Lemon balm has been used for over 2,000 years for religious and medicinal purposes. Nowadays, science has not only corroborated its main health benefits, but has also found new, unexpected applications for this amazing herb. Learn more about what to do with lemon balm and other less known uses for this valuable herb.
Most Common Uses of Lemon Balm
The uses of lemon balm are diverse, and this valuable herb has found a variety of applications, such as:
Medicinal and Therapeutic Uses
Among the medicinal uses of lemon balm, the most popular one through the ages has been drinking it as an infusion. A hot lemon balm tea before bedtime is a traditional way of calming the nerves and treating insomnia.
The versatility of the lemon balm allows for it to be transformed into essential oil, liquid extracts, and creams, which are currently used for the relief of stress-induced headaches, as mild sedatives, and as antivirals for healing herpes simplex cold sores. Although it is considered one of the most expensive essential oils, lemon balm's uses in aromatherapy remain very popular. This is because of its mild, minty, and lemony fragrance that soothes the senses, relieves anxiety, and induces sleep.
Because of its anti-inflammatory, astringent, and antiseptic properties, lemon balm has found uses in perfumery and body care products. The distillation of the whole plant (leaves, stems, and flowers) produces hydrosol, a watery solution that contains lemon balm's soluble compounds and micro-drops of essential oil. Hydrosol is added to clay masks for skin healing, as well as in perfumes and cosmetics, as it constricts body tissues, minimizes pores, and smooths the skin's appearance.
Food Industry and Culinary Uses
In the food industry, lemon balm essential oil and extract are used to flavor alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, candy, baked goods, gelatin, pudding, and frozen dairy desserts.
Fresh lemon balm leaves are also used for culinary purposes, and can be added to many sweet and savory dishes. However, it is recommendable to add them near the end of cooking, since heat reduces their flavor. Lemon balm fresh leaves can be added to fruit salads, vinaigrettes, or salad mixes, alone or combined with other herbs, and can also be included dried in fines herbes mixtures.
Less Common Uses for Lemon Balm
Since it has been around for a long time, some uses of lemon balm have faded away. However, less common applications include:
With regard to what to do with lemon balm, France has been particularly creative. Besides being used in health tea and other tea blends, lemon balm is also an important ingredient in a traditional French beverages, such as Carmelite water, Chartreuse, and Benedictine, all praised since Medieval times for being digestive, mood enhancing, and antiviral, as well as for relieving fever, motion sickness, headaches, and fatigue.
Since it is widely considered an invasive weed, some gardeners wonder, "What is lemon balm good for?" It turns out that lemon balm can be very useful as a part of a garden design, especially on borders, because of its lemony scent and its pretty, inconspicuous flowers. Moreover, lemon balm is good for attracting beneficial insects, such as parasitic wasps and tachinid flies that prey on many common garden insect pests.
The uses of lemon balm, whether it is fresh or dried, include a variety of crafts, such as herbal garlands, floral bouquets, potpourri, sachets, and sleep pillows. The fresh leaves of lemon balm can also be rubbed directly onto wood furniture to polish it.
The lemon balm plant is also very useful as an insect repellent when its fresh leaves are rubbed on the skin. Some beekeepers have lemon balm plants in the vicinity of their colonies to prevent bees from migrating, and they also rub the fresh leaves on the inside of empty beehives to attract new bee swarms. Moreover, growing lemon balm on slopes or banks can control and prevent soil erosion.
Although some uses of lemon balm have almost been forgotten in modern times, its medicinal, therapeutic, cosmetic, and culinary applications remain very popular, demonstrating that lemon balm is a valuable herb worth having in every garden.
- Scientia Horticulturae, Assessment of allelopathic potential of shoot powder of lemon balm, 2003
- Journal of Food Protection, Activity of essential oils from Mediterranean Lamiaceae species against food spoilage yeasts, 2003
- Herb Society of America, Lemon Balm: An Herb Society of America Guide
- Journal of Medicinal Plants Research, Melissa officinalis L., a valuable medicine plant: A review, 2010
- Government of South Africa, Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries ESSENTIAL OIL CROPS - Production guidelines for lemon balm