While honeybees love lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) for its flowers’ sweet nectar, we cherish the herb for its leaves—their fresh scent, tangy taste and potent medicinal properties make lemon balm a welcome inhabitant of any garden.
Indeed, this member of the mint family (Lamiaceae) has played a significant role in alleviating anxiety and stress, promoting sleep and easing depression for centuries. Its chemical makeup, which includes tannins, polyphenols and flavonoids, has been shown to have a calming yet protective effect on the nervous system. These same properties also aid digestion by relaxing the gastrointestinal system.
In recent years, there’s been a bigger buzz about Melissa’s curative role in the healing of persistent common cold sores. Studies have shown that when a topical ointment made from lemon balm was applied to the affected area of subjects, it quickly interrupted the virus, cut the healing time by about half and reduced recurrences. Holistic practitioners also cite lemon balm’s antiviral and antiseptic properties for relieving skin that’s irritated or blemished from acne and eczema, as well as soothing skin inflamed by insect bites and stings.
Growing from 60 to 80 centimetres tall and hardy to Zone 3, lemon balm prefers well-drained average to poor garden soil in full sun. It can spread aggressively, so deadhead flowers to avoid excessive seeding, or grow in containers.
Three easy steps for a topical remedy
1. Tear or crush several freshly picked leaves.
2. Steep in boiling water for 10 to 15 minutes.
3. Cool and apply to sores with a cotton swab several times a day.