Lemon balm (Melissa Officinalis) is a lovely little herb in the mint family with countless culinary, medicinal and home uses.
Andrew Chevallier, author of Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine claims lemon balm was traditionally used to lift the spirits, heal wounds, relieve palpation, relax the heart and treat toothache. Additional medicinal uses include healing cold sores, treating anxiety, depression, tension, overactive thyroid, chicken pox, shingles, flu, anxious nausea, and stomach ache.
Wikipedia adds: Lemon balm contains eugenol, which kills bacteria and has been shown to calm muscles and numb tissues. It also contains tannins that contribute to its antiviral effects, as well as terpenes that add to its soothing effects. Traditionally this herb has been used as a sedative, and as an antispasmodic.
According to a guide published by The Herb Society of America, "Lemon balm had historic use as an attractor of honeybees. Research has shown that the plant contains several compounds found in the worker honeybee’s Nasonov gland, which helps bees communicate about food sources and hive location. Both contain citral and geraniol, and honeybee pheromone contains nerolic acid, which is similar to the nerol found in Melissa officinalis."
Oh, yeah, and you can crunch it up and rub it on your skin to repel mosquitoes. Holy smokes! That's one beneficial herb, and we haven't even scratched the surface of its lovely cooking aspects!
I have used a lemon balm infused chapstick to ward off cold sores for years, but never really appreciated how easy to grow, harvest and use this lovely herb was. At the food swap a few weeks ago I brought home a small bunch of the fresh herb and made it into pesto by blending 2 cloves of garlic with about 1/4 cup of lemon balm leaves, a pinch of salt and about a 1/4 cup of olive oil. Served on bread or grilled meat, it was divine! Not only was it delicious, but it actually cured a cold sore I had brewing.
A few days ago, my friend JD gave me a gallon baggy full of fresh lemon balm, so with my new-found confidence with integrating it into my cooking, I made up this marinade, which I used on pork tenderloin and barbecued. Here's what I did:
Lemon Balm Meat Marinade
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh lemon balm
- 2 large cloves garlic pressed
- 2 Tbsp lemon juice
- 2 Tbsp white wine
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- Fresh ground black pepper
The pork was fork-tender and melt-in-your-mouth juicy...a difficult feat for pork. The citrus-y, herb-y, minty flavor would suit Greek cooking perfectly, but I simply served it with fresh baked French bread, fresh salad greens from my garden and some steamed broccoli, also from the garden.
I hope you plant, harvest and use this easy brilliant herb. I know I will continue to experiment with it and of course, will share what I learn as I go!