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Lemon Balm
Melissa Oficinalis L.

Lemon Balm has a somewhat shaggy appearance with tiny white flowers, is as vigorous as a courteous mint, and makes a tea that tastes like a spring afternoon. Loved by bees, moderately resistant to snails, this hardy perennial loves sun and tolerates dryness. Lemon Balm will survive neglect, but does best in hot areas of the country when given 4 to 6 hours direct sun with afternoon shade and an occasional watering.

Nicknamed "Heart's Ease", old timey uses for this tea included uneasy stomachs, nervous headache and neuralgia, and in combination with valerian for insomnia. Culpeper's Herbal says "[Lemon Balm] causeth the mind and heart to be Merry...and driveth away all troublesome cares."

In the kitchen, it can be used dried whereever sassafras is called for, and gives a good lemony flavor to broth or dishes which call for lemon grass. It complements tarragon and thyme. The tea or the dried herb is lovely with fruit dishes or added to any dish which uses lemon juice. Freshly picked raw leaves are good in salads. Chopped, they can be tossed with sauteed summer vegetables.

Lemon grass, a similarly lemony herb, should not be taken by patients with glaucoma, as it increases eye pressure. Use lemon balm as a safe substitute.

A variegated version of lemon balm is available, which has a less pronounced flavor. QUEDLINGBURGER is a new strain of lemon balm with a higher oil content than regular lemon balm, making for a much stronger lemon flavor and fragrance. This excellent lemon balm variety ships from April through the summer, it ships beautifully by priority mail, and once you have some, you can share it by dividing your own root clumps. So, grow your own and then try this delicious soup.

Lemony Lentil Soup

Ezo was a real person, an unhappy Turkish bride of the last century who cooked it to try to please her mother-in-law. It's also famous for being a perfect hangover cure, next best to Tripe Soup (İşkembe Çorbası).

A variant on Turkish Ezo Gelin Corbasi, this rich soup sticks to the ribs and makes a great brunch dish or winter lunch- and it's traditional before kebabs. Serve hot to 6-8 people.

This soup freezes beautifully; if you have added the egg, use a low heat or a double boiler to reheat.

  • 1 cup red lentils, washed and picked over
  • 4-6 Tablespoons raw rice or bulgur
  • 8 cups strong lemon balm tea or vegetable stock
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup celery heart or onion, finely minced
  • 4 egg yolks or 12 ounce package silken tofu
  • 1 cup milk or plain soy milk
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon dried lemon balm leaves, crumbled
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes
  • garlic is optional
  • a tablespoon or less of mint is also typical
  • lemon slices and lemon balm leaves to garnish
Saute the celery or onions with the tomato paste in 2 tablespoons of butter in a large saucepan until they are golden brown. Add the stock, bring to a boil, add the lemon juice, salt, lentils and rice or bulgur, and simmer covered until soft--about 45 minutes. Remove cooking scum with a perforated spoon. At this point you can stop and store the soup base in the refrigerator.

When ready to serve, bring the soup to a simmer. Beat the egg yolks into the milk (or the tofu into the soy milk)and stir into the simmering soup for a few minutes. When hot and slightly thickened, remove from heat.

While it heats, melt the 1 tablespoon of butter in a small pan, add the lemon balm leaves, and stir for a few seconds. Add the hot pepper and cook til bubbly. Stir immediately into the hot soup. Ladle into bowls and garnish each portion with a sprinkling of crushed lemon balm leaf and sliced lemon.

Tip: A garnish of fresh-picked lemon balm leaves with a dollop of yogurt is beautiful on this creamy soup.