Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Gentle Herbal Sedatives: Lemon Balm, Lavender & Beyond

            A favorite herb of mine, year round though even more so in the summer, is lemon balm. Melissa officinalis, being its botanical name, and Melissa, or balm, for short throughout Europe, has been a major staple of summer drinks in modern times, and was noted that it “makes the heart merry” by the middle eastern herbalist Avincenna (Mabey, 68). Melissa was historically referred to as “elixir of life” and “heart’s delight” due to the legend saying it would bring one joy (Brown, 130). Being reported to renew youth, strengthen the brain, and “relieve languishing nature and prevent baldness” (Seymour, 72) stated in the 1691 London Dispensary. Apparently so, Maude Grieve mentioned in one of her books that two venerable gentleman, owed their ripe old age, of 108 and 116, to drinking lemon balm tea every morning. Also in the Victorian language of flowers this herb represented “social conversation, and [restoration of] youth” (Brown, 130).
Melissa officinalis
my yard
 Minneapolis, MN
            Lemon balm is a tender perennial, being upright in nature, and is originally native to Southern Europe, though has been naturalized throughout England, France, and a majority of the United States. Grows to about 2 feet in height, has hairy square stems (mint family), with 2-3 inch oval/heart shaped leaves, and scalloped edges. Prefers and thrives in cool, shady habitats, loves moist fertile soil (Foster, 116-117). Amazingly enough, this is one of those rare herbs that the Ancient Greeks really had nothing to say about it, which is ironic in my mind, due to their “fondness for honey, and the fact that Melissa is the Greek for honey bee” and bees love lemon balm when in flower, gardeners do not because than it is spent (Seymour, 71). On that note, John Gerard mentioned in his Herbal that bees are “delighted with this herbe above all others” and appropriately, medieval gardeners grew it near where bee hives were kept, and smeared it in the inside of the hives to bring in a lost swarm (Seymour, 71).
            Culpeper recommended that a syrup made from “the juice of lemon balm mixed with sugar be kept in every gentlewoman’s house to relieve the weak stomachs and sick bodies of their poor and sickly neighbors”. Melissa was highly-valued by Paracelsus, who sold it for a very high price to royals, for its relaxation purposes. Externally, Gerard in the 16th century noted this herb “glueth together greene wounds” which is now supported by evidence that it contains hydrocarbons in balsamic oils, which starves germs of oxygen, thus killing them (Mabey, 19). In his day it was one of the most popular lemon herbs, due to its hardiness. Edwardians liked it planted in broad bands in front of sweet cicely and angelic for attractive contract in height (Seymour, 71). It was also used to treat fevers, uterine disorders, gripping bowels, impotency, senility and a disordered mind”  Relaxes nerves, thus improving tension headaches and migraines, even more so when mixed with skullcap and lavender; safe for pregnant women to treat allergies and hay fever, calm nerves, treat depression, insomnia, headaches and digestion ailments related to pregnancy (Levy, 20). Lastly, historically Native Americans, specifically the Cherokee, used Melissa officinalis for treating “ ‘old colds’, typhus fever, chills and overall fevers… for colic and stomachaches”, and as a tonic and general stimulant (Moerman, 303).
            Balm in the modern-world has the same properties as historically, including:     being a safe and gentle nervine, anti-inflammatory, astringent (due to tannin content) (Brown, 130), Carminative, diaphoretic, febrifuge, essential oil is sedative and relieves spasms; sedative, antiviral, antibacterial (Balch, 90); treats: colds, flu, nervous headaches; aromatherapy: for nervousness, depression, insomnia and headaches as well (Maybe, 68). Hot tea promotes sweating in colds accompanied by fevers (Foster, 117). Overall is an excellent herb for treating many nervous disorders, including overall stress, an overly taxed nervous system and digestive system, thus being good for: IBS, diarrhea, constipation, eases indigestion, flatulence, stomach cramp, menstrual cramps; also antiviral in action, so good for herpes (cold sores), soothes/prevents insect stings, prevents insomnia (Balch, 90).
Melissa officinalis my backyard
Minneapolis, MN
            Two experiments indicate that lemon balm eases insomnia through two complementary mechanisms first exposed to environments displaying behaviors of stress, exhibited few of these when get sleeping pill, needed less of a dose with lemon balm. It also seems that when combined with valerian, hastens sleep, relaxes muscle tension especially in people with ADD, without causing any daytime drowsiness. Lemon balm also possesses flavanoides and polyphenilcs, which have been identified as inducing thyroid-regulating actions; block attachment to thyroid cells by the antibodies that cause Grave’s disease, thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), also blocked from further simulating the excessively active thyroid gland (Balch, 90).
           Lemon balm cream is sold in Germany for cold sores and herpes simplex, which studies show reduced healing time in herpes lesions and lengthens time between recurrences (Foster, 117); in another study, double-blind of 116 people, who got lemon balm or placebo, the group that received the lemon balm had significantly; greatly improved symptoms of daily …50% peoples symptoms free than in placebo group also had less skin damage , prevented spread of infection and relieving itching, burning, tingling, swelling  (Balch, 90). My favorite ways to enjoy lemon-herbs is in the form of: herb-infused waters, teas, lemonades, and hibiscus lemon verbena tea ice cubes melting in cold white wine. My favorite way to take lemon balm is in tea, specifically in my Sleepy Tea, which is at my Etsy store , otherwise if I too tired after work to make tea, I take tincture made with my own home-grown lemon balm.
NOTE: do not take lemon balm TINCTURE if you are taking barbiturates, the creams do not interact with the drugs (Balch, 91)

Lavandula spp. Quiet Creek Herb Farm
Brookville, PA 
Lavender coming from the Latin Lavare, meaning “to wash”, and represented “tranquility and purity” (Brown, 129). The Ancient Greeks and Romans used lavender in their baths as an antiseptic and antibacterial (Brown, 129). It was historically used, also: for asthma, weakness, swelling, vomiting, headache, parlysis, sunstroke, and was used as a mouth wash for bath breath and loose teeth (Levy, 94). In Georgian and Victorian England was used for: hysteria, dizziness, fainting, “lowness …and other nervous affections” (Seymour, 69); thus cited as “get the smelling salts!”
            Currently lavender is primarily used in cosmetics, perfumes and in the field of aromatherapy, to gently relieve fatigue (Keville, 289). Its properties are: antiseptic, mild sedative, muscle relaxant (cramps and asthma), painkiller (headaches, rheumatism), sunburn/burns (Bremness, 112) & (Huson, 60) and treats: depression, yeast/fungal infections, laryngitis, sinus/lung congestion (Keville, 232). Lavender has also been shown to ease pain, swelling, helps repair damaged cells, by making broken “capillaries stronger”(Keville, 319),deter[s] infection…prevent[ing] burns from scarring” (Keville, 255).
            Italian researchers have found that this herb stimulates immunity (Keville, 105), and German study shows essential oil “possesses antifungal properties” (Keville, 81). Studies show that Lavender, along with “lemon… thyme, chamomile…(in that order) increase the number of white cells, which gobble up infection-causing bacteria” (Keville, 257).

Chamomile  “It has floures wonderfully shynynge yellow and resemblynge the appell of an eye” –William Turner (Seymour, 15). Roman or English Chamomile, Anthemis nobilis, German Chamomile, is Martricaria recutita. The common name of this herb, comes from the Greek kamai, meaning “on the ground”, and melon, meaning “ground apple” (Brown, 116). Other names of this herb have included: corn feverfew, barnyard daisy, turkey week and earth apple. Having historically been a “doctor for plants” by “promot[ing] healthy growth of all nearby” (Brown, 116). Ancient Greeks and Egyptians “dedicated chamomile to the sun” (Seymour, 15). It was commonly valued by the Arabs, as one of the “best remedies for infants’ ailments” along with insomnia, depression, whose poultice externally is for pain (Levy, 37). Victorian cottage owners believed that a “chamomile bed, the more it is trodden, the more it will spread” (Seymour, 16), why they walked on it daily. Was attributed as an anti-aging herb in Middle Ages, due to its “disinfectant properties” (Brown, 116).
historic print of Chamomile
            A major property of chamomile is anodyne. It is currently used to treat: colds, and flus, burns and sunburns, sprains and strains. Chamomile oil inhibits inflammation, treating: ulcers, wounds, eczema (Bremness, 256), and increases white cell count which “gobble[es] up infection-causing bacteria” (Keville, 257). Chamomile repairs skin “lavender, rose…make weak and broken capillaries…more resilient, [and] soothe[s]…skin and reduce[s] puffiness” (Keville, 319).

Works Cited
Balch, Phyllis A. Prescription for Herbal Healing: A Practical A-Z Reference to Using Herbs with Vitamins, Minerals, Nutritional Supplements, Natural Healing Techniques, and Prescription Medications. New York: Avery, 2002. 90-91. Print.
Baïracli-Levy, Juliette De. Common Herbs for Natural Health. Woodstock, NY: Ash Tree Pub., 1997. 20+. Print.
Bremness, Lesley. "Smithsonian Handbooks: Herbs." Barnes & Noble. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 July 2013.
Brown, Kathleen L., and Jeanine Pollak. Herbal Teas: 101 Nourishing Blends for Daily Health and Vitality. Pownal, VT: Storey, 1999. 130. Print.
Coon, Nelson. Using Plants for Healing: An American Herbal. 2nd ed. N.p.: Rodale, 1979. Print.
Foster, Steven, and Steven Foster. Herbal Renaissance: Growing, Using & Understanding Herbs in the Modern World. Salt Lake City: Gibbs-Smith, 1993. 116-17. Print.
Huson, Paul. Mastering Herbalism: A Practical Guide. Lanham, MD: Madison, 2001. 60. Print.
Keville, Kathi, and Peter Korn. Herbs for Health and Healing. Emmaus, Penn.: Rodale, 1996. 81-319. Print.
Mabey, Richard, and Michael McIntyre. The New Age Herbalist: How to Use Herbs for Healing, Nutrition, Body Care, and Relaxation. New York: Collier, 1988. 19+. Print.
Moerman, Daniel E., and Daniel E. Moerman. Native American Medicinal Plants: An Ethnobotanical Dictionary. Portland, Or.: Timber, 2009. 303. Print.
Seymour, Miranda. A Brief History of Thyme and Other Herbs. London: John Murray, 2002. 15+. Print.

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