by Mara Ribbin
Lemon Balm is in the Labiatae, or mint, family, and has the classic square stem of that family, two leaves opposite one another on stem, oval leaves with slightly scalloped edges and crinkly surface that, when rubbed, has a strong citronella odor (an oil my grandmother used when we were young to repel mosquitos).
The buds are tiny, tight, yellow and round, opening to tiny lipped white flowers on one side of stem. The color of the leaves is bright clear green (slightly yellow-green). Lemon balm apparently looks much like white horehound, though the flowers on that plant go all around the plant stem and the leaves are supposedly more gray-green. Grows 1 - 3 feet in height. Those where I am are one foot where they receive no water and 2-1/2 feet where they do.
When I saw the long list of uses for the herbs that Release the Exterior in the East West Herb Course materia medica, and being clueless as to the possible mechanism for those uses, I think I wrote off much of these herbs. Generally, I tend to tough out colds/flus, bites and rashes, rather than doing anything for them.
With the appearance of dengue fever in the U.S. now and the possibility of bird flu (both of which make me VERY interested in boneset) and another student's recent case study of a bad spider bite, PLUS what I learned in lessons 13 and 14, especially following the Organ Meridians, I am much more respectful and understanding of these plants.
Lemon Balm has several old names (which are interesting in case one reads ancient herbals and other names are used). In Greece it was called Meliosophyllon; in the Roman Empire, it was known as Apiastrum, Citraria, Turego, Herba muscata, Pigmentaris. The English called it Balm or Sweet Balm. The French, Melisse, Herbe au citron, Celine. In Germany, it has several names including Melisse, Mutterkraut (apparently because of all the uses it has for children's ailments), and Konigsblume (provided to kings to provide longevity and probably relaxation from the stresses of being king).
It used to be considered THE premier herb for heart medicinal drinks called cordials in the past. It was the main ingredient in these heart-calming nerve-stabilizing medicinal drinks.
It is sour, spicy/aromatic and cooling. It affects the Lung and Liver meridians. By extension of Lung, it affects the following: mucous membranes, skin, sinuses, nasopharynx, nose, and its Yang organ Large Intestine. By extension of Liver, it affects the following: sinews (ligaments, tendons, tiny muscles that move joints), peripheral nerves, external genitals, finger- and toenails, eyes (iris), and eyebrows and the Liver's Yang organ, the Gallbladder.
Lemon Balm has many properties including diaphoretic (by relaxing pores in skin), antispasmodic, calmative, sedative, carminative, emmenagogue, stomachic, antipyretic. It is used for: fever, flu, chronic bronchial mucus, nervousness, hysteria, insomnia, tension, depression, melancholy, irritability,anxiety, restlessness, colic, cramps, gas, for wound healing, for insect and dog bites.
Michael Tierra's The Way of Herbs says it is very good externally in salve for herpes simplex. Lesley Tierra's book, Healing With The Herbs of Life, says it was a very popular summer drink in England in the 16th and 17th centuries. It is also very useful for hyperthyroidism and/or Graves disease.
CAUTION: With exterior deficiency, Yin deficiency with heat, and HYPOthyroidism.
Juliette de Bairacli Levy, a widely traveled 20th-century herbalist who learned about herbs from the many cultures with whom she spent time, recommends it for the following: Safeguard against early senility; for dysentery or griping pains in bowels; for nervous disorders including nightmares; for painful or late menses, to expel retained placenta, for all uterine disorders; take as a tea for those bitten by a venomous insect, dog or other animal. Placed in among linen, it deters moths. Arabs used the rare oil in perfumes; and monks and nuns used it for healing salves.
Juliette also recommended 1 Tbsp of chopped leaves twice daily, added raw to salads or as a tea. It can also be infused in white wine with raisins and honey added.
After my experience, I concur that it should not be used when there is Yin deficiency with heat signs (maybe even with Yin deficiency without heat signs) and so all the calming/sedating qualities are probably best for true heat and/or tension and mood issues related to Liver Qi stagnation and NOT for Heart Yin deficiency.
I made a 20-minute infusion of one ounce of the flowering stems and leaves in about 2-1/4 cups of water.
The flavor is very mild, maybe a titch sour as there was a distinct lemony taste. There was no mistaking the pungency or the fact that it goes to Lung meridian, as there was a strong rush up the back of my throat and up my nose that was quite pungent and really opened my sinuses. This was almost immediately after taking first sip.
Other effects I noted included a temporary increase in very slight discomfort in my right temple area, after which was a sense of ease and openness, as if muscles (in arteries?) in that area were relaxed and I was free of a subtle tension that was a background for me. I did become more relaxed in a very subtle way. Some many minutes later, I was looking out the window, and my vision became brighter and clearer. It was so noticeable, it amazed me actually. I am very nearsighted. When I tried to tune in and analyze the change, it felt like there was both: a relaxation of tension in eyes, and sharper focus of lens in eyes.
I was not aware of any diaphoresis. I did have a small patch of poison oak by one wrist that bloomed more, but was not at all itchy, whereas it had been very itchy before. Two days later, it has continued blooming - all crowded vesicles, but still does not itch. I also had two mosquito bites, which bloomed more red, but did not itch either. Both are almost gone at the time of this writing. There was a very noticeable astringent after effect in my mouth from drinking the tea, an aspect of its sour flavor.
I stopped my proving after only one day, because of two things. I actually had some return of Yin deficiency symptoms I had gotten rid of: lusterless fingernails, tinnitus, somewhat dry skin. Also, the astringent effect really exacerbated my dampness so that at work next day my limbs felt very heavy and weak and I had a lot of fatigue. This heaviness cleared during the night, but the fatigue is still here.
Raises the question if we should only prove herbs that are also going to address our particular pattern, rather than satisfying any and all curiosity.. I loved this way of experiencing an herb, and pleased that so many things came together for me from these lessons.