The year we moved west was a tough one. We left behind all of our friends and family for a new life under the slogan “Oregon or Bust.” We spent a year preparing, selling much of what we owned, saving, selling our house, and looking for work. In June, with no work or contacts in our intended home, we decided that we’d just have to take the risk and go. We packed up all our worldly possessions, bid goodbye to our loved ones, and set out on the biggest adventure of our lives to date. Our hopes were high and the adventure began with a whole lot of promise. We hadn’t figured on the bust coming after we’d seemly settled in.
It did. While I rejoiced in the weather and wildlife of my new home, my husband slipped into depression. Summer wasn’t so bad, but when the trees didn’t all burst into the colorful display he expected in early September and the frost hadn’t taken the season’s last tomatoes by early October, he was lost. He was like a reflection of the weather, rainy and glum with increasing frequency as the weeks wore on. By late November, I began to worry.
We had no work, had nearly used up our savings, and had no health insurance. I’d already begun to study herbs more intentionally and was incorporating them into our lifestyle in very small doses by then. They were the best medicine we could afford, after all. With our money running out and no new income in sight, I couldn’t afford to take my man to a therapist, so I scoured my books and talked to anyone I could find who seemed to know about plant medicines in search of something to help my man snap out of his funk.
One local herbalist suggested Lemon Balm tea to ease the blues. After a wee bit of research, my boy and I discovered that Melissa officinalis, as Lemon Balm is also known, dotted the hillside right out our back door. Lemon Balm turned out to be the first herb my then four-year-old son learned to identify. It’s got the mint family’s square stem with opposing leaves that are shaped much like those of spearmint. In our area, lemon balm is generally a lighter shade of green to yellow-green. It grows from rhizomes, as do other mints. It’s a medium-short plant, around 12-18 inches (30-45 cm) through the early part of the season, then reaching closer to 24 inches (60 cm) when the flower spikes come up in mid- to late-summer. In winter, lemon balm stays green but dies back considerably. Together, my son and I climbed the hill searching for the leaves that looked youngest from the most robust plants. It was early winter, and the plants were in their resting season, so we worked extra hard, slipping on the muddy slopes, to pick from many plants so we could spread the stress of being picked so late in the year across the whole field.
Tea of Melissa with a touch of honey helped ease my man’s blues. Just a week or so after his first cup of Melissa tea, he read an article in Wired Magazine about Home Sickness and realized that he had a real, bona fide condition that, as it turns out, was treatable in part by Lemon Balm. Much of Lemon Balm’s healing power comes from her aromatics, the essential oils in her leaves, so the best way to take her is fresh as a tea or another preparation made with fresh leaves. We made Lemon Balm tincture, tea, honey, and glycerites, all of which have helped us through the years. That winter was a rough one for him…for all of us, really. Lemon Balm helped ease the way for us while we waited for our roots to take hold in our new state. Since then, I’ve kept both tincture and glycerite of Melissa on hand, and I often freeze a few handfuls of leaves to flavor drinking water as the winter drags on. She’s helped me kick the blues when they pop up, especially during our wet, cold, cloudy winters and has reminded us that just on the other side of the dreary is a sunny, new day.