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Lemon Balm

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Also known as Melissa Officinalis

Basic Information:  My daughter wanted to plant some flowers and herbs and learn to garden this summer so we went to the garden centre in the spring to pick up a few things.  When it came to the herbs, the first one I picked out was Lemon Balm.  I love this stuff and find so many great uses for it!  It’s an upright perennial belonging to the mint family that can get up to 24 inches high and branch out to about 12 inches in width.  Although it is native to southern Europe, western Asia, and northern Africa, it has become very popular in my area and grows quite well here in southwestern Ontario.  The colonists brought it to North America and it is widely used because of its lemony-minty scent and practical uses.  In ancient times, it was planted near the front door to ward off evil spirits.

lemonbalmpic

Culinary uses:  Lemon balm is edible and it is said to have medicinal qualities as well.  I find it tasty in salads, added to omelettes, frittatas, and other egg dishes, combined with lemon pepper over a poached chicken breast, or added to sauces such as a Bechamel.  It’s a lovely addition to jams and jellies and added to a flavoured vinegar, such as with thyme.  Use some to season your favourite chicken salad recipe, salad dressing, or summer fruit recipe.

Lemon Balm tea:  Used either as a dried herb or when fresh, lemon balm makes a delicious tea or iced tea.  For a hot tea, use about 2 tsp. of the leaves (crumbled dry leaves or chopped fresh) with 1 cup of boiling water.  I like to let it steep a good 10-15 minutes.  Strain and taste before adding any sugar, stevia, honey, or lemon as it has such a lovely natural taste to it that you may find you don’t need any enhancements or that you need far less than you would use with other teas.

For a cold tea, I like it to be a bit stronger so I use about 2 T. of the leaves per cup of water.  I like to steep it in boiling water first and then let it cool.  Alternatively, it can be cold steeped – steeped in cold water for about 8-12 hours or made as sun tea – placed in cold water and then put out in the sun for about 4 hours.  Once steeped, I then add some ice and any desired enhancements.  With the iced tea, I like to sweeten with a bit of honey and then garnish with a lemon wedge and a sprig of mint leaves.

Another really delicious tea using lemon balm is made with 2 cups of dried lemon balm leaves mixed with 1 cup rosebuds and 1 cup orange blossoms.  Two teaspoons of this mixed with a cup of water makes a really tasty tea!  Of course, you want to ensure that any of these flowers or herbs that you are using are free of any pesticides or other harmful chemicals.

Lemon balm smoothie:  A really delicious and healthful smoothie can be made from:  lemon balm leaves, fresh or frozen fruit of your choice, yogurt (I like the Greek style yogurt), flax seeds, ginger, and cinnamon.  Wheat germ can be used in addition to or in place of the flax seed.

Lemon Balm Pesto: 

Blend together 2 cups fresh lemon balm, 1/2 cup olive oil, and 3-4 cloves garlic – it should still be a bit chunky.  Delicious when used over chicken while broiling or grilling (I’ve heard it’s great with fish before) or over pasta – I like to mix the pasta with some ricotta and Parmesan and then drizzle some of this pesto over.

Medicinal qualities:  Research suggests that lemon balm has mild sedating qualities to it so this tea can be quite calming and soothing, must like chamomile.  It is said that it calms the nerves and calm aid with getting to sleep and relieving insomnia.   I have stomach and digestive problems and I find that lemon balm is also very effective as an antispasmodic and an anti-nausea remedy, particularly when combined with peppermint.  I have read that it is good for relieving menstrual cramps and colic in babies although I have no personal experience in using it for these purposes (and I would certainly check with a medical professional before using it for an infant).

Insect repellent:  Lemon balm contains several essential oils, one in particular being citronella, making it effective as an insect repellent.  NOTE:  While I find it works quite well in keeping mosquitoes and black flies away, bees seem to love the scent of lemon balm so it may actually attract rather than repel them! 

Crush the leaves and rub it on your skin and/or clothing and/or put in little fabric/cheesecloth bags and place around the areas in which you want to repel insects.  You can even use lemon balm as one of the ingredients in a homemade potpourri.

If you prefer to make a bug repellent spray, here’s a great recipe:  Fill up a large mason jar with lemon balm leaves that you have crushed to release the scent and natural oils.  Add in about a cup of lavender and then pour in some vinegar to cover the herbs – I like to use an apple cider or plain white vinegar for this.  Give the jar a good shake once or twice a day for a week.  Strain this infusion and pour the liquid into a spray bottle for ease of use. 

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