Quick Recipes and Easy

Lemon Balm

John
Hussey of Sydenham, England, drank lemon balm tea with honey for breakfast
every morning. He lived to see his 116th birthday. It’s no wonder
then that lemon balm is often dubbed “The long life herb”.

Lemon balm is one of our favourite herbs. A cup of
lemon balm tea after dinner aids digestion and promotes sleep. Some folks add
lemon juice and a small honey, but I prefer mine plain. The simple, pure lemon
taste is such a delight and it needs no sweetening, especially if it’s made
from fresh, not dried herbs. But, it’s a excellent thought to dry some lemon balm
for the winter. If you’re wound up and really feel the need to relax before
heading for bed, just add a small Valerian and/or St. John’s Wort herbal
mixture to the tea.

Beekeepers
have grown lemon balm near hives for generations because of its abundant
nectar. There is also a legend that a hive rubbed inside with the leaves will
never lose its bees. This is why the herb is also known as “bee
balm”. The Latin name is Melissa
officinalis, so the herb is also sometimes called “Melissa”.
Indeed, the word “Melissa” is Greek for bee. Botanists have a habit
of blending the two classical languages for their terminology. Another herb,
monarda, or bergamot is also known as bee balm, but the two are not to be
confused. Monarda is called bee balm because a poultice made from the herb is
supposed to ease the pain of bee stings.

Lemon
balm is a hardy perennial that grows readily in most areas. Indeed, as a member
of the mint family it can become quite invasive, which is why it’s a excellent thought
to grow it in barrels.

In his brilliant book, The Green Pharmacy, James A. Duke, Ph.D., lists lemon balm for the
treatment of: amenorrhea (lack of menstruation), chronic fatigue syndrome,
hypothyroidism (under-active thyroid), Graves disease (over-active thyroid),
headache, herpes virus, insomnia, shingles and viral infections.

In
Tudor England lemon balm leaves were used as a furniture polish, a tradition
carried on today in the form of lemon scented polishes. The Carmelite nuns
formulated an elixir tonic called Carmelite Water using brandy, nutmeg,
angelica root, lemon rind and lemon balm.

But it
is as a culinary herb that lemon balm really sparkles. In summer, it’s perfect
to add to cold drinks and salads. The following recipe is a late summer Pender
Island favourite, when the island blackberries are ripening and there’s still
plenty of lemon balm growing:

Pender Island Chicken Stew with Blackberries & Lemon Balm

4 boneless chicken
breasts, skin on
2 Tbsp. extra virgin
olive oil
¾ cup of hearty red wine
¾ cup of chicken stock
Grated rind of 1 small
orange
1 Tbsp. of freshly
squeezed orange juice
½ cup of fresh lemon
balm, finely chopped, plus 4 extra sprigs for garnish
2/3 cup of heavy cream
1 egg yolk
¾ cup of fresh
blackberries, plus another half cup for garnish
1 tsp. arrowroot powder
(optional)
Salt & freshly
ground black pepper to taste.

Sauté both sides of the chicken breasts in the olive oil
over medium heat sufficiently to seal in flavor, about five minutes each side,
then transfer them to a casserole dish. Add the wine, chicken stock, orange
rind and juice and lemon balm to the sauté pan, stirring while bringing it
slowly to the boil. Add the salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Pour
over the chicken and bake, covered, at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.

Blend the cream with the egg yolk, along with about half-cup
of liquid from the chicken that you’ve allowed to cool. Along with the
blackberries (reserving some for garnish), stir this back into the casserole,
cover and bake for another 10-15 minutes. If a thicker sauce is desired, remove
half a cup of liquid from the casserole, allow it to cool, blend in the
arrowroot powder and stir back into the sauce.

Garnish with the rest of the blackberries of lemon balm
sprigs.

For
dessert, try the following:

Berry Balm Crunch

2 cups
of blackberries, raspberries or blueberries
3
tablespoons of lime juice
2/3 of
a cup of packed, brown sugar
1/3 cup
of unbleached white flour
1 cup
of quick cooking rolled oats
1/3 cup
of shredded coconut
½ cup
of butter, melted
1 tsp.
cinnamon
1/3 cup
of finely chopped fresh lemon balm leaves

Mix the berries, limejuice and lemon balm in a bowl, then spread this mixture
in an eight-inch square buttered baking pan. Mix the rest of the ingredients
thoroughly and pack over the berries. Bake at 375F degrees for about 30
minutes, or until crisp and brown. Serve hot with vanilla ice cream or whipped
cream with a garnish of fresh lemon balm leaves.

Bruce Burnett is an award-winning writer, a chartered herbalist and author of HerbWise: growing cooking wellbeing. Bruce and his wife Delaine own Olivia’s Fashion, Furnishings & Gifts ( olivias.ca/ olivias.ca/) in Ladysmith, BC Canada. Read more published articles by Bruce Burnett on his websites: bruceburnett.ca/ bruceburnett.ca/ and herbalcuisine.com/ herbalcuisine.com/



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