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The summer of lemon balm


My garden is a bit crazy this year.  OK, truthfully, more than a bit crazy.  While I love the idea of a grid-based organized garden, and have spent hours enforcing tidy boundaries, I’ve learned to give up forcing a sense of order, and to trust the vital forces of nature.  Lesson 1: Some part of me absolutely believes that everything we need to sustain us has been provided in the natural world.  Indigenous peoples believe this.  Our modern world often discards this belief as primitive, and convinces us that those who trust its validity are naïve and even foolish.  Perhaps my passage into “cronery” allows me not to care what people think, and to trust in my heart.

Years ago, I had a landscaping project to create planting spaces and a stone-stepped pathway – to organize and tidy up my garden.  I created a special place for my lemon balm plant – gifted to me by a classmate in my herb school.  It was a beautiful and tidy plan.  Year 2 – lemon balm moved to the bed beside the one that I had originally planted it in.  Year 3 – it moved into a long sinuous line along the stone pathway.  Year 4 – it found its way to the vegetable garden.  Nearly 10 years later, it’s especially happy in all of these places, except for the place that I first planted it.  Lesson 2: Nature/spirit/divine provides what we need when we need it.  Perhaps we all need a bit of lemon balm in our lives. 

Lemon balm, Melissa officinalis, is a long-time herbal standby.  Traditional and modern herbalists use it to improve mood, relieve stress and anxiety, and for digestive issues – after all, it’s a member of the mint family.  It’s a favorite of mine for this time of the year.  As I harvest, I breathe in its rich scent, and the interaction calms me after a busy time of family social gatherings.  While I love summer, I find myself overstimulated by activities fueled by the super long hours of sunlight.  This summer has been busier than most.  Lemon balm has shown itself to be my guardian, and I’ve enjoyed reacquainting myself with its traditional and modern uses.   St Hildegard, a nun/herbalist/mystic from the Middle Ages describes lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) as the herb that bring cheerfulness and joy to our lives, that it strengthens the heart and the spleen.  It lifts energy upwards, is relaxing and calming to our bodies.  Representing the element of air, carminatives like lemon Balm release spasms of the gut, treating excess “wind”, like gas and bloating.  Air element plants are also important to our spiritual lives, helping us to expand beyond our limitations, lifting us into a state where we can leave the boundaries of our physical body to connect with our higher selves. Culpeper says that it is ruled by the planet Jupiter –it lifts us up beyond our perceived limitations, and nudges us along on our journey to find and fulfill our life’s purpose.

Lesson 3:  Be creative with what nature gives you LOTS of!  This year, I’m using the motherload of lemon balm for a number of home-grown experiments that you may also enjoy.  My first project was a lemon balm cordial.  Cordials are old-time remedies that act on melancholy or depression.  I harvested a large basket of lemon balm tops – which included leaves and flower buds.  I made a super-strong tea – a decoction, mixing the plant with water, and cooking it down until it was one-fifth of its original volume.  I added honey to taste, mixing it with the warm liquid that was left after straining out the plant material.  Lastly, I added about 20% brandy – which extends its life, keeps it from the overpowering taste of alcohol that sometimes happens when you’re working with fresh and delicate plants.  I keep it in the refrigerator, and sip a cordial glass of it – sometimes in the late afternoon, sometimes in the morning.  I love the light and airy energy that it provides, boosting my spirits, and giving me a connection to the wisdom of the natural world.  My second project is a sunburn relief spray – a combination of green tea and lemon balm tinctures, mixed with aloe vera gel.  Herbalist Rosalee dela Foret gave me this idea when she mentioned lemon balm as an aid for radiation exposure.  I find this combination cooling and soothing for those times when I get a bit too much sun.  My final project is a smoking blend of lemon balm and mugwort.  A little treat that promotes creative dreaming and connection to nature.  I hope that you use this as a reminder of the many ways we can use herbs – as a tea, as an external soother, and as a smoke/smudge.  Use the bounty of your garden, and nature, as your guide. 

While I’ve extolled the many benefits of lemon balm, it is important to note that the chemistry of lemon balm works in the body to lower thyroid activity.  If you have hypothyroid issues, please consult your trusted healthcare practitioner before using lemon balm.

As always, carefully research and consult your healthcare practitioner before using any nutritional supplements, including herbal products. This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any disease. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.


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