This section is from the book "Meals Medicinal", by W. T. Fernie. Also available from Amazon: Meals Medicinal: With "Herbal Simples" Curative Foods From the Cook in Place of Drugs From the Chemist.
Balm (Melissa Officinalis), so called because of its honied sweetness, occurs plentifully in our kitchen gardens, and was so highly esteemed by Paracelsus as the "Primum ens Melissa" that he believed it would completely revivify a man. • The London Dispensatory of 1696 said: "An essence of Balm given in Canary wine every morning will renew youth, strengthen the brain, relieve languishing nature, and prevent baldness".
Or, a Balm wine containing all the virtues of the fragrant, restorative herb may be made thus: Into four gallons of water put ten pounds of moist sugar; boil for more than an hour, skimming thoroughly; then pour into a crock to cool; place a pound and a quarter of Balm tops (bruised) into a small cask with a little new yeast, and when the liquor is cool pour it on the Balm. Stir them well together, and let the mixture stand for twenty-four hours, stirring it frequently; then close it up, lightly at first, and more securely after fermentation has quite-ceased. When it has stood for six or eight weeks, bottle it off, putting a lump of sugar into each bottle. Cork the bottle well, and keep it for at least a year before putting it into use. Double the above quantity may be made at a time if more suitable for the requirements. "Balm," adds John Evelyn, "is sovereign for the brain, strengthening the memory, and powerfully chasing away melancholy." A tea made from the Garden Balm with boiling water, and drunk hot, is admirably cordial, and promotes-free perspiration on an excess of catarrhal cold, or influenza; but against hysterical, or nervous troubles the tea should be made with cold water, so as not to dispel the volatile aromatic virtues of the herb.
Formerly a spirit of Balm, combined with lemon-peel, nutmeg, and angelica root, enjoyed a great restorative reputation under the name of Carmelite water, being highly useful against nervous headache, and neuralgic affections. It is fabled that the Jew Ahasuerus (who refused a cup of water to our Saviour on his way to Golgotha, and was therefore doomed to wander athirst until Christ should come again) on a Whitsuntide evening begged for a draught of small beer at the door of a Staffordshire cottager, who was then far advanced in consumptive disease of the lungs. He got the drink, and out of gratitude advised the sick man to gather from his garden three leaves of Balm, and to put them into a mug of beer. This was to be repeated as a draught every fourth day throughout twelve days, the refilling of the cup to be continued as often as desired, and "then thy disease shall be cured, and thy body shall be altered".
So saying, the Jew departed, and was never seen there again. But the cottager fulfilled his injunctions, and at the end of twelve days had become a sound man. The word Balm is an abbreviation of "Balsam," the chief of sweet-smelling oils.
Gerarde has told that "the juice of Balm glueth together greene wounds;" and "the leaves," say Pliny, and Dioscorides, "being applied do close up wounds without any perill of inflammation".
It is now understood as a scientific fact that the balsamic oils of aromatic plants make excellent surgical dressings; they give off ozone, and thus exercise anti-putrescent effects; moreover, being chemical hydrocarbons, they contain so little oxygen that in wounds dressed with the fixed balsamic herbal oils the atomic germs of disease are starved out. Furthermore, the resinous parts of these balsamic oils as they dry upon the sore, or wound, seal it up, and effectually exclude all noxious air. Thus the essential oils of Balm, Peppermint, Lavender, and similar herbs, as well as Pine Oil, the resin of Turpentine, and Benzoin (Friar's Balsam), should serve admirably for ready application, on lint, or soft fine rag, to cuts, and superficial sores. A couple of hundred years ago pancakes were made whilst using the herb Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara), and fried with Sage butter. "Hark! I hear the Pancake bell," said poor Richard, making allusion thereto in his Almanack (1684). It is said that the Pancakes particular to Shrove Tuesday were originally appointed to be made then so as to dispose of the dripping and fat remaining over from the prolonged Christmas festivities, before the advent of the Penitential Fast. The bell rang for Confessional in every Church throughout England in Catholic times on the morning of Shrove Tuesday.