Love might be in the air, but cold and flu season is also in full swing. Don't let a weak immune system foil your romantic plans! But before you reach for a cough syrup or a bottle of pills, consider the medicine that may be growing in your own backyard (or, if your business has a Copiana aeroponic tower, your lobby). One of our favorite herbs to beat winter seasonal depression, manage new year anxiety, and keep illness at bay is the bright and summery lemon balm.
What is lemon balm?
The lemon balm plant, also known as garden balm or bee balm, has been used as medicine for centuries. It calms anxiety, manages nervous response, and is a versatile antioxidant, antibacterial, and antiviral herb. A member of the mint family, it's mild citrus taste makes it a popular ingredient in herbal teas and seasoning blends. You'll find lemon balm shrubs are a common garden denizen; they're easy to grow and their pale yellow blooms give off a cheerful lemony scent. In some parts of the country, lemon balm is so prolific it's considered an invasive weed. But what your traditional at-home gardener might not realize is that the herb has medicinal uses beyond a flavorful cup of tea.
What does lemon balm look like?
Lemon balm is often confused in the wild for common mint, but it has a few distinctive characteristics. The shrub has square stems and oval, toothed leaves with fine hairs that trap moisture. It blooms in the summer and the nectar of the small, fragrant flowers attracts hummingbirds and bees. Lemon balm originates in Europe and is referenced as medicine as far back as Ancient Greece, although the plant has adapted well to all but the most extreme climate zones of the US.
What are the medicinal uses of lemon balm?
Lemon balm is used orally or topically to calm anxiety and combat the activity of some viruses. The herb is a powerful ally for your nervous system and one that is essential for your wintertime regimen. The leaves contain a powerful cocktail of oils that have antiviral and antioxidative properties.
When taken as a tea or an oil, lemon balm aids digestion and soothes upset stomachs. It acts as a vasodilator, meaning it relieves tension headaches, and is also useful in bringing down a fever. The herb is a mild sedative, so it helps with insomnia and restlessness. It's also an effective combatant against the effects of hyperthyroidism, lessening the excess output of T3.
Lemon balm is remarkably effective as an antiviral measure against viruses in the family Herpesviridae. It has proven to prevent or eradicate infections of Mono, cold sores, shingles, bird flu, and chicken pox, and is useful in reducing symptoms of influenza. Lemon balm oil or cream can be used topically to treat cold sores, chicken pox, and shingles.
How do you harvest and use lemon balm?
Lemon balm is a perennial, which means it can be harvested multiple times a year after its first year of growth. Trim the stems 2-3 inches above the ground for regrowth, and leave some stems untrimmed during flowering to allow the plant to reseed.
Fresh lemon balm contains more active compounds than the dried leaf, but both forms can make effective medicine. You can make a hot or cold infusion of lemon balm, depending on what you prefer. In winter, we definitely go for hot lemon balm tea. It's nourishing and tasty and always brightens the day.
To brew lemon balm tea:
- Fresh lemon balm leaves, 1 tbsp per cup of water
- Fresh cold water
Place the lemon balm leaves in your favorite mug. For extra flavor and health benefits, add a spoon of raw honey and a squeeze of lemon juice. Bring the water to a boil, and let cool slightly. Pour near-boiling water over the lemon balm leaves and let infuse for about 5 minutes. Drink in the lemony goodness!
Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not take lemon balm. Do not use the herb if you suffer from hypothyroidism.