Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Lemon balm - herb to soothe

I was amazed to see my two chickens have a feast of lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) the other day. The one started chomping at the leaves, and the other soon copied her after first trying a bit of Verbena which was growing intertwined with the lemon balm - and obviously not liking that! I have never seen them eat this before and am extremely curious to know whether they eat it regularly or whether they both needed a "pick me up" for some or other reason.

This is the time of year (Spring here in SA) when the lemon balm is at it's most lush: later it gets straggly in the summer heat. It goes without saying that this is also the time of year to harvest it, when it is at it's peak. The leaves need to dry as quickly as possible, and be kept whole until use. In this way the essential oils are not released and you will be able to smell the lovely lemony perfume up to a year later when you crush the leaves. I like to make a tincture of the fresh leaves. This captures all the elements of the luscious fresh plant.

Lemon balm is remarkably complex in its medicinal actions. Two of the most important actions for me are its anti-viral and its anti-anxiety functions. I put it in my anti-viral mix for the treatment of viral infections or post viral conditions. It is especially rich in rosmarinic acid, which has anti-viral, anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties. Apparently this has been tested on mice suffering from encephalitis with excellent results.
Historically lemon balm was believed to be a great remedy for the nervous system and was infused in wine to make a tonic for the nerves and the heart. (Rosemary has been similarly used.) It is excellent for anxiety and depression. It is also a very pleasant tasting herb which when used to make a tea, is very good for fevers and will calm a restless feverish child very nicely! No need for drugs to lower the fever - the lemon balm causes perspiration which breaks the fever.

Maybe my chickens were feeling off colour and instinctively knew that the lemon balm was the right medicine?? I wish I knew!

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