Lemon balm (synonyms: balm, common balm, or balm mint) is a perennial plant of the family Lamiaceae. It originates from the Mediterranean regions of Europe, western Asia and northern Africa. In Poland, it is grown almost all over the country.
In Poland, lemon balm is grown in special herbal plantations as well as by beekeepers.
The name of the plant derives from the Greek word melissa, meaning a bee, which is suggestive of the great honey-producing properties of this plant. Lemon balm is characterised by a strong, very pleasant citrus scent that attracts and calms bees – it is no wonder that the Latin word mel means honey. Beekeepers rub fresh lemon balm in new hives to encourage the nesting of a new bee swarm. Hence, in Poland, lemon balm was also known by folk names ‘rojownik’ or ‘pszczelnik’ which bring associations to a bee swarm or bees.
Lemon balm is a perennial plant growing up to 60-100cm in height. Lemon balm leaves are light green, coarsely crenate and dentate, with numerous veins. Lemon balm flowers, blooming from June do September, can be white, yellowish or light pink, and they are always heart-shaped.
Lemon balm – the power of peace of mind.
Lemon balm belongs to oil-producing plants and, depending on its growing conditions and time of harvest, the essential oil content of lemon balm leaves ranges between 0.02 and 0.3 percent. Apart from essential oil, lemon balm leaves also contain tannins, flavonoids, bitter substances, mucilage and valuable phenolic acids.
The essential oil shows valuable calming properties, it supports physical and mental well-being, helps the body to relax and facilitates good night’s rest. Lemon balm infusions should be used during states of overall nervous agitation, irritability, anxiety and insomnia, and the related heart rhythm problems and disruptions in the normal functioning of the gastrointestinal system.
Lemon balm is a plant with many different applications, which explains why it is still popular today.
Lemon balm infusions increase the secretion of gastric juice and bile, thereby facilitating digestion and improving appetite. They also have a relaxing and spasmolytic effect, relieving the tension of the smooth muscles of the intestines and bile ducts, causing pain and sometimes colic. It also has diuretic and carminative properties. Lemon balm is also used externally in the form of a compress to alleviate the symptoms of injuries, swelling, irritation or pain after insect bites.
Lemon balm is useful also in cooking.
In cooking, lemon balm is perfect in the form of finely cut, fresh, young leaves. It is a good idea to add it to salad dressings, mayonnaise, poultry or pork to give it an amazing aroma. Lemon balm leaves can also be used as an additive to fruit salads, jellies, creams, beverages, and wine – doesn’t it sound delicious?
Lemon balm is used in the cosmetic industry as an ingredient of masks and toners.
Lemon balm is a source of natural antioxidants which inhibit the formation of free radicals, thereby fighting skin ageing processes. Therefore, lemon balm products are used in anti-ageing cosmetics. Lemon balm extracts also demonstrate anti-inflammatory and alleviating properties, which are often used in cosmetics for sensitive, delicate and acne skin. The essential oil of lemon balm is also used for aromatherapy, massage or inhalation, as well as a bath additive.
Lemon balm through the lens of history
In Greek mythology, Melissa was the name of one of the nymphs. Zeus changed her into a bee because of her pushiness. After her death, an aromatic plant grew out of the bee. In Spain, lemon balm was first grown by Arabs. In the Middle Ages, lemon balm cultivation became popular in gardens of monasteries (especially among the Benedictines and the Carmelites), and then it also came to Poland.