Healing Conversations with Plants: Lemon Balm

This post was written for and originally appeared as part of the #PanDeepening blog series published by Prairiewoods Franciscan Spirituality Center on May 20, 2020. You can read the original post here: https://prairiewoods.org/lemon-balm/

The lemon balm in my garden began poking out of the soil a couple of weeks ago. At first, there were tiny green bits, barely noticeable unless you looked hard. Now, the plants are almost bushy. I feel tempted to pick a sprig but the plants still look too tender. I can’t bear the thought of plucking any. Instead, I run my hand gently over the leaves and then hold my palm to my face. I inhale deeply. The scent of sunshine fills my nostrils and enters my body. The tangy sweetness of lemon balm holds the promise of the summer days ahead. My spirit lifts, and I smile in gratitude.

Melissa officinalis. Sweet Melissa. Lemon balm. A member of the Lamiaceae (mint) family, lemon balm’s Latin name reminds us that this delightfully modest plant offers not only medicinal benefit (officinalis) but also plays an important role in supporting the pollinators of our ecosystem, as Melissa is the Latin word for bee. Lemon balm is beloved by bees and other pollinators. Really, who could blame them? I, too, find myself attracted to the plant for its scent, taste and medicine.

Lemon balm’s healing properties have been well documented both in historical sources and in clinical studies. A tea made from dried lemon balm leaves can calm indigestion and nausea. Inhaling the tea’s steam can help alleviate symptoms of cold and flu, and perhaps even help your body fight the infection. Lemon balm can also help with headaches and toothaches. My favorite thing about lemon balm, though, is its effect on the nervous system. For centuries, lemon balm has been used to treat melancholy and anxiety. Sipping a cup of lemon balm tea, inhaling its sweet and tangy scent, acts on our nervous system, lifting our spirits, calming our nerves and brightening our moods.

It seems to me that we all need a bit of a lift these days. A small pot of lemon balm might be just the gift for a housebound neighbor. Planting some in our gardens and flowerbeds will reward us with lovely scents, delicious leaves for teas and visits from beautiful pollinators. Lemon balm is hardy and undemanding. It will come back year after year, slowly spreading throughout the space. Maybe joy is like this? No matter how challenging the times, no matter how rough our soil, if we still ourselves, if we conjure thoughts of gratitude, if we lean into feelings of warmth of happiness, then we, too, can connect with our inner light and spread joy.

I like to envision that, by planting and nurturing lemon balm, I am creating space for joy and pleasure in my garden and in my life. Lemon balm has great healing capacity; it also offers lessons on the importance of slowing down, breathing deeply and tending to our spirits—and doing so not only for our own sakes, but also for the benefit of others. When we have joy in our hearts, we have joy to share.

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