Lemon Balm

Botanical Name: Melissa officinalis

Family: Labiatae

Hindi Name: Bililotan

A native of the countries north of Mediterranean it grows wild, and is cultivated in the gardens as a medicinal herb. In India, it is found in the temperate Himalayas and the Khasi and Mishmi Hills.

Lemon balm is a herbaceous plant of the mint family. The evergreen grows to a height of 30-60 cm, and lasts for two years or longer. Its flowers are small and white or light pink, while the leaves are ovate, and the nuts are dark and obovoid. The volatile oil extracted from the plant is used for food flavouring and in perfumery. The balm leaves contain no more than 0.1 % of essential oil, which is of complex and variable composition.

Lemon balm is less a spice than a medicinal herb, and in past times much used against stomach ailment and nervous conditions. It has, however, some value as a spice, because of its fresh and pure lemon taste, which makes it a perfect substitute for fresh lemon grass.

Lemon balm has a great affinity for fresh fruits, especially apples. Thus, it is sometimes found in fruit-based dessert.

In Central Europe, lemon balm is sometimes used to flavour sweet drinks. They are used in fish and poultry dishes, and salads. It is also used in dishes containing lemon juice to enhance the flavour.

Some people use lemon balm leaves instead of basil while preparing pesto. It can also be added to the traditional Frankfurt Green Sauce. Fresh leaves add a piquant flavour to summer drinks. The herb is used as a carminative, diaphoretic or febrifuge. It can be made into a cooking tea for patients with fever.

In combination with other herbs, it is used to treat colds. It is useful in treating nervous disorders, liver and heart diseases, and in venomous insect bites. A cold infusion counteracts depression and helps in strengthening the function of the stomach, and gums, while reviving a fatigued person.

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