My exploration of magical plants associated with Beltane continues today with Lemon Balm, Melissa officinalis. To understand why this fabulously fragrant mint corresponds with love magic and the Celtic festival of fire and fertility, one must follow the bees. Yes, bees.
Tradition holds that Amazons, a tribe of female warriors, founded the ancient city that later became known as Ephesus, and that the goddess Diana was born in the nearby woods. A great temple was erected to honor the goddess, who was also known as Artemis (not to be confused with the later Greek goddess by the same name) or Cybele — the Goddess of Nature and Fertility. Like Beltane, Cybele’s annual festival occurred in the spring.
The temple was considered analogous to a hive, with the goddess as the queen bee, and the priestesses as bees or Melissai. The hive structure also occurred at the Temple of Aphrodite at Eryx, an ancient city south of modern-day Sicily. Aphrodite/Venus is the Goddess of Love.
Lemon balm was one of the sacred herbs used in the Temple of Artemis/Diana. Honeybees loved the plant. Honey and wax were valuable commodities in ancient times, so beekeepers used lemon balm to attract swarms. A calming herb, lemon balm was planted around the hives to keep the bees happy and in residence.
According to Hilda M. Ransome’s “The Sacred Bee in Ancient Times & Folklore,” the honeybee was considered to be a form the human soul took when descending from the Goddess Artemis herself.
The plant was also valued for its culinary and curative uses. In the ninth century, the Roman Emperor Charlemagne ordered the monasteries to grow lemon balm in their gardens. By the tenth century, the herb made its way to Europe. From there it spread to Britain and America.
Seventeenth century astrologer and herbalist, Nicholas Culpepper, determined lemon balm was ruled by the planet Jupiter and fell under the astrological sign of Cancer. Some modern day writers link lemon balm to the moon and Venus.
Although lemon balm’s astrological correspondences may vary, one thing is certain: the history of lemon balm, Melissa officinalis, is deeply entwined with the Melissai priestesses and the goddesses of love and fertility. The herb’s magical roots become clear once you follow the bees.
Lemon Balm Magic
Grow lemon balm in large flowerpots. Planted in the ground, it will take over your garden. The sight and fragrant smell of lemon balm alleviates depression and opens your heart to romantic love. Place cuttings on your altar when performing love spells or infuse your tea, water, or lemonade with lemon balm leaves. Lemon balm is thought to aid communication between lovers, so soak in a bath sprinkled with lemon balm leaves or burn the leaves and envision the smoke carrying your message to your beloved.