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Lemon Balm, my favorite calming summer herb

Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) is a beautiful easy-to-grow plant. In fact it will happily take over any garden bed if left untended. Being a perennial herbaceous plant, its green foliage stands about three feet tall. Lemon balm belongs to the mint family so it has some of the same attributes as mint- it grows easily and propagates itself with ease. The leaves emit a mild scent of lemon when bruised or crushed. Its distinct scent is beloved by many. I had become familiar with lemon balm when we moved into our home 16 years ago. I noticed a plant that was prolific and since I have been studying herbs for more than four decades, I recognized Lemon balm right away. I had not worked with this plant much but soon found that it was the remedy I needed during times of stress and to help my toddler fall asleep at night.

Three low baskets willed with fresh leom balm leaves prepared for drying
Moonhill Mystery School Lemon Balm

This plant is native to south-central Europe , the Mediterranean, central Asia and Iran. It has become naturalized to the Americas as well. This plant has small white or pale pink flowers that appear in summer. It's heart shaped leaves are .5-3 inches in length and the surface of the leaves are veined. The stalk is square like many mint family plants. this plant lives for five to ten years and is self seeding, creating wide swaths of lemon balm if left alone.

Lemon balm is used to calm the nervous system, promotes sleep, eases indigestion and can increase appetite. Lemon balm has specific herbal actions such as: Nervine, carminative, antiviral, antibacterial, anti-anxiety, antidepressant, antioxidant, and diaphoretic. The anti-viral quality has made lemon balm my go-to herb year-round for my family. Preventing viral infections starts with a strong and calm immune system. I find that kids enjoy the flavor of lemon balm and it can be prepared in a variety of ways.

Lemon balm can be used as a tea infusion, tincture, salve, oxymel, vinegar or pesto. Lemon balm popsicles are great for kids and adults alike. This tea is great after meals to aid in digestion as well as calm the nervous system before bedtime. Sun tea can be made by dropping dried or fresh leaves into a clear glass jar and fill with room temperature water, then leave in the sunshine for a day. Next strain the leaves out and store the infused tea in the refrigerator for up to a week. Offer this tea as a compliment to your evening meal. When my son was a child I made a chamomile and lemon balm glycerite tincture. A glycerite tincture is a no or low alcohol tincture for those that are alcohol sensitive or avoidant. I prefer these glycerite tinctures for children. This tincture was a staple for cold and flu season. The glycerite menstrum (menstrum is the liquid used to extract a tincture) has a sweet flavor and when combined with lemon balm it has notes of mild sweet citrus.

a long wood table with baskets filled with fresh herbs like calendula, sage, lemon balm and oregano. preparing for drying to make teas
Moonill Mystery School herbs drying

You might have lemon balm in your garden already. It grows like weed quite literally. Being part of the mint family, it grows and spreads with voraciousness. It can take over a garden bed in a few seasons. I let the lemon balm around my gardens grow where ever they decide to take up residency. They have moved around as the garden has matured over the years. This plant is probably one of the most prolific plants in my garden. I think this is no surprise as my nervous system has needed much of this plants support over the last 16 years we have lived in this location. Running a metaphysical and herb retail store for almost 15 years, took a toll on my nervous system. I have this feeling that if a plant grows extensively near you, you might need that plant. The plant world seems to find us if we pay attention to it.

Each year I harvest lemon balm and dry it in low flat baskets on my dining table. I strip the leaves from the stalks and compost the stalks, removing any faded or yellow leaves and bugs. Once the plant is dried completely I store it in glass jars on my fantastic herb wall. In the dried format, I can share it as a tea or make it into a tincture or infused oil or vinegar. I sometimes have large harvests and share the dried leaves as tea for my friends. One of my favorite tea blends is lemon balm and hibiscus. Hibiscus add a natural pink color to the tea and tart flavor notes.

Lemon Balm is an abundant herb and I like to have some on hand for winter. The leaves do not need to be dried to be used as a tea. They can be used fresh to make tea as well. I usually only dry what I want to use in winter and make fresh sun teas during the summer. Then I turn those sun teas into popsicles or ice cubes. Lemon balm ice cubes add a lovely mild flavor to sparkling water drinks and keep your nervous system calm and nurtured. If you do not love cilantro or if you are someone who notices a soap-like flavor, you might notice the same thing with lemon balm. I have this gene variation and it took me some time to get past that flavor to experience the benefits of lemon balm. Adding in mint or hibiscus like I mentioned before can overpower that flavor to make it easier to drink for those of us with that special gene.

An artistic shelf system made for displaying herb jars
Karin Olsen's herb wall

In 2022, I asked a local wood artist to make an herb storage wall for me. I asked for it to reflect the cycles of the moon, and the flowing nature of water. I love this piece of art in my kitchen, centering my love of plants and honoring their medicine with primary placement in the kitchen. Many of these plant are harvested and processed by me. I do buy some teas as a good earl grey is a favorite morning tea for me. Honestly these teas should be stored in a closed door shelf to protect them from sunlight, but I love to see them every day. Often when things are out of sight for me, they are often out of mind. This way I see them everyday and I find it easier to engage with regular plant medicine this way.

As I age I understand more the importance of not over harvesting, only taking what I truly can use or share with others. I try to use fresh plants when I can. In my youth I over-harvested or became enamored with a plant, and made tinctures and infusions but I would often forget to use them. I recognize this as capitalism and I am actively working to dismantle this within myself. I share many of these plants with friends and family. I am actively dismantling capitalistic hoarding mentalities that were part of my upbringing. The earth provides magnificently, even when humans are terrible stewards of earth.

Add lemon balm to your teas this year and see how this plant might add an additional layer of support to you and your family and friends. Experiment with preservation techniques. make sun tea from plants in your garden. Make some lemon balm ice cubes or popsicles to ease the heat of the summer. Add a little honey or maple syrup to your popsicles to make them more palatable. Enjoy connecting with plants and incorporating them into your daily living.

photo of Karin Olsen with a forest in the background
Karin Olsen, Moonhill Mystery School

Karin Olsen is a healer, a seer and a teacher. She has been studying astrology for 5 years and recently completed a 15 month program with astrologer, Rosie Finn. She has been a massage therapist for almost 30 years. She has been studying plants for more than 30 years, owning a herb shop and metaphysical store for almost 15 years. Karin is also a psychic medium and see clients via zoom. She teaches classes on earth-based spirituality through Moonhill Mystery School in the Salish Sea area. She earned a Master of Ecopsychology from Naropa University in 2021.

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