Sunday, May 7, 2017

Drying Lemon Balm

  This herb is one of my favorites for a number of reasons. Not necessarily in this order, but I love its aroma, its sedative and antiviral properties and its very pleasing taste. I love its versatility, and that it readily self seeds so is a cinch to grow, is easily the main ingredient or supportive ingredient in anything from teas and skin creams to tinctures and ice cream. And I'm not the only fan. Pepper, my roommate who also happens to be a rabbit, also loves lemon balm.

However, there has been one persistent issue I've had with Melissa officinalis: Its elusive aromatics are not easy to capture and even if you are successful, they are fleeting. Generally speaking, I use a dehydrator to dry herbs for teas and long-term storage. But with lemon balm, finding the precise moment at which to stop the drying process has been challenging, to say the least. If you stop the process too soon, you may end up with some aroma, but the leaves will also likely contain too much moisture and will mold inside the storage container. On the other hand, drying them to a crisp has often left me with a bowl of grassy smelling leaves, with nearly none of its namesake's lemony scent. On occasion, I have gotten a good balance, but it has not been a reliable method as the results have not been consistent. What I've been recently reminded of in my quest to achieve good, dry and aromatic lemon balm, is that using the same means to achieve different ends is neither a holistic approach to herbalism, nor a natural one.

I decided one day to hang dry lemon balm. I've done this on occasion with various other herbs. Usually it was either because I was too lazy to meticulously place each sprig or leaf on the dehydrator trays, or, the dehydrator was busy drying other herbs. Apparently, those two exceptions had never presented themselves when I was harvesting and processing lemon balm. …Until now.

The dehydrator was full of dandelion and plantain leaves, so I decided to hang dry the lemon balm I had harvested. I have a big closet in my living room, which has a west-facing window, and so gets lots of sun from the afternoon. It heats up nicely inside, especially if I keep the closet door shut. So, I wrapped wire twists around the stems of bunches of lemon balm and hung them from the clothing pole, and basically forgot about them, for about a week and a half. When I took them down, they weren't extremely crispy, but they were thoroughly dry and could crumble nicely with a little friction.

 I decided to make a tea with the freshly dried leaves. I took several sprigs, put them in a sealable teabag and crushed the teabag containing the dried herb between my fingers. That's when the magic happened! The aroma was hands down the best I'd gotten out of lemon balm, ever. It was literally like rubbing the leaves of the fresh herb, but maybe even a little more concentrated! I made the tea - I tend to steep the herb for 20 minutes in just-off-the-fire boiling water, with a lid on it - and was again elated, this time with the taste. It was lemon balm, which is delicious in and of itself, but perhaps for the first time, I could also really taste the menthol component that is characteristic of the mint family. You know, that cool, clean sensation that mint leaves in the mouth? Mmmm.... So, no more harsh dehydrator blues for Melissa!

I still have to wait and test the longevity of the dried herb's quality. But something tells me it's going to be better than previous batches, which I rarely got a single good cup of tea out of. That is why I tended to only make a tea of the fresh herb. Hopefully this will prove to be a nice viable option.

Moral of the story, if at first you don't succeed, try try again, ...but also switch it up a little!

1 comment:

  1. I didn't know making tea could be so difficult! :) You put a lot of work into getting what you were looking for. Glad it worked out. Looking forward to trying out some (tea, ice cream?) from it.