The official name of this plant is Melissa officinalis, and Melissa, as all females with the name will know, means honeybee in Greek, or ‘little honey’ in Latin. It certainly attracts bees, and if some is planted next to a bee hive, or the juices of the plant are rubbed with the oil from lemon balm, bees will not stray from their hives, and more bees will be added to them. According to Pliny the Elder, bees were ‘delighted with the herb above others’.
It was used in ancient times to cure ‘the stings of venomous beasts’, or so wrote Dioscorides. He also believed that if the leaves and their juices were rubbed on areas affected by gout, the pain would be lessened.
It originated in the mountain regions of southern Europe and is also native to the Eastern Mediterranean, Western Asia and North Africa, and was used to calm the nerves, soothe wounds, stings and rashes and in medieval times it was used to flavour soups and sauces.
Culpeper believed it was good for the liver and spleen and that it could ‘…open obstructions of the brain’.
It was one of the ingredients of Carmelite Water, which was used to mask the smell of death in the plague years and to cover the bodily odours of the great unwashed majority in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.
In the language of flowers and herbs, it represented sympathy for others and Shakespeare mentions it in some of his history plays as being used in ceremonies to consecrate kings, and to later help those kings deal with their sorrows and grief.
We know that its juices can get rid of unsightly cold sores, and recommend it as a soothing tea, especially if you have a fever or cold. It induces perspiration, so will lower the temperature of your body when you have a fever. Crush about 6 leaves and put them in a cup; pour boiling water over them and leave them to steep for 5 mins. You might want to add some sugar when you strain the liquid into a clean cup.
Melissa’s Favourite Potato Cakes
¾ lb potatoes, boiled, peeled and mashed
125 gr white fish, cooked, flaked and bones removed
12-14 lemon balm leaves, softened in boiled and finely chopped
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
flour to coat potato cakes
Oil for cooking
Mix the flaked fish into the mashed potatoes and add the lemon balm and seasonings. Make the potatoes into rounds, 3 to 4 inches in diameter, and coat in a little flour on all sides. Heat the oil in a shallow frying pan and cook the cakes on all sides i.e. until they are slightly crispy and golden brown. You will probably need to cook them in several batches.
Serve with salad, or vegetables of your choice and a fresh tomato sauce. (See our tomato and basil sauce recipe.)
Kids love this, and it’s better for them than fish fingers. You can make these cakes with tinned tuna instead of white fish, but drain excess liquid from the tuna before adding to the mashed potatoes.
These potato cakes have Taste, and are a Treat.