Jekka McVicar, "The Queen of Herbs," talks with Lynne Rossetto Kasper about the multiple functions of lemon balm.
[More from McVicar]
Lynne Rossetto Kasper: I'd like to talk to you about lemon balm. I think this is really a sleeper. People rarely think about it as an herb or even know about it.
Jekka McVicar: I think it's a fantastic herb. The Latin of it is Melissa officinalis. Melissa was the goddess of bees and honey, and there's this lovely saying that if you have lemon balm near your hives, you'll never have unhappy bees. But I love lemon balm because it's just been scientifically proven that it reduces stress. All you have to do is put five to six leaves in a cup, add boiled water, and leave five minutes to steep. Strain and drink. It is fantastic, and it relieves tiredness and headaches.
The other marvelous thing about lemon balm is if you've ever suffered from cold sores, all you have to do is make that solution with the five or six leaves. Let it cool right down and then put a bit of cotton wool into the lemon balm solution. Add that onto your actual cold sore and it will vanish.
LRK: I had no idea!
JM: And the really interesting thing is it's Melissa Officinalis. Any plant that has that word officinalis attached to it was used medicinally. You hear that, you know this is going to be a really interesting herb, and it's full of history.
LRK: It's such a pretty plant.
JM: It looks like mint in a way, doesn't it? It's a member of the mint family. It can be invasive in the garden, so do be careful. It doesn't spread quite like mint does, but it does spread in the garden. It can self-seed and pop up everywhere, but it's easy to see and it's easy to rip out so it's really no trouble.
My top tip if you're growing it is to always cut it back after flowering, because, like mint, you'll manage to get it to produce more leaves for you to use. I do let mine flower because I'm so aware of bees and I do have four beehives. If you're cooking though, you can use it to cover a chicken in the leaves and then tin foil and whack it in the oven like that. It really infuses the flavor of that lovely lemon into your chicken.
LRK: How else would you use it in cooking?
JM: I use it with rhubarb. Do you have rhubarb in the States?
LRK: Oh, yes, we have rhubarb.
JM: You know quite often when you cook rhubarb, it makes your mouth dry after? Put in a big handful of lemon balm. I actually put the stalks in as well. I tie it up with string and I whack that in, and as I'm stewing my rhubarb, that removes the tartness and cuts down your sugar by about 50%.
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Lynne Rossetto Kasper has won numerous awards as host of The Splendid Table, including two James Beard Foundation Awards (1998, 2008) for Best National Radio Show on Food, five Clarion Awards (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2014) from Women in Communication, and a Gracie Allen Award in 2000 for Best Syndicated Talk Show.
Jekka McVicar is a British horticulturalist who has been called "The Queen of Herbs," and in 2016 the Royal Horticultural Society named her an Ambassador for health and well-being through gardening. Her herb nursery, Jekka's Herb Farm, has won 59 RHS gold medals. She is author of The Complete Herb Book, Jekka's Herb Cookbook and co-author of Vegetables, Herbs and Fruit.