The Daily Southerner, Tarboro, NC

April 26, 2012

Lemony Lemon Balm

Karen Freeman

TARBORO — You never know when you are going to run across something that impacts you. I was shopping in Charleston for groceries for my work week. At the entrance to the supermarket, were some tomato plants. I decided to buy one to keep in front of the window in my hotel room. As I was looking at the tomato plants, I saw a small pot that had a lemon balm plant in it.

I have never grown lemon balm before but I picked it up and sniffed it and fell in love! It smells wonderful. If you run your fingers over it, the lemony smell is terrific. Once I had the plant, I had to find things other than just tea to use it for. I hope that you enjoy these recipes as much as I do.

The first is a recipe is chicken with a lemon balm mixture pushed under the skin. You can also use it with the apples and oranges that you stuff into the cavity.

The second recipe is a pesto that is terrific on spaghetti or any other pasta. It’s really easy to make and will keeps for days in the fridge.

The third recipe is a vinaigrette. You will enjoy your next salad with the dressing on it. I also use it to brush on chicken as I grill it.

The last recipe is a lemon orange cheese spread. It’s great on toast points, crackers or bruschetta. It’s just a mix and use recipe. Very simple to make.

Roasted Lemon Balm Chicken

1/4 cup lemon balm leaves, divided

1/4 cup fresh sage leaves, divided

1/4 cup softened butter

Salt and pepper to taste    

1 (3 1/2) pound whole chicken

1 teaspoon garlic powder

2 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat an oven to 400 degrees F.

Set aside 1/3 of the whole lemon balm leaves and 1/3 of the whole sage leaves. Chop the remaining lemon balm and sage. Place the chopped herbs into a mixing bowl with the butter. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and stir until evenly mixed. Loosen the skin of the chicken, and rub the butter mixture underneath the skin, over the breast and legs. Rub the skin of the chicken with garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Place the reserved herbs into the cavity of the chicken, and place breast-side-down onto a roasting pan.

Roast in the preheated oven 30 minutes, then turn chicken breast-side-up, and continue baking until no longer pink at the bone and the juices run clear, about 20 minutes more. An instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh, near the bone should read 180 degrees F (82 degrees C). Remove the chicken from the oven, cover with a doubled sheet of aluminum foil, and allow to rest in a warm area for 10 minutes before slicing.

Lemon Pesto

1 1/2 cups fresh lemon balm

1/2 cup fresh lemon thyme ( or regular thyme)

1/4 cup fresh oregano

2 garlic cloves

2 tablespoons sesame seeds

1/4 cup roasted chickpeas

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons vegetable broth

1 tablespoon white wine

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Combine herbs and garlic in a food processor and pulse until mostly broken down.

Add sesame seeds and chickpeas and puree.

With the processor running, stream in the oil, broth, wine and lemon juice.

Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper.

Lemon Balm Vinaigrette

3 tablespoons light olive oil

1/8 teaspoon salt

6-8 leaves lemon balm

Fresh black pepper to taste

2 tablespoons wine vinegar

Stack the lemon balm leaves together and roll, then with a very sharp knife cut thin strips, and then chop finely. Combine with the other ingredients and serve with steamed vegetables or mixed salad greens.

Lemon Orange Cheese Spread

2 ounces unsalted butter, softened

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

2 Tbsp. orange marmalade

1 tsp. orange zest

1 Tbsp. fresh orange juice

3 Tbsp. chopped fresh lemon balm

Blend the butter and cream cheese until smooth. Mix in the other ingredients. Chill overnight and serve at room temperature.

  Did You Know?

Benefits of Lemon Balm

To date, few scientific studies have focused on the health effects of lemon balm. However, findings from available research suggest that the herb shows promise in treatment of the following:

1) Cold Sores - Shown to possess antiviral properties, lemon balm has been found to promote the healing of cold sores (small, painful blisters caused by the herpes simplex virus-1) in several studies. In treatment of cold sores, lemon balm is typically applied topically (in the form of a cream or ointment).

Preliminary research indicates that topical application of lemon balm may also be useful in treatment of genital herpes (a condition caused by the herpes simplex virus-2).

2) Alzheimer's Disease - Lemon balm may benefit people with Alzheimer's disease, according to a 2003 study. For four months, 42 older adults with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease took a daily dose of lemon balm or a placebo. At the end of the treatment period, those taking lemon balm showed a significantly better outcome on cognitive function. In addition, agitation (a problem prevalent among Alzheimer's patients) was found to be less common in the lemon balm group.

3) Anxiety - In a 2006 study of 24 healthy volunteers, scientists discovered that taking a combination of lemon balm and valerian helped reduce participants' anxiety levels during a stress-inducing lab experiment.

4) Insomnia - In a research review published in 2005, investigators found that lemon balm "may have some effect on sleep" but cautioned that "reports are too scanty to form any opinion about this."

Learn about other natural sleep aids.

How to Use Lemon Balm

Although lemon balm is generally considered safe, the herb may interact with sedatives and thyroid medications.

Given the lack of scientific support for lemon balm's health effects, it's important to consult your physician before using this herb in treatment of any health condition.

Lemon Balm Tea

Available in capsule and tincture form, lemon balm can also be consumed as a tea. When brewing lemon balm tea, make sure to keep the teapot or cup covered at all times in order to hold in the steam (thought to contain the herb's therapeutic aromatic oils).