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Lessons in Magical Herbalism: Lemon Balm

Updated on September 02, 2016
WiccanSage profile image

After 20 years of growing and using herbs for remedies, crafts and magic, this freelance writer and kitchen Witch loves talking shop.

Lemon Balm

Lovely Lemon Balm Plant.
Lovely Lemon Balm Plant. | Source

Lemon Balm

The first time I picked up some lemon balm starter plants was because of my son. He was a little tyke sitting in the Home Depot wagon child seat, and he was smelling the herbs the way I’d taught him – by running his finger gently over a leaf and sniffing his hand. He loved lemon balm—said it smelled like a ‘lemon lollypop.’ And by gosh, he was right—it did. So I grabbed a couple of plants.

Well, that little tyke that I once pushed around in a wagon now towers over me, but lemon balm is still a staple in my herb garden. It’s in the mint family and has a wonderfully sweet citrus scent and flavor. The bees actually love the nectar from its white flowers, so if you’re trying to draw bees your yard, this is a good plant for it—it’s scientific name, Melissa, is actually Greek for ‘honey bee’.

Such a sweet and unassuming little plant, lemon balm has such a rich and interesting history.

Details About Lemon Balm

Scientific name:
Melissa officinalis
Common names:
lemon balm, lemon balsam, bee balm (though another plant goes by this name), bam mint, Melissa, sweet balm, sweet Melissa, sweet Mary
Type:
Perennial
USDA hardiness zones:
excels in 4 – 9, though can be grown in other zones as a tender perennial or annual.
Gender:
Feminine
Planet:
Moon, Jupiter
Element:
Water

Sweet Melissa - Beautiful Lemon Balm

Lemon balm has scallop-edged lime-colored leaves, square stems and grows about 2 feet tall. Tiny white blossoms will bloom when the plant is trying to go to seed.
Lemon balm has scallop-edged lime-colored leaves, square stems and grows about 2 feet tall. Tiny white blossoms will bloom when the plant is trying to go to seed. | Source

Lemon Balm Blossoms

When you see lemon balm blossoms, pinch them off. It will encourage bushiness. Don't waste them though-- use them! Throw them in your tea or salad.
When you see lemon balm blossoms, pinch them off. It will encourage bushiness. Don't waste them though-- use them! Throw them in your tea or salad. | Source

Growing Lemon Balm

Propagating

Lemon balm, like most plants in the mint family, is a quick grower and doesn’t require a lot of attention. You can start it with seeds, cuttings or by dividing the the plant (just dig up the root ball and break it in two, then bury both halves separately).

Start them in pots in early spring. You’ll get the best of your harvest in late spring, they'll flounder a little in the heat of the summer, and will perk up again in the fall. If you live where it’s mild, you can start plants in the fall and enjoy lemon balm through the winter

Soil:

They’re not fussy about soil—any fairly good well-draining soil will make them happy. I stick them in standard potting soil mixes without doing anything special and they grow well for me. If your ground soil is on the poor side, add a little compost into it before planting.

Placement

Lemon balm is one of those few herbs that don’t like a lot of sun, so put them out in partial shade (they prefer the gentle light of morning or late day to full afternoon sun), or in dappled shade.

If you live along the southern states where it gets very hot in the summer, you would do best to plant them in pots, or where they’ll get almost full shade all day in the summer. The leaves begin to wash out to yellow if they get too much sun, so if you see that happening just put something in front of your plants to relieve them of direct afternoon light.

Water and Feeding:

Again, nothing particularly special is needed for lemon balm; keep it moist, but not soggy. You can let it dry out a little between waterings but don’t let it become too parched. And give it a little boost in the spring and the fall with some fertilizer (a compost tea is good, or mulch with compost).

Growing Tips:

A good rule of thumb to keep lemon balm thriving is the “all things in moderation” approach: not too hot, not too cold; not too dry, not too wet; not to shady, not too sunny; not too alkaline, not too acidic; don’t over-feed it, don’t starve it. Stick to that and your lemon balm will do fine.

If the plant is floundering, cut them down to just a few inches; they'll rest, recover and come back.

Lemon Balm Sun Tea

Source

Lemon Balm Sun Tea

In the morning, fill a jar about ¼ of the way up with lemon balm leaves and blossoms. You may also include lemon juice and rind or mint leaves if you like. You can also add a handful of stevia leaves if you grow them to naturally sweeten your tea.

Fill the jar with water and let it sit in the sun all day.

Fill glasses with ice and pour out some tea for dinner, or after dinner, for a soothing beverage. Add honey to taste if desired.

Culinary Uses

Lemon balm doesn’t do well in cooking—its delicate oils can easily be destroyed by excessive heat. That’s about the only drawback.

It’s wonderful for adding a lemony flavor to vegetable salads or fruit salads. Making lemon sun tea or hot tea with fresh lemon balm, and my favorite use is to add a bit of a lemon lift to smoothies (especially green smoothies).

Lemon balm also makes a nice garnish due to its fragrant aroma; instead of chopped parsley over your freshly cooked fish, try some chopped lemon balm just before serving. It can be chopped up and added to cool meats like chicken and tuna salad, to give them a hint of a lemony flavor.

Home & Garden Uses

Lemon balm is great for crafting if you want to get that lemony scent. I like to use it in potpourri, incense, bouquets, herbal sachets and it presses really nicely for decorating books, photo albums or for framing and displaying.

In ancient Greece, bee keepers would add sprigs of lemon balm to the hives and plant lemon balm around the hives to attract bees and bring them back home. So if you are into bee keeping or need more bees to come to your garden, plant lemon balm liberally.

Lemon Balm - Melissa Officinalis

The Gift of Lemon Balm

Source

Medicinal Uses of Lemon Balm

*IMPORTANT MESSAGE TO READ: DO NOT take the following as medical advice. I am simply providing information about how herbs have been used medicinally, both in ancient and modern times, for those interested in herbalism. I may even relay my own experiences but I DO NOT RECOMMEND that YOU use any herbal remedies without first consulting a qualified professional. Please remember that even common culinary herbs can be dangerous when taken in quantities that exceed normal food seasoning.

Warnings: It's fairly uncommon but some side effects from taking lemon balm may include nausea and vomiting, wheezing, dizzy spells or abdominal pain. If you have any adverse effects, stop using lemon balm.

Pregnant and breast-feeding women are discouraged from using lemon balm simply because effects on pregnancy and nursing are not yet known; consult with a qualified herbalist.

Lemon balm may interact with some sedatives, mainly those used during and after surgery, increasing drowsiness. Avoid using lemon balm at least 2 weeks before surgery and talk to your doctor before resuming use after surgery. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, Lemon balm may also interact with thyroid medications and HIV medications so speak to your doctor or pharmacist.


Lemon Balm Tea

Source

How to Make a Lemon Balm Tincture

Internal Uses:

According to WebMD, Lemon balm is considered largely safe to consume and 'possibly safe' to use medicinally. The effects of long-term medicinal use are not known, but use of up to 4 months has shown few to no adverse effects, and even children have been shown to use it with no serious effects.

Lemon balm has long been used as a tea to sooth fevers, colds, flu and upset stomach. It’s been used to treat indigestion and dyspepsia, though it's often been combined with other plants like peppermint and licorice.

If you need to relax and de-stress, combine lemon balm with another herbal calmative, such as chamomile or valerian root, and make a tea to drink before bed. It’s known to work well on children and adults alike. Lemon balm doesn't work as well on its own as a calmative but it does seem to boost the effects of calmatives (which might explain why it interacts with sedatives). These concoctions have been shown as beneficial for people with insomnia, as studies suggest it may help you sleep better, longer.

Some studies show that lemon balm reduces stress and when combined with Valerian it may help lessen anxiety in a low dose-- higher doses may increase anxiety on the other hand. These studies were performed using plant extracts or dried, ground leaves in pill form; tea is milder so taking a cup of tea should pose no problem.

If a cup of tea is not your cup of tea, you can make a tincture of lemon balm and use it as a tonic.

Lemon balm is also suspected of improving the mind and the ability to focus. Currently studies are being done and there is hope that lemon balm may be effective in treating Alzheimer’s disease.


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External Use

'It is of so great virtue that though it be but tied to his sword that hath given the wound it stauncheth the blood.' – Pliny the Elder

I wouldn’t test Pliny’s claim with a sword, but lemon balm was used in ancient times for a lot of different kinds of wounds, including surgical—leaves were steeped in wine and then lain across the incision to help it heal.

Lemon balm ointments and creams have been used to treat cold sores and herpes simplex virus. It’s also been used to treat open sores and insect bites. You can use a lemon balm poultice for wounds (and drink tea as well to help you sweat out the toxins).

Lemon balm is great for uses in aromatherapy. Breathe in a lemon balm infusion mixed with eucalyptus if you have a cold or flu; the lemon balm will relax and cheer you up, while the eucalyptus will open the airways.

If depressed and tired, simply rub some fresh leaves in your hands and inhale. Make an oil infusion and anoint yourself or massage yourself with it. Make a lemon balm tea and wash your face with it.

Ancient Bee Goddess Plaques

Bee-goddess, perhaps associated with Artemis above female heads. Gold plaques, 7th century BC; British Museum
Bee-goddess, perhaps associated with Artemis above female heads. Gold plaques, 7th century BC; British Museum

Magical Uses

The origins of lemon balm are rooted in ancient Turkey, then known as Ephesus. The Ephesians held the honey bee as sacred, and the hive was the model for society. The Goddess was the Queen Bee and the people were her 'hive' who served her. The word for bee was Melissa, and the priestesses of the Goddess were the Melissai. These beliefs spread into what is now modern-day Greece. People who lived a righteous life were called Melissae. In the temples of Goddesses like Artemis, Demeter and Persephone, lemon balm was sacred.

Lemon balm was considered a valuable and virtuous plant for it's ability to attract bees and it's healing properties. In Rome, Emperor Charlemagne ordered that all monasteries plant lemon balm. Wash with a blessed lemon balm infusion to help promote good health and vitality. You can also use lemon balm in healing incenses, charm bags, herbal sachets and spells.

In ancient Greece and Rome, lemon balm was associated with wealth due to its connection with honey bees.

Lemon balm strewn about the floor was believed in the Middle Ages to bring good will and cheer into a room and banish depression and sadness.

Lemon balm makes a prime love potion— add lemon balm to wine and let it sit for several hours, then strain it and serve it to the one with whom you are smitten. Shakespeare wrote about lemon balm in some of his plays, saying he believed it promoted sympathy between lovers.

Just carrying lemon balm is believed to attract love—a great little charm is to put lemon balm leaves into a small folded foil pouch. Wear it in your shirt pocket or slip it under your bra strap to attract love.

As you can see, lemon balm is one of those great plants that can really be worthy of space even in the smallest of herb gardens-- there's so much it can do and it's just so pleasant to be around this plant. Grow it and use it in good health.

Resources on Lemon Balm (Melissa Officinalis)

Lemon Balm - Web MD

Lemong Balm - The University of Maryland Medical Center

Lemon Balm - Dr. Christopher's Herbal Legacy


Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs - Scott Cunningham

A Kid's Herb Book for Children of All Ages - Lesley Tierra, L.Ac., AHG


Learn more about Witchcraft and Herbalism from my directory hub:

Witchcraft for Beginners: Free Spells, Exercises and Lessons

© 2014 Mackenzie Sage Wright

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    • profile image

      Prosperity66 2 years ago

      We used to use lemon balm at home when I was a child. My sister did make a huge use of it. My grand-mother was and still is crazy about natural cures and other secrets shared by her own mother. All in all I must say that they worked pretty well on all of us. Sadly these uses are becoming rare these days.

    • WiccanSage profile image
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      Mackenzie Sage Wright 2 years ago

      Hi Prosperity, thanks for commenting. It's true, fewer and fewer people began using herbs for a time (other than the ones on spice shelves for some quick seasonings), and lemon balm isn't as well known as it used to be. I think the internet and an emphasis on natural and holistic health have helped bring back interest. I know I got lucky when I was young-- my parents had no interest whatsoever in plants or herbs for any reason other than to shake years-old dried flakes over food, but my mother had a friend who sparked an interest in gardening and herbalism. Thanks for sharing your experience!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      We grow it in our garden and, as you said, it requires very little human attention. My favorite kind of plant. :)

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      MizBejabbers 2 years ago

      Very nice read. I used to grow it because of the aroma but I couldn't find any use for it. Now I know. I may try it again. The very cold winter killed my pineapple sage so I need something else to attract bees.

    • WiccanSage profile image
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      Mackenzie Sage Wright 2 years ago

      Hi Billy! I love a low-maintenance plant too. Hope you're enjoying your garden this spring!

    • WiccanSage profile image
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      Mackenzie Sage Wright 2 years ago

      Hi MizBejabbers, thanks for stopping by. Pineapple sage is great stuff; but I find lemon balm more versatile. if for nothing else I've gotten too used to putting it into my smoothies and tea. I appreciate your comment!

    • lucrativedom profile image

      Ubechu Dominic 2 years ago from FCT Abuja

      I love herbs and I like to know more about lemon balm and how to identify it. Thanks for sharing.

    • WiccanSage profile image
      Author

      Mackenzie Sage Wright 2 years ago

      Hi lucrativedom; thanks for commenting. I think the most distinct feature of lemon balm is its scent. Square stems, scalloped leaves & lime coloring makes it easy to pick out of a line up but once you smell it you will never forget it. Thanks for stopping by.

    • CarolynEmerick profile image

      Carolyn Emerick 2 years ago

      I've never heard of this plant! I don't garden as I'm in apartment urban living right now, but I think I'd like to someday. Upvoted and sharing :-)

    • WiccanSage profile image
      Author

      Mackenzie Sage Wright 2 years ago

      Thanks Carolyn; it's not the most well known plant these days because it's not really suitable for drying (loses its flavor). But it's definitely one worth growing as its easily contained to a flowerpot. Thanks for voting!

    • CarolynEmerick profile image

      Carolyn Emerick 2 years ago

      In that case maybe I should try to grow it indoors. In your reading did u happen to see if it's poisonous to cats?

    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 2 years ago from Bedfordshire, U.K

      Although I grow lemon balm in the garden, and knew about it's association with bees, there's so much I didn't know about this wonderful plant. I simply left it to the bees until now, but I'll be making good use of this plant for refreshing summer drinks. Thank you for sharing.

    • limpet profile image

      Ian Stuart Robertson 2 years ago from London England

      Any thoughts on the sap of the aloe vera plant as a skin cleanser?

      I have a preparation of 'tea tree' oil mixed into a lemon gel to be used as a body wash and it smells good enough to eat!

    • Foodeee profile image

      Foodeee 2 years ago from Pennsylvania

      This hub is amazing. So much valuable information. You should teach a class about this kind of stuff.

    • Cynthianne profile image

      Cynthianne Neighbors 2 years ago

      I do love Lemon Balm! Good article. :) I agree with your son, it smells like lemon lollypops!

    • WiccanSage profile image
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      Mackenzie Sage Wright 2 years ago

      Hi Carolyn; nope, lemon balm is non-toxic to children and animals, including cats. I have a safe herbs/ toxic herbs vet list in my gardening drawer by the front door and I double-checked. My old parakeet used to pick on them but the cats or dog have never bothered with them though, I think the smell is a little strong for their senses, they don't seem very interested. When we rented a house for a few years it was near the catnip and our cats used to bask in that little corner to be near the nip, the stoners, and they walked through the lemon balm all the time, never had a problem.

    • WiccanSage profile image
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      Mackenzie Sage Wright 2 years ago

      Thanks tobusiness! It is an amazing little plant; I love it in my smoothies or any kind of ice tea. Thanks for your comment!

    • WiccanSage profile image
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      Mackenzie Sage Wright 2 years ago

      Hi limpet! If you haven't checked it out, I've written a similar hub on aloe. Aloe vera is anti-microbial and it penetrates the skin pretty deeply so it's great to add to any kind of soaps. I'm not sure how it would fare on its own as a cleanser, usually it's an additive. If you try it as a soap let me know how it works out!

    • WiccanSage profile image
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      Mackenzie Sage Wright 2 years ago

      Thanks Foodeee! I'm actually hoping to go back to school and get certified, and I have a degree in education as well so who knows what the future holds for me. Thanks so much for your kind words!

    • WiccanSage profile image
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      Mackenzie Sage Wright 2 years ago

      Hi Cynthianne, I know, right? I like to rub the leaves on myself, my arms and neck when I'm hanging out on the porch. Smells good and keeps mosquito away (lemon balm is about 28% citronella, which is that stuff used in mosquito repellent). Thanks for your comment!

    • choosetolive profile image

      Ravi and Swastha 2 years ago from London, Canada

      Very useful information. Voted up & interesting hub.

    • WiccanSage profile image
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      Mackenzie Sage Wright 2 years ago

      Thanks for your comment, choosetolive, I appreciate your stopping by!

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 2 years ago from England

      Hiya, I keep hearing about lemon balm from people in my block, I took no notice, till I read this, now I understand what they are talking about! lol! interesting stuff, voted up and shared, nell

    • CarolynEmerick profile image

      Carolyn Emerick 2 years ago

      thanks for letting me know about the cats ;-) Unfollowing the comments now because your article is so popular and I'm getting alerts all the time :D

    • WiccanSage profile image
      Author

      Mackenzie Sage Wright 2 years ago

      Thanks Nell Rose! Yep, it's definitely a useful herb to keep around the garden or grow in pots on a windowsill. Very useful in everyday life, and such a lovely lemon flavor for drinks.

    • limpet profile image

      Ian Stuart Robertson 2 years ago from London England

      Wiccan sage recently i heard that the herb 'sage' was good for spiritual protection if scattered around a room.

    • WiccanSage profile image
      Author

      Mackenzie Sage Wright 2 years ago

      Hi Limpet, this is probably true. Both Salvia offinalis (garden sage) and Salvia apiana (white sage) have been to cleanse energy and spiritual vibrations (as an incense or sage-infused water, or Native Americans used smudge sticks). Scattering sage over the floor to ward, banish, exercise, or bring good fortune of some kind like fertility, happiness, health, wealth, etc. was a common practice in many cultures.

    • thelyricwriter profile image

      Richard Ricky Hale 2 years ago from West Virginia

      Amazing detailed article. Voted up, useful, awesome, interesting and shared. We just moved into a new house and I almost think these were outside of the house. Not for sure, they bloomed weeks. None the less, they smelled so good, I just can't recall the smell. It smelled good, that's all I know. lol I've never heard of lemon balm, I don't get out much either. I do recall be younger and smelling lemons. So useful and beneficial, excellent information all the way through.

    • WiccanSage profile image
      Author

      Mackenzie Sage Wright 2 years ago

      Thanks for your comments lyricwriter; I think my son pegs it when he says it smells like lemon lolly pops. Definitely a plant worth growing. Much apprecited!

    • limpet profile image

      Ian Stuart Robertson 2 years ago from London England

      If raspberries developed a mould it should still be okay to eat them.

    • WiccanSage profile image
      Author

      Mackenzie Sage Wright 2 years ago

      Hi Limpet; I guess it depends on the person~ I wouldn't personally chance it, I'm highly allergic to mold and almost died once from a mold infection. I've had 2 bad mold infections in my life (one from just cleaning the window frames of our new apartment!) that put me down for 5 or 6 months. I also have an auto-immune disease that's pretty rare that they suspect may be aggravated by mold. So I have kind of a "mold phobia" these days. Thanks for your comment!

    • Mythicalmethods profile image

      Mythicalmethods 2 years ago

      This is amazing, I've always had an interest in herbs, but it is hard to find a well written, in depth article about the herb and the multitude of uses you can get out of it. Well done!

    • WiccanSage profile image
      Author

      Mackenzie Sage Wright 2 years ago

      Thanks so much, Mythicalmethods (very cool name). I appreciate your comments. I'm hoping to complete a collection of articles that will make a good springboard for those Wiccans unfamiliar with gardening and herb use to try to make it less intimidating. I'm glad you have found it useful.

    • limpet profile image

      Ian Stuart Robertson 2 years ago from London England

      Thank you for advice on mouldy raspberries. After pondering that if spores from the mould get into the lungs who knows what can happen!

      I want to raise a point on vegetable identification, as a kid i did like to eat spinach (silver beet). It certainly made Popeye the sailorman energetic but when spinich is served with a meal these days it turns out to be just a leaf.

    • WiccanSage profile image
      Author

      Mackenzie Sage Wright 2 years ago

      Thanks limpet, I agree. I'm sure mold depends on a lot of things-- they type, the person's immune system, etc. I just have to be extra careful.

      Silverbeet and green leafy spinach are actually 2 different plants that go by the same common name. Silverbeet is a type of chard that's more closely related to beets; it's a root crop. In Africa and most of Europe, they call it spinach or perpetual spinach. Green or garden spinach (Spinacia oleracea) is is a leafy green/flowering plant crop. Usually these days when you ask for spinach you get the leafy green stuff rather than the silverbeet roots.

    • limpet profile image

      Ian Stuart Robertson 2 years ago from London England

      Thanks for that, now there is cantaloupe and rock melon to disambiguate.

    • WiccanSage profile image
      Author

      Mackenzie Sage Wright 2 years ago

      But there needs to remain some mystery in the world, doesn't there? lol

    • limpet profile image

      Ian Stuart Robertson 2 years ago from London England

      Sage

      i was submitting a comment on your hub 'Wicca books for beginners' and was blacked out twice. Unfortunately legislation in merrie olde England deems the 'craft' to be tantamount to pornography which can be accessed by minors. Trying again.

      Bless

    • WiccanSage profile image
      Author

      Mackenzie Sage Wright 2 years ago

      Hi Limpet; so sorry to hear! In this day and age, too! I'm glad you've found a way to get your comments through.

    • limpet profile image

      Ian Stuart Robertson 2 years ago from London England

      merrie we meet

      only gentle folk meet here

      blessing to all kindred spirits

    • WiccanSage profile image
      Author

      Mackenzie Sage Wright 2 years ago

      Beautiful blessing, Limpet; thank you.

    • profile image

      Colin323 2 years ago

      Very interesting article; I learned something new today, thank you. It grows in abundance here (Yorkshire) as the not too hot/cold climate suits it well. I grow mine in a container near the kitchen door and grab a handful to serve in the way you suggest, particularly with fish and salads. There is an old tradition here too, of using this herb to give relief from Hay Fever, by wearing it around the neck in the day and placing some under the pillow at night.

    • WiccanSage profile image
      Author

      Mackenzie Sage Wright 2 years ago

      Hi Colin, thanks for your comment. Thanks for sharing your tip about allergies, I'll have to give that a try. I love having new ideas added by readers, so I appreciate your stopping by!

    • limpet profile image

      Ian Stuart Robertson 15 months ago from London England

      The mouth is watering at the mere thought of lemon.

    • Unagme profile image

      Unagme 14 months ago

      Very informative Hub. Reading through the comments I saw commentators said they 'voted up'. I imagine it's like giving a thumbs up. Where or how do I vote 'up' ? Thanks.

    • WiccanSage profile image
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      Mackenzie Sage Wright 7 months ago

      Hi Unagme; I believe Hubpages discontinued the vote up/vote down options a while back. But thanks for commenting!

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