable vinyl gloves
  • Clean water
  • Washing vats
  • Colander
  • Plant Dehydrator
  • Vita mix commercial blender
  • Storage bags

Procedure

  1. Put on a pair of disposable vinyl gloves.
  2. Weigh fresh lemon balm to be used and document the weight.
  3. Place the plant material in a large container of clean room temperature water.
  4. Agitate gently to remove insects, soil foreign plant material etc.
  5. Repeat this procedure again.
  6. Rinse well.
  7. Place plant material in a colander over the sink to drain excess water
  8. Shake colander to promote drainage.
  9. Allow to sit until heavy dripping is subsided.
  10. Spread the plant material  evenly across dehydrator trays so that there is even airflow.
  11. Stack trays into the dehydrator.
  12. Set dehydrator to 100°.
  13. Set the timer to 48 hours.
  14. At the end of the cycle check to see if flower material is fully dried.
  15. If not dried to your satisfaction set timer for another 48 hours.
  16. Dried plant material can now be placed in the vita mix food processor in small amounts.
  17. Use the pulse setting to mill the plant material down to the desired size for bulk tea
  18. If powder is desired the vita mix will be run for the amount of time it takes to break plant material into the appropriate powder.
  19. Upon completion, place the dried plant material in tightly sealed storage bags or containers.
  20. Weigh the yield and document the weight.
  21. Carefully label the storage bags or containers with plant name, weight, source, and the date.
  22. Store in a dark dry place.