Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is a delightful perennial herb named for its bright, lemony flavor. The genus name is Greek for “honey bee,” and this plant is wonderful for attracting pollinators with its small, white, nectar-rich flowers.
Native to southern Europe, Iran, the Mediterranean, and Asia, it has a long history of use in magic, medicine, and as a flavoring agent.
Magical Properties of Lemon Balm
In addition to attracting bees, lemon balm is used to attract good energy in a very general sense.
This herb is frequently used in mixtures for love and fertility. In some traditions, it’s also used for money and abundance.
Growing or sprinkling lemon balm near the front door is said to keep away evil spirits.
It’s also frequently used for calming and relaxation. For this reason, it’s also considered a useful herb for healing magic and to develop one’s psychic abilities.
Lemon balm is ruled by the Moon or Neptune, and the element of water. According to Culpepper, it’s an herb of Jupiter.
Benefits & Uses
Lemon balm is a fairly powerful sedative, as herbs go. It has potent relaxant properties, and is helpful for insomnia and anxiety.
Some research suggests that the rosmarinic acid in lemon balm increases a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid. When levels or uptake of this neurotransmitter are low, it can cause anxiety symptoms.
The rosmarinic acid in lemon balm may also help with viruses, especially outbreaks of cold sores and herpes.
Other compounds in lemon balm may inhibit the formation of plaques in the brain, similar to certain drugs to treat Alzheimer’s disease.
Lemon balm also has antispasmodic and carminative properties. This means that it can calm spasms in the stomach and intestines, and relieve gas. It may be helpful for sufferers of dyspepsia, irritable bowel syndrome, and other digestive complaints.
Possible Risks & Side Effects
It’s possible to be allergic to lemon balm. If you are, you may experience mild rashes, trouble breathing, or even anaphylaxis.
If you know you are allergic, please use a different herb in place of lemon balm. If you experience an allergic reaction, stop using lemon balm and contact your doctor immediately.
Since lemon balm is a relaxant, it can interact with other medications that have a sedative effect, including antihistamines, pain relievers, and certain drugs used to treat anxiety and depression. If you’ve never used lemon balm before, don’t drive or operate heavy machinery until you know how it affects you.
Long-term use of lemon balm may decrease the body’s production of thyroid hormones. It shouldn’t be used by people with thyroid disease.
Side-effects of lemon balm can include drowsiness, dizziness, nausea, headache, anxiety, and painful urination.
There isn’t enough research to know if lemon balm is safe for use during pregnancy or while breastfeeding. If you are pregnant or nursing, please talk to your doctor or your child’s pediatrician before using lemon balm.
For the most part, lemon balm is safe in the amounts used to flavor food. In tea and in larger doses, side effects become more apparent.
History & Folklore
Years ago, beekeepers would rub the leaves and flowers of lemon balm inside hives to entice swarming bees to move in.
The knowledge of lemon balm is said to have been given to Circe and Medea by their mother, Hecate.
As a member of the mint family, it was considered a cure for the venom of sea serpents and scorpions, and the bites of mad dogs.
Lemon balm was also associated with salvation. It was used as a strewing herb in churches, and, in certain areas of Italy, women would crush a piece of lemon balm in their fingers in the belief that the scent would act as insurance on the day they died.
Getting Started With Lemon Balm
Luckily for all the green witches out there, lemon balm is easy to grow. Too easy, in fact, as it has a tendency to be aggressively invasive if you don’t work to control it!
It’s best to grow lemon balm in pots. If you do plant it in the ground, then you should still use a pot — dig a hole large enough to accommodate the entire pot, and bury it just up to the lip.
This will help keep lemon balm from spreading everywhere, (though you may still get a few volunteer plants if you let it go to seed). To further control it, harvest flowers as soon as they appear.
The plants prefer rich, well-drained soil and full sun, but they’re mints. They really aren’t that picky. Anything from part shade to full sun, and weak to rich soil is fine.
You can easily propagate this plant from seed, cuttings, or plant starts. It’s often given as a gift between gardeners, since it’s very common for them to end up with far more than they need.
To get started with lemon balm, you may wish to harvest some of the leaves for a simple magical tea. Water them well in the morning, then harvest them in the afternoon when the leaves have dried off.
Hang the leaves in a paper bag until they have dried out, then store the dried leaves in a jar. You can use these preserved leaves in teas, sachets, or any other herbal mixtures.
To make a tea, place the dried leaves in a tea strainer or reusable muslin teabag, and set it in a cup. Fill the cup with boiling water, and allow a few minutes for the tea to infuse.
Once it’s done steeping, remove the tea strainer or bag. Stir the tea nine times with a spoon held in your dominant hand. If you have a specific magical goal, visualize energy filling your teacup as you stir. Ask the lemon balm for its help, and thank it for sacrificing some of its leaves for you.
This tea is suitable for drinking before rituals, especially divination. As a relaxant, you may also wish to try consuming it before attempting dream divination. You can also add it to washes for cleansing and attracting love, money, or beneficial energy.
Lemon balm is a sweet, fragrant herb that makes a delightful (if aggressive) addition to any garden. Treat it well, and it will produce far more than you could possibly use on your own. This also makes it an excellent way to make friends — a homemade tea blend, a lemon balm bouquet, or a few cuttings are wonderful gifts.
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