Balm





(Melissa officinalis, Linn.), a perennial herb of the natural

order Labiatae. The popular name is a contraction of balsam, the plant

having formerly been considered a specific for a host of ailments. The

generic name, Melissa, is the Greek for bee and is an allusion to

the fondness of bees for the abundant nectar of the flowers.



Balm is a native of southern Europe, where it was cultivated as a source

of honey and as a sweet herb more than 2,000 years ago. It is frequently

mentioned in Greek and Latin poetry and prose. Because of its use for

anointing, Shakespeare referred to it in the glorious lines (King

Richard II., act iii, scene 2):



"Not all the water in the rough, rude sea

Can wash the balm from an anointed king."



As a useful plant it received attention from the pen of Pliny. From its

home it has been introduced by man as a garden plant into nearly all

temperate climates throughout the world, and is often found as an escape

from gardens where introduced--occasionally in this role in the earliest

settled of the United States. Very few well-marked varieties have been

produced. A variegated one, now grown for ornament as well as for

culinary purposes, is probably the same as that mentioned by Mawe in

1778.



Description.--The roots are small and fibrous; the stems, about 18

inches tall, very numerous, erect or spreading, square; the leaves,

green (except as mentioned), broadly ovate with toothed margins,

opposite, rather succulent, highly scented; the flowers, few, whitish,

or purplish, in small, loose, axillary, one-sided clusters borne from

midsummer until late autumn; the seeds very small--more than 50,000 to

the ounce.



Cultivation.--Balm is readily propagated by means of divisions,

layers, cuttings, and by its seeds, which germinate fairly well even

when four years old. Owing to its small size, the seed should be planted

in a seedpan or flat in a greenhouse or hotbed, where all conditions can

be controlled. The soil should be made very fine and friable, the thinly

scattered seeds merely pressed upon the surface with a block or a brick,

and water applied preferably through the bottom of the seedpan, which

may be set in a shallow dish of water until the surface of the soil

begins to appear moist.



When an inch tall the seedlings should be pricked out 2 inches apart in

other, deeper flats and when about 4 inches tall set in the garden about

1 foot asunder in rows about 18 inches apart. When once established they

may be increased readily by the artificial means mentioned. (See page

34.) Ordinary clean cultivation throughout the season, the removal of

dead parts, and care to prevent the plants from spreading unduly, are

the only requisites of cultivation. Preferably the soil should be poor,

rather dry, little if at all enriched and in a sunny place. The foliage

of seedling plants or plants newly spring-set should be ready for use by

midsummer; that of established plants from early spring until late

autumn. For home use and market it should be cured as recommended on

page 25, the leaves being very thinly spread and plentifully supplied

with air because of their succulence. The temperature should be rather

low.



Uses.--The foliage is widely used for flavoring soups, stews, sauces,

and dressings, and, when fresh, to a small extent with salads. Otto or

oil of balm, obtained by aqueous distillation from the "hay," is a pale

yellow, essential and volatile oil highly prized in perfumery for its

lemon-like odor, and is extensively employed for flavoring various

beverages.





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