Balm consists of aromatic herbs, Melissa officinalis, in the mint family grown for their fragrant leaves.
Melissa has about three species of perennial herbs native from Europe to central Asia and Iran.
Lemon balm is cultivated in Australia, Europe, Morocco, Algeria, Peru, Cuba, Mexico, the U.S., Puerto Rico, Canada, and temperate parts of Asia, as a minor medicinal, culinary, honey and ornamental plant. Less than 50 kg of balm essential oil are produced annually in the world.
Traditional Ethnic Uses
Lemon balm can substitute for many of the uses of lemon thyme (Thymus ´citriodorus). Lemon balm is grown in kitchen gardens for its lemon-scented, lemon-flavored, bitter leaves, used in salads, sandwiches, soups, stews, butter, stuffings for pork, veal or poultry, fish, egg dishes, vegetable dishes, fruit purées, fruit cups, jams, jellies, dressings, marinades, sauces, and herbal vinegar (particularly tarragon vinegar). Other beverages in which lemon balm may be used include herb teas, wines, and summer punches, and soft drinks. Both dried and fresh leaves are used, and should be employed somewhat more generously than most other herbs because the aroma is rather delicate. The flowers are sometimes candied. Lemon balm oil is used to flavor beverages, ice cream, candy, and baked goods, and is also employed in perfumes. Crushing lemon balm leaves before use is recommended to release the lemony flavor.
Lemon balm once had a considerable reputation as a medicinal herb. The essential oil is still employed in medicine to some extent, as well as in the perfume industry (it used to find abundant use in cologne), and for such varied manufactured items as furniture polish oil and salve. The oil is also used to flavor alcoholic beverages, particularly Chartreuse, Benedictine and other liqueurs, and in candy and baked goods. The species is frequently grown in home gardens for its attractive scent, and dried leaves are often used in potpourris. Erichsen-Brown (1975) recommends rubbing wooden furniture with fresh lemon balm instead of with lemon oil. Several ornamental varieties are available. Lemon balm is also an excellent bee plant.
Lemon balm was traditionally used to treat respiratory inflammations, fever, flatulence, headache, influenza, and toothache. It was employed also as a sedative and to increase perspiration. Recently it was shown that lemon balm oil does indeed have a sedative action, on the central nervous system of laboratory mice. Oil of balm has also been shown to have antiviral, antibacterial, and antispasmodic activity. The essential oil has been used in aromatherapy to counter depression. In Germany, balm extract is in a commercial ointment used to treat cold sores and genital herpes. Tannins of lemon balm may be responsible for the activity of this cream. The sedative actions of the volatile oil of lemon balm have been attributed largely to citronellal as well as other volatile terpenes such as citronellol, geraniol, caryophyllene, 1onalool, citral, and limonene, and the phenylpropanoid compound eugenol. The antispasmodic and antibacteral properties may also be due to some of these same constituents. On the basis of reports that balm interferes with the thyroid-stimulating hormone thyrotropin, Anyone with a thyroid condition should be cautious in consuming the herb. Prolonged contact with lemon balm may cause dermatitis.
Taste and Aroma Description
Each individual variety has its own unique flavor, with Lemon Balm being the most commonly used variety in a wide number of uses.
History/Region of Origin
Balm originated in the area of the Himalayas. Lemon balm was used to scent the air in many of the temples of Diana.
When cultivated commercially for essential oil, lemon balm is grown either as an annual, harvested at flowering, or as a perennial, additionally harvested in two successive seasons before being discarded.
When cultivated for culinary purposes, commercial yields of dry herb of about I t/ha have been obtained, the more marketable flowering tops comprising about half of this.
Plants for personal culinary use should be cut back regularly to produce fresh shoots, as the aroma of older leaves deteriorates and develops a stale and musty flavor. The home gardener can cut the plants back to ground level as the flowers begin to appear, and dry the harvested plants in a shady, airy place, either on racks or hung up. Once crisply dry, the leaves can be hand-rubbed or screened and the resulting material kept in air-tight jars. Alternatively, individual leaves can be harvested for use either fresh or dried. They are at their best early in the year. It is stated that the color and flavor are best retained by drying as quickly as possible, preferably at temperatures above 32°C.
A Few Ideas to Get You Started
There are recipes entitled: Lemon balm wine, Balm-wrapped fish, and Compound balm-water (the cordial commonly called eau de Cannes). recipes exist for Balm butter with fish, Balm and borage wine cup, and Balm wine. one chef present 13 recipes for lemon balm, notably: Anchovy balm butter, Lemon balm broth, Baked snapper with onions and balm, Chicken roasted with lemon balm, Vegetable balm vinaigrette, Lemon balm custard sauce, Lemon cake, Pineapple balm sorbet, and Lime balm tart. There are recipes for Lemon balm vinaigrette, Garden punch, and Elegant lemon balm butter. Recipes also exist for Lemon balm and elderflower sorbet, and Home-made lemonade with lemon balm and mint flowers. Spicy lemon balm kebabs and Lemon balm cheesecake recipes may also be found, as can Glazed raspberry tarts with lemon balm, Chicken and papaya salad with honey lemon balm dressing, Rhubarb lemon balm tea bread, Crepes filled with lemon balm and kiwi, and Microwave lemon balm Spanish orange marmalade. another chef has 13 recipes, including Lemon balm white wine cup, Roast lamb with lemon balm, Lemon balm jelly, Puréed summer fruit with lemon balm, Lemon balm-yogurt dessert sauce, Poached fruit with wine and lemon balm, Lemony lemon balm custard, Lemon balm cookies, Lemon thyme cake, and Lemon meringue pie with lemon balm.
Other recipes are: Balm wine; Balm tea; Compound spirit of balm; Melissa chiffon tart; Stuffed apples and lemon balm; Lemon balm tea mixture; Daffodil Avgolemono; Syllabub with lemon balm.