HISTORICAL HINTS: It belongs to the Lamiaceae family. It is native to the Mediterranean region and to the central Europe and was spread in the United Kingdom and in north America. Lemon balm is a very ancient aromatic herb, said to be used by the goddess Diana and used by the Greeks for medicinal purposes more than 2000 years ago. Its generic name, Melissa, comes from the Greek word meaning 'honeybee'; according to the tradition, a branch of lemon balm in an empty hive can attract a bee swarm and also that this plant cultivated next to a hive can ensure its stability. In the Middle Age lemon balm was used to calm tension and to cure injuries, toothache, bites of dogs affected by rabies, skin rushes, cervical torsion, and morning nausea. It was believed to be effective in preventing baldness, and women put it in small bags as love lucky charms. It was commonly thought to extend age, in fact, Prince Llewellyn of Glamorgan declared he had been drinking lemon balm infusion for all his 108 years of life. Traditions apart, this herb has been appreciated for century as a tonic against sadness and still today it is used in aromatherapy as an anti-depressive.
THE PLANT - Lemon balm or Melissa officinalis, a spontaneous rustic herbaceous perennial plant, has flowers which are very rich in nectar, reason for which bees are keen on it. It grows spontaneously in southern Europe and in western Asia. In Italy, it can be found along hedges and in shady places or cultivated in gardens. Lemon balm is much known for its medicinal purposes but it is also very appreciated as an aromatic herb. Lemon balm can reach 40 to 100 cm of height; it has dark green leaves on the upper side and light green on the underside which look like nettle and smell like lemon. Flowers begin to blossom in June: they are yellow-whitish with pink nuances and have a chalice shape with a tubular corolla whose lower lip is divided in three lobes, the central being bigger than the two side ones. Toothed and slightly wrinkled leaves are very aromatic if rubbed against the skin. The “Melissa Aurea” variety has yellow stained leaves.
PROPERTIES - Melissa infusion helps memory and relieve from migraine, neuralgia and stress. It has digestive, antispasmodic, carminative and choleretic properties. Its very volatile essential oil is used in aromatherapy to treat nervous irritability, depression, hysteria, and anxious insomnia. It purifies and decongests skin and it is effective in eczema cases.
CULINARY USE - Lemon balm leaves aromatize salads, fish gravy, mayonnaise, jam, sweets and liqueurs, or added to soft cheese as usual in some areas of Switzerland.