Monday, March 27, 2017

Solving the "Problem" with Lemon Balm!

Lemon Balm, Melissa officinalis
Wow! Equinox, the mid-point between winter and summer solstices has come and gone! Now, nature's full expansive force is an energy to reckon in the course forward...I love this time of year! The generative potency is palpable, especially for those who garden!

Yesterday, I was in the garden and found so many allies emerging. We are headlong into the season of divide and multiply...the garden being the one place that this type of math is exponentially enjoyed!

One plant in particular in the dooryard garden was ready to jump the container...

Lemon balm, Melissa officinalis. A frisky garden grower if there ever was one. A plant that garners the rage of many gardeners for her so-called promiscuity. You see, this plant incites the bees to ecstasy and while they dive deep into her open blooms they contribute to the abundance of seed that can and, I might add from personal experience, become a problem in many a garden! Melissa means "bee" in Greek. And, to this day, there remains a strong affinity between plant and insect!

Like most "problems" when one has more information different behavior can eliminate or at least manage the severity of the "problem"! Well, lemon balm proliferates primarily through seed unlike other mints that run. That is, some mints' habit is to push growth in the form of stolons, creeping horizontal plant stems or runners that take root at points along its length to form new plants. While Melissa has stolons of sorts, they are not wont to extend from the mother plant at a very fast rate.

Lemon Balm lifted and ready for dividing
Melissa prefers the bee aspect of the birds and bees pollination ritual. A clumping perennial, her roots stay closer to home. She prefers to scatter her progeny far and wide by seed, overtaking many an innocent's garden!

This can be a nightmare, as many of you may know from experience. Myself, being driven from more than one garden by unruly residents, I am happy to say, years ago I found the "perfect solution", "fix" "cure" to this mundane gardening inconvenience.

It goes like this...When your lemon balm is about to set seed, that is when in full flower, cut the plant to the ground. Not one or two inches from the ground. Cut the lemon balm all the way to the ground*. Bundle the stalks up, this may be an armful for an older plant and head for the shower! Yup, take that leafy green armload of herb into the shower with you. The delight in having a garden is the abundance of plant material one has and the extravagance in how many ways you have to engage the energies of those plants!

Now, turn on the hot water, get in there and STOMP! As the heat lifts the scent out of the crushed leaves into the air, be prepared to engage a mind altering, heart lifting experience! Upon performing this nuanced ritual of early summer garden control, a friend described his experience as psychotropic! This is natural scent therapy at its finest...Once this ritual was revealed to me in the grip of a wild moment of frustration with an unruly, innocuous appreciation for Melissa exploded exponentially.

A sleeper of sorts, neither flamboyant nor showy in any way in the garden. Almost invisible in her demeanor. You know, one of those plants that make every one else look good as the green foil but alone is quite invisible! This hot water ritual broke Melissa's secret chamber wide open.

After the lemony shower, I felt refreshed, mentally alert but not on edge. Upon further investigation, I found lemon balm is a favored herb for gently opening the surface of the body relieving heat. Mild enough for use with children and the infirm for cooling relief in fever. When my son had measles, we gently swabbed his skin with Melissa made as a short infusion. A short infusion can be drunk or used as a soothing wash. The scent alone brightens the countenance of one who is not feeling their best.

Melissa is known for improving immune function, calming distress, strengthening the nerves. A favored quote regarding Melissa's attributes: "Melissa officinalis dispels melancholy and uplifts the spirit". This language invites use. A short infusion, is an infusion made in a covered pot that only steeps 5-10 minutes before use. Remember, the essential oils in plants are intended to safe guard the plant from ingestion by other creatures. With this in mind, a short infusion serves to extract a small amount of volatile oil. By pouring the tea and allowing it to rest a bit before sipping or swabbing, the oils dissipate leaving a pleasant beverage or wash through which one can enjoy the health benefits the herb possesses.

This is an herb for every garden! Especially those with afternoon shade. We'll explore Melissa officinalis in more depth as we grow on...

Melissa divisions in their new home in the East Hedge
amidst black currant, elderberry and Josta berry

Lemon Balm: Melissa officinalis
Plant Class: Herbaceous perennial
Etymology: Balm or balsam -with sweet smelling oils, Melissa, bees
Propagation: by seed, summer cuttings and spring and fall division
Flowers/Fruit/Seeds: Clusters of small pale yellow flowers in the axils of the leaves
Parts used: Leaves and flowers
Leaves: Opposite, heart shaped leaves with serrated edges, give off a heady lemon scent when bruised and have a delicate lemon flavor
Flowering Season: June to August, can be harvested up to 3 times in long growing seasons
Distribution: widely grown in the Mediterranean and France and over much of North America. Prefers warm climates.

* When cutting mint family plants, the stubble left behind (by those refusing to cut to the ground) are sharp needle-like stalks which inflict painful, penetrating wounds! Trust me on this! Cut your mints at ground level...they will grow back!

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