Especially if you have trouble sleeping, you will likely find this wonderful yet gentle herb immensely helpful. But there are plenty of other uses for lemon balm and reasons to love it besides its power as a sleepytime tea. Use lemon balm in the garden, for cleaning, and as a tasty addition to numerous recipes.
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I love lemon balm so much that I’m letting it take over huge portions of my not-very-big yard. Seriously, you can never have enough of this terrific plant. Even if you don’t garden, consider getting dried lemon balm to add to your arsenal of herbal soothers. It’s an incredibly effective and cheap means to better sleep.
Why all the fuss over lemon balm? Lemon balm has some amazing properties:
- It promotes relaxation and sleep. That’s my main use for it — after having kids waking me in the night for years, my sleep was really messed up, even after they stopped most of the nighttime noise. I tried everything I could to re-program my body to sleep more soundly, and lemon balm tea made a big difference. If you’re a restless sleeper, or you wake and have trouble falling back asleep, please try some lemon balm and see if it helps!
- Lemon balm has antiviral properties.
- Lemon balm may help headaches and stomach upset.
- Lemon balm essential oil has many many medicinal uses as well, and has been studied for alleviating dementia symptoms, skin conditions, and more.
- Rubbed on your skin, it’s supposed to help ward off insects, though I haven’t found it particularly effective. If you want to try it for yourself, just crush some leaves and rub them on your skin. Add some sprigs to your floral arrangement if you’re dining al fresco and they discourage insects from crashing your party. Simply having plants in your landscape may help, though I wouldn’t count on it during peak mosquito time. Lemon balm is also supposed to help with the itch from bugbites, so if it fails as a repellent, use it on the bite!
- In the garden, it attracts pollinators, which means more food for you! Its botanical name, Melissa officinalis comes from the Greek for “bee.”
- It’s a lovely lemony seasoning for all kinds of food and drinks. (See recipes below!)
- It can also be used as an easy scent for your home, whether in a bouquet, dried in potpourri, or placed in a trash can to help with odor. You can even capitalize on its scent and antiviral properties and use it to infuse vinegar for your homemade cleaners. Scratch Mommy has some great suggestions for using lemon balm around your house and in DIY body products.
Note that lemon balm is not recommended for pregnant or nursing women.
More on lemon balm from the University of Maryland Medical Center here. One recent report suggests caution about dosage and prolonged use to avoid withdrawal symptoms. If you’re a lemon balm tea lover, consider alternating with other effective sleep teas and mixing in other soothing herbs like chamomile.
Where to Get Lemon Balm
Growing your own is easy and the most cost-effective way to add this wonderful herb to your arsenal. (If you’re not a gardener yet, pick up my free quickstart guide to getting started gardening here.)
Lemon balm is a member of the mint family, though not quite as aggressive as common mint. Rather than taking over your entire garden, you’ll likely find new lemon balm plants popping up here and there in your yard because it spreads using plentiful seeds rather than underground like its cousin mint. If you don’t want the extra plants, you can dig them up (and give them to another gardener!). Cutting back the plant after it flowers can also help keep lemon balm under control. I’m happy to have them multiply and generally leave them be. More tea!
Lemon balm seeds are cheap, but they may take a little knack to get going if you’re newer to gardening. A $2 packet comes with far more than you’ll ever use, so plan to share the rest with other gardeners.
You can get your first lemon balm plant as a division from a fellow gardener or buy one at a nursery, and eventually you’ll have as much as you need. They’re pretty tough perennials, so once they’re established you’ll enjoy them for years. (More growing information here. Note that though some sources say lemon balm is hardy to zone 5, it thrives here in chilly zone 4. If you live in a cool climate, it’s certainly worth a try. Those in climates zone 9 and warmer may have trouble growing lemon balm in the heat — consult your local nursery for suggestions.)
They’re a lovely addition to any garden, with vibrant green leaves, a delicious smell, and a pleasant clumping habit.
How to Make Lemon Balm Tea
During the warmer months, every other day I gather a big bunch of lemon balm together with a little catnip and yarrow. I brew them in boiled filtered water for several hours, and sometimes overnight. (Read why it’s wise to filter your water here if you don’t want a host of chemicals in your soothing tea.)
I use a large blue teapot like this one I got 20 years ago when I was studying in England. It brews enough for several big mugs of tea, so I don’t have to make it every day. You could also use a larger pitcher and keep it in your fridge.
If you want to try preserving and have enough surplus, you could dry some lemon balm for use in the cooler months. You can also make a tincture, which will extract more of lemon balm’s active compounds.
If you lack growing space, time, or interest, buying lemon balm leaf in bulk is the cheapest way to get your lemon balm fix. A pound bag will make dozens of large pots of tea, plus you get to skip all the packaging waste that comes with tea bags.
Use 1 tablespoon per cup of water. I sometimes add a spoonful of nettle, oatstraw, or scullcap, for their additional soothing properties. But if you prefer bags, Traditional Medicinals makes a lemon balm tea. You’ll just pay a lot more for that good night’s sleep!
Drink a cup or two a few hours before bed to promote relaxation and a better night sleep. You can also enjoy a more diluted lemon balm tea iced as an alternative to lemonade. Just don’t overdo it. I save mine for nighttime, but a little during the day shouldn’t make you feel drowsy or anything. It’s not as powerful as valerian in my experience.
Other Uses For Lemon Balm
♦ Shalom Mama uses lemon balm in a DIY sleep balm.
♦ Culinary uses include fruit salads, smoothies, seasoning for poultry and fish dishes, and added to baked goods. Anywhere you want a light lemony flavor, try adding a handful of chopped lemon balm.
♦ Lemon balm can be made into pesto. Check out this recipe from Vegalicious.
♦ Kathie at Homespun Seasonal Living puts lemon balm in her serviceberry jam. Yum!
♦ The Hungry Scribbler uses lemon balm in a roasted blueberry and lemon balm ice cream.
Related: There are probably some other useful plants growing in your yard right now! Check out this post to learn about finding home remedies from your garden.
Do you use or grow lemon balm? If not, check out the links below to find sources for this wonderful herb.
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Disclaimer: I’m a health enthusiast, not a medical professional. Content on this website is intended for informational purposes only and is not meant to provide personalized medical advice. I draw on numerous health sources, some of which are linked above. Please consult them for more information and a licensed professional for personalized recommendations.
Photo credits: Andrea_44, Quinn Dombrowski, Monikapp, City Foodsters