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Plant of the week: 'Elixir of life' used to relieve stress and shock.

Name: Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)

Otherwise known as: Scholar's Herb; Melissa

Habitat: A perennial member of the Labiatea family native to southern Europe. It grows to 1m in well-drained soil, has lemon-scented leaves and produces small, white flowers in late summer.

What does it do: Its name is derived from the Greek for honeybee, and will grow readily from seed or cuttings. 15th cenruty physician and philosopher Paracelcis called it the 'Elixir of life' and 17the century diarist John Evelyn said ' chaseth away melancholy'.

Balm, like all other members of this family, contains a volatile oil which is extracted by steam distillation, however, the yield is between 0.1 and 0.2%, making it an extremely expensive product. Citral -- a constituent of the oil -- is known to calm the central nervous system. Lemongrass and Citronella are commonly used to adulterate the oil -- beware of cheap Lemon Balm oil.

The action of the plant is anti-spasmodic, anti-depressant, anti-histamine and anti-viral as well as being a mild tranquilliser, a nerve relaxant and anti-bacterial.

It is used to strengthen the brain against shock and stress and relieve low spirits and anxiety neurosis.

It is the polyphenols in the plant that create the anti-viral properties and have proved most effective in the treatment of the herpes simplex virus which produces cold sores. According to recent research, the average healing time of cold sores was halved, and the time between outbreaks doubled. The oil is also used to treat Herpes Zoster and chickenpox by gently applying a dilute solution to the infected area.

Lemon Balm is generally taken in the form of tea for the relief of depression and anxiety, it will lift the spirit and dispel the black mood.

Known for centuries as the 'scholars' herb' it was used by medieval monks to sustain them while labouring over their manuscripts. It has always been very popular with students facing exams as it was believed to improve their memory and relieve exam nerves. The claims for this were investigated by the Department of Chemistry at Sheffield University, which subjected a group of their undergraduates to an experiment using Lemon Balm tea at exam times over the duration of their course. It was found that the group selected for the trial not only achieved better results but were much calmer during exam time than their colleagues.

Apart from the foregoing the plant is used to combat flu, fevers, muscular aches and pains, nausea and stomach cramps; it is hormonal and is now used to reduce Hyperythyroidism.

The delicate lemon flavour is popular with cooks and the leaves may be added to salads and summer drinks.

Beekeepers rub it on the outside of empty hives to encourage new tenants.

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Publication:Cyprus Mail (Cyprus)
Date:May 4, 2017
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