Lemon Balm (Xiang Feng Cao)
Botanical Name: Melissa officinalis, M. parviflora
Lemon balm is widely used to calm nerves and soothe anxiety and the symptoms associated with stress, including palpitations. It is also used to treat digestive disorders from bloating, to intestinal gas, to vomiting and even menstrual cramping. It has been used for hundreds of years to calm the heart, body and uplift the spirit, even helping to mend a broken heart. It is often combined in teas containing other calming herbs such as valerian. Lemon balm is used to call ghosts, spirits and promote clairvoyance.
Below is an overview of Lemon Balm (Xiang Feng Cao), combining and interpreting the best of Western Science, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Shamanism, Folklore and more. Gain a balanced and thorough understanding of the healing properties of Lemon Balm (Xiang Feng Cao).
Western Name: Lemon Balm
Also Known As: Melissa, Sweet Balm, Sweet Mary, Sweet Melissa, Honey Plant, Dropsy Plant, Balm, Toronjil, Cure-All, Balm Mint, Toronjil
Organs/Systems: Digestion, Nerves, Skin
Key Actions: Sedating, Calming, Carminative, Antispasmodic, Anti-inflammatory, Diaphoretic, Antioxidant, Detoxes, Digestive, Antibacterial, Antiviral, Antiseptic, Analgesic
Medicinal Uses: Digestive disorders, bloating, intestinal gas, vomiting, menstrual cramps, headache, hysteria, melancholia, insomnia, ADHD (attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder), cold sores, cold, flus, palpitations due to anxiety, high blood pressure, supports the thyroid, Grave’s disease, chronic fatigue, Alzheimer’s, menstrual cramps, restlessness, irritable bowel syndrome, bruises, arthritis, fibromyalgia, insomnia, anxiety, stress, diabetes.
Pin Yin: Xiang Feng Cao
Also Known As: N/A
Meridians: Stomach, Heart
Key Actions: Cooling and Drying, Calms Shen, Moves Qi, Sedates Spasms Releases to the Exterior, Restores Jing, Harmonizes Labor, Stops Bleeding, Restrains Infection, Clears Parasites
Medicinal Uses: Restlessness, palpitations, insomnia, depression, headaches, hot flashes, burning eyes, anxiety, melancholy, ringing in the ears, anxiety, difficulty breathing, stomach ache, vomiting, abdominal pain, painful menstruation, scanty urination, fever, delirium, bronchitis, fatigue, mental confusion, poor memory, fainting, weak knees, sterility, painful labor, depression, blood in urine, swellings, scrofula, insect bites, worms.
Parts Most Frequently Used: Leaves, Essential Oil
Flavors/Temps: Slightly Bitter, Aromatic, Sour, Slightly Cooling, Drying
Caution: Considered safe.
History/Folklore: Lemon balm has antioxidant, antiviral, antibacterial, antidepressant, and anti-inflammatory properties among its many attributes. It is edible and used as a medicine to treat anxiety, insomnia, heart palpitations, Alzheimer’s, and genital herpes.
Lemon balm has been used for thousands of years. The ancient Greeks and Romans used it to treat insect bites. Ayurvedic Medicine also used lemon balm to treat insect bites and stings.
The name Melissa is the Greek word for “honeybee” as bees are known to love this plant. They would smear the inside of bee hives with the scent in order to attract more bees.
Lemon balm has played a significant role in the early religious and magical beliefs of early societies, including the Ephesians and the Greeks, who held the plant as sacred and dedicated it to the goddess Diana. These beliefs included viewing bees as sacred as well. The honeybee was understood to be a manifestation of the human soul allowing lemon balm, which attracts bees, to be a tool for calling upon individual souls. In later days this practice and belief would morph into the use of lemon balm as an herb for spells to attract romantic love.
Lemon balm is used by shamans and mediums to evoke a stronger connection with the spirit world, as well as call upon ghosts and other types of other-worldly entities and spirits.
In the Middle Ages it was used to treat insomnia, heal wounds, promote digestion, help balance a person’s mood and even treat baldness. St Hildegard of Bingen, a well-known herbalist nun born in 1098 C.E., said lemon balm “contains the virtues of a dozen other plants.” French Carmelite nuns, in the time of Charlemagne, who ordered the herb be grown in monastery gardens, added lemon balm to water to use as a disinfectant and to mask the smells of bodies that were rarely able to benefit from bathing. Carmelite water is still sold in German apothecary shops.
The herbalist Culpepper (1653) used lemon balm to make into a sweet tasting medicinal paste made with honey. He said it could, “expel those melancholy vapours from the spirits and blood which are in the heart and arteries.”
Lemon balm tea is popular in France and is simply called, “Thé de France” (French Tea).
Thomas Jefferson’s gardens at Monticello were full of lemon balm.
A study in China, tested the constituent eugenol, a powerful antioxidant found in lemon balm, and confirmed improvement of memory-related functions. Eugenol is also known to help protect brain cells. Used shortly after a stroke it appears to protect other areas of the brain from further damage.
Research conducted at Northumbria University suggests that lemon balm increases the activity of acetylcholene, a chemical messenger linked to memory function that is reduced in Alzheimer’s disease.
Lemon balm contains a thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) antagonist, making it a possible treatment for Graves’ disease or hyperthyroidism. Lemon balm is also known to help clear and protect the liver from toxins.
A double-blind German trail used a topical cream of lemon balm extract to treat Herpes simplex labialis (cold sores) and found the ointment shortened the healing process while also easing the itching and swelling symptoms associated with cold sores.
Lemon balm helps balance blood sugar levels. Taken regularly it will help reduce insulin resistance.
Lemon balm lifts the spirit and is said to enhance the memory and boost alertness. It has been used in spells to help heal a broken heart and attract romantic love. A bag of dried lemon balm placed beneath your pillow is said to help promote sleep. It can be used externally or internally to calm the nerves.
Lemon balm is planted after the last frost. It likes some shade and can remain green during mild winters, but typically will die off and sprout again in the spring. It responds well to cutting and will grow back twice as thick. It does not spread by underground runners the way mint does. It sprouts from seeds. Some gardeners consider it a weed.
Lemon balm is frequently used in cosmetics because of its soothing effects on the skin. It is said to reduce fine lines and was even used by the Queen of Hungary in the 1300’s to help keep her looking young.
Lemon balm is used to sweeten jams, jellies, and as a flavoring for liqueurs. Carmelite water, or “Eau des Carmes”, is a French digestive tonic containing lemon balm, lemon peel, nutmeg, and angelica root that is made by the Carmelite nuns.
Lemon balm is also highly effective when used as an agent in aromatherapy. Its scent alone can uplift, soothe and calm anxiety nerves.
Lemon balm is used in fish dishes and makes a wonderful lemon balm pesto (substituting lemon balm for basil.
Lemon balm has also been applied fresh to polished furniture to give it a lemony scent.
Be aware of lemon balm essential oil forgeries! Lemongrass is sometimes substituted, or blended with lemon balm oil reducing the actual amount of lemon balm present in the oil.
The major lemon balm producing countries are now Hungary, Egypt, Italy, and Ireland, which grow the herb largely for essential oil production.
There are different cultivars of lemon balm, while they have similar properties, they are not all the same. These include: M.o. Citronella, M.o. Lemonella, M.o. Quedlinburger, M.o. Lime, M.o. Variegata, M.o. Aurea, and M.o. Quedlinburger bred for its high essential oil content.
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Rosmarinic acid, Flavonoids (Quercitrin), 7-Glucosides of Apigenin, Kaempferol, Quercetin and Luteolin, Phenolic acid, Tannins, Terpenes, Triterpenes, Caffeic acid, Oleanolic acid, Linolool, Volatile oil (Monoterpenoid citronella, Geranial, Neral), Sesquiterpenes, Eugenol, Caryophyllene.
Lemon balm extract is used in foods and beverages as a flavoring agent.
Stress Induced Ailments
Lemon balm is often used when physical ailments are triggered by emotional upset.
Preserve Its Scent & Flavor
Lemon balm loses much of its flavor when dried or cooked. If you are going to cook with it, add it near the end of the cooking process to help preserve its scent and flavor.
References: For a complete list of references please visit our References and Resources page.
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