Of course, on any given day, my list of favorite and most-used herbs will be somewhat, or even radically, different. It’s seasonal, naturally, and based on what’s going on in my life and the lives of my family members. And are we talking top 10 wild plants that I get to go look for in the dark green forest and spend a lovely afternoon foraging for? Or are we talking top ten culinary herbs that have made their way to me via our amazing herbal heritage and, miracle of miracles, are either growing in my own garden right now or are waiting for me on the grocer’s shelf? Regardless of the provenance of these herbs, or how dirty my hands became in the process of acquiring them, these are the ones I love, that are dearest to my heart. In general, I tend to gravitate toward a couple of handfuls of plants for my edible and medicinal needs. These are my favorites, the plants I adore, those that give my spirit the nudge it needs occasionally and those that make my body radiantly healthy. Here are the top ten edibles; the next article will showcase the top ten medicinals (and beware: it just might grow a little, to say 12, or 20). I apologize in advance; I can’t help it.
Let’s start with a zinger: Lemon Balm. Melissa (which means bee) is a lovely moundy round shrub of an herb, with stalks that reach upward and yet keep themselves in more or less of a mass. The flowers are rather diminutive and are barely noticeable, aside from belying their minty ancestry, but it’s their leaves that we’re interested in here. These leaves are roundish, ovate as botanists like to call them but really closer to just plain round. They’re indented on the edges (serrated), and they’re nice and thick. Held in your hand, they feel feather-light but are actually substantial, especially if compared to really delicate leaves of, say, the jewelweed.
Lemon Balm smells of lemon, hence its name, and it tastes of lemon too. This is thanks to its high essential oil content, which is a boon for those of us who love citrus flavor of all kinds, and who tend toward melancholy or even colds and flu in the winter. I use lemon balm in all my winter teas because it is a wonderful anti-viral, particularly against the herpes simplex virus. (For this reason, by the way, it makes a stellar lip balm for cold sores.)
Lemon balm is so medicinal I can’t help but say oodles about it, but we’ll save the majority for Holly's Top Ten Medicinal herbs because I have a sneaky suspicion it’s going to end up on the top 10 list there, too. Lemon balm is useful in so many medicinal applications, especially those dealing with the mind or the emotions.
Edibly, lemon balm makes a tasty addition to salads, can be nibbled raw, chewed like tobacco, or sliced and enjoyed at the moment you put a bowl of quinoa or tabouleh on the table. The best way to enjoy lemon balm is to make a beverage with it. Lemonade springs to mind, of course (and blended with tangy tops of sumac this is a supreme summer iced beverage!), and lemony hot tea in the winter makes for a mouth-puckering, health-inducing warming, healing beverage. Simply dry the leaves in a cool, drafty, dark place, and crumble one teaspoon of them per cup of boiling water. Steep at least 8 to 10 minutes, though steeping for much longer gives a bolder flavor to the tea. (I recommend 20 to 30 minutes). And if you use fresh leaves, double or even triple the quantity as fresh leaves give a milder tea.
To Your Whole Life,