When I finally got around to checking the gardens, the Lemon Balm had grown unruly, specifically the greenhouse plot. Unclipped, it continued to rise toward the plastic roof, sprouting seed heads along the way. The base had started to coil, almost snake-like, until the plant was unusable for tea. But I couldn’t bring myself to care about that, or any of the many plants I was responsible for that needed attention and love.
The Mugwort was suddenly taller than I was, the St. Johnswort had been overtaken by weeds, and the hyssop had gone and dried up. It had really only been a few days, but as I’ve quickly learned in this field, plants don’t abide by our sense of time.
Healing from Loss
I recently lost my brother unexpectedly, and as many who have grieved can attest to, felt utterly alone in my pain. Chores seemed meaningless and unnecessary. I couldn’t muster the love I’d previously had for Anise Hyssop and Feverfew, even as they stood vibrant before me. Though surrounded by family, I felt as if sharing my thoughts and feelings would be a burden to them.
So I stayed quiet, alone. But Lemon Balm doesn’t grow alone. Lemon Balm may start as a small thing, but make the mistake of blinking and it will spread across an entire garden plot. The plant called to me, telling me in the ways only pants can, that everything would be alright. And I listened.
While too grown for tea, the stems could be tied and dried for smudging. When combined with a few sprigs each of sage, rosemary, and lavender, I’ve found the smudge has the potential to clear a space, person or thing of negative or stagnant energy, and encourages positive growth through calming and clarifying scents. The plant had not left us, it had simply changed.
Lemon Balm for Healing Tea
The second patch of Lemon Balm was still usable for teas and when collected, I stuck a few leaves right into my water bottle. My mom had taught me to do this a few summers ago when I was having stress-related stomach problems. I blamed it on school, work, and the woes of socializing, but it was really from not listening. Not listening to my body when it said “slow down and deal with it”.
As I came to learn, Lemon Balm is calming, both physically and emotionally. In the book Opening Our Wild Hearts to the Healing Herbs, Gail Edwards notes that it acts as an antidepressant and helps to alleviate stomach cramps. I have personally found that Lemon Balm helps me to direct my focus on and complete one task before another, helping me feel less overwhelmed.
I like to make a big pot of “house tea” when it’s time to wind down, or when I have company and want to offer them something. The blend is multiple mints (apple mint, peppermint and spearmint), as well as Lemon Balm and nettles. The ratio is 2:2:1, respectively. The tea is nutritive and lively, while also working to soothe any worries, internal or mental.
Over the course of a few weeks with smudging and tea time, my house began to feel like home again. There was more laughter and teasing. More planning and movement. More life in general. I’ve come to love Lemon Balm this season, for all its taught me and all it has yet to teach me. How I’ve been able to misstep in my care and yet it still stood, ready to be harvested and used for an alternative purpose. The lessons of Lemon Balm are not lost on me, though I’m sure I’ll need a reminder every now and then; we need to stop and we need to listen.
While I know we will always miss him, the plants are happy, and we are healing. Perhaps, as my mother always says, there is a lesson in this after all.
Mackenzie Varney is an apprentice herbalist on Nezinscot Farm in Maine. She has degrees in biology and health and has lived and worked on farms all her life. Connect with her on Instagram, and read all of Mackenzie’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.