11.03.2018

Herb Fairies: Lemon Balm

Shelbyville-Bedford County Public Library and LearningHerbs
Herbalism is one of many hobbies that I'm passionate about. I've always preferred the outdoors, but as I've gotten older, my imagination that used to conjure fairies and gnomes (and sometimes still does) has learned that personifying plants may not be too far-fetched. I love to watch documentaries, and after checking out titles such as David Attenborough's The Private Life of Plants and Nature: What Plants Talk About from my local library, I became enchanted by the life around us that is often overlooked. With increasing concerns over the food we put in our bodies and the growing rate of poverty, I decided to begin harvesting my own food and medicines (within reason). 

In addition to this program, I have also developed a Seed Library to encourage a more sustainable community. So far, the response has been positive and I have received an increasing number of participants in the exchange. 

Herb Fairies came about during some research I was doing. The family-owned company is called LearningHerbs and they developed this amazing learning system with Herbalists Kristine Brown and Rosalee de la Foret for kids to learn about safely foraging plants they likely come across every day. There is a book series that pairs with the curriculum to make the lessons entertaining and are delivered to you in various formats, including audiobook, ebook, and print (when offered). Materials include, crafts, recipes (food and medicinal), materia medica, songs, activities, journals, calendars, and more. The information is so rich, I can only hope to skim the surface in one hour. 

To avoid feeling overwhelmed, I focus on four of the five senses. How may kids learn about this plant through touch, smell, taste, and sight? It is through our senses we create memories, and through this method I have had several parents tell me how excited their children get when they start identifying the plants in their yards. 

It is important to note that teaching herbalism is NOT giving medical advice. It is not to encourage families to avoid seeking medical attention when needed. There is a note that comes in the kit that should be distributed to parents about the safety of proper identification and consumption of plants. You may want to produce a contract for parents to sign. Before every class I make every child raise their right hand and promise they will not eat any plants without asking an adult first. 

One last thing: before distributing materials, please be sure to give credit where credit is due. I always tell parents how they can go more in depth by purchasing the system for themselves, and be sure to follow copyright laws when handing out resources. Libraries are permitted to circulate the Herbal Roots Zine as part of the collection, and we have subscribed to the zine for easy access and expansion beyond the 13 original plants presented in the books. To aid in memorizing plants and their uses even further, I created flash cards (all artwork is property of LearningHerbs) that I hand out for each plant.


Each book takes less than 30 minutes to read and will help children understand how each plant may be applicable in real-life situations. Per LearningHerbs.com:


Each of the 13 Herb Fairies books has a story of its own, but they’re all connected to tell the much bigger story of a time when the plant magic was fading from the world. When four young friends discover an herb fairy at the park, they are drawn into a healing adventure beyond their wildest dreams. 
The Old Man of the Forest has cast a terrible spell, locking up much of the plant magic and draining the magic from the world. The Herb Fairies turn to the children for help, and they all discover that only by working together and healing the magic keepers from all of the different magical races can the magic be fully restored."

A key element in the storyline is the discovery of a creature's name through riddles that surface each time an ailment is healed. The name discovered in the first book is Play. I like talking about the names and why they are important. It's a simple way of adding a short lesson on character.

USING YOUR SENSES


My neighbor, who was a friend of mine before I moved into my house, is also a forager and we spend a lot of afternoons walking around our yards identifying and taste-testing plants. The mint family is a fun one to study because there are just so many members in the mint family! Between the two of us, my neighbor and I were able to come up with a few different types of mint so my kids could compare them to lemon balm.

We began by smelling the plant to see if it had any kind of aromatics. Lemon balm is a good one for this because you can compare the scent with peppermint, spearmint, perilla, etc. The "lemon" in lemon balm is what sets it apart from the rest.

TASTING - Lemon Balm Tea
Learning Herbs Recipes - Lemon Balm


As kids arrived at their seats, they had a cup of lemon balm tea I had brewed at home with fresh lemon balm leaves, dried rose hips, lavender (the recipe calls for oat straw, but I did not have any), and honey. I also froze lemon balm leaves in ice cubes to drop in. Some kids enjoyed it, others didn't.  The drink itself is very refreshing and calming while cooling the body. Great for Summer! Here's how to make it (original recipe from Learning Herbs Recipes - Lemon Balm)

Ingredients: 
2 Loosely packed cups of chopped fresh lemon balm leaves
OR
4 TBS of dried lemon balm leaves
1/2C dried oatstraw
1/4C dried rose hips
Hot water
Honey
Half gallon jar (or other container)

Add herbs to a half gallon jar. Fill with hot water and let steep for 20 minutes.

Strain off leaves and add honey to taste.

CRAFTY MEDICINE - Lemon Balm Lip Balm
Taken from Herbal Roots Zine: Volume 1 Issue 9


This time, our craft and medicine came together in the form of a lip balm. This lip balm is great for cold sores, and of course, general moisture. The first part of the recipe you will want to do at home since I'm assuming you won't have an extra 2 hours for your program to allow the lemon balm to infuse into your oil/shea butter mix

And although it's a last resort, if you need to use a microwave to assist you in melting things down in a timely manner, it isn't the end of the world. If you do not have one nearby, you may want to melt things down before your program and do this part at the beginning.

Materials:
1/2C Lemon balm leaves
1oz almond or jojoba or mix
1oz Shea butter
1oz beeswax
1/4tsp Honey
1/8tsp Vitamin E
Lemon, rosemary, or lavender essential oil
12-24 Lip balm containers
Double boiler

In a double boiler, combine lemon balm, almond/jojoba, and shea butter. Gently heat for about 2 hours to infuse lemon balm in oil. Do not let the oil boil! Strain out the lemon balm leaves and return the oil mixture to the double boiler.

Add beeswax and let melt. Add honey, vitamin E oil, and 10 drops of essential oil of choice and stir well. Pour into containers and allow to cool.

Don't forget your labels (a simple "Lemon Balm Lip Balm" will do)!

PLAY


To revisit our keyword for this lesson's book, Play, I brought out a game for us to play at the end. This was just an extra I got free with a book order; you could use anything you wanted. 

If you've ever played "Heads Up!" made famous by Ellen DeGeneres, this is a very simplified version. One kid holds a card up to their head, not knowing what is on it, and has to ask questions until they guess what is on the card. Kids had a lot of fun ending the program this way!

RECEPTION: In terms of recipes, lemon balm is a very easy herb that pairs with many things. In terms of crafts, I struggled with this one and that's why I combined the craft and medicine into the lip balm. Lip balm isn't very showy as it is aromatic, so you could make cards like you did with plantain or just make another recipe.