The Bastard Balm (Melittis melissophyllum L., 1753) is a herbaceous species belonging to the Lamiaceae family.
From a systematic point of view it belongs to:
M. melissophyllum species.
Within this species, subspecies are recognized, a list of which is reported:
– Melittis melissophyllum L. subsp. albida (Guss.) P.W. Ball (1971);
– Melittis melissophyllum L. subsp. carpatica (Klokov) P.W.Ball (1971);
– Melittis melissophyllum L. subsp. sarmatic Gladkova;
– Melittis melissophyllum L. subsp. albida (Guss.) Nyman (1881);
– Melittis melissophyllum L. subsp. carpathian Soo & Borsos;
– Melittis melissophyllum L. subsp. grandiflora (Sm.) Nyman (1881);
– Melittis melissophyllum L. subsp. melissophyllum;
– Melittis melissophyllum L. subsp. Kernerian (Klokov) Soò et Borsos;
– Melittis melissophyllum L. subsp. Sarmatic Soo & Borsos.
In Italy there are the following subspecies:
– Melittis melissophyllum L. subsp. albida (Guss.) P.W. Ball (1971);
– Melittis melissophyllum L. subsp. melissophyllum.
The following terms are synonymous:
– Melissa sylvestris Lam .;
– Melissophyllum silvaticum St-Lager;
– Melittis albida Guss. (synonym of subsp. albida);
– Melittis carpatica Klokov (synonym of the subsp. Carpatica);
– Melittis graeca Klokov (synonym of subsp. Albida);
– Melittis grandiflora Sm. (1799);
– Melittis grandiflora sensu Klokov, not Sm. (synonym of the subsp. carpatica);
– Melittis hispanica Klokov;
– Melittis kerneriana Klokov;
– Melittis sarmatica Klokov (synonym of the subsp. Carpatica);
– Melittis subcordata Klokov (synonym of the subsp. Carpatica).
The term Melittis comes from the Greek μέλιττα mélitta ape: for the flowers harvested by these insects.
The specific epithet melissophyllum comes from the genus Melissa (from the Greek μέλισσα mélissa ape, being a melliferous plant par excellence) and from the Greek φύλλον phýllon leaf: with lemon balm leaves.
Geographic Distribution and Habitat –
The Bastard Balm is a species native to southern Europe and present in all regions of Italy (excluding the islands).
In Europe it is widespread in the central and southern part, from France to Ukraine, also present in part of Great Britain, while on the European reliefs it is not found in the Dinaric Alps.
Its typical habitat is that of broad-leaved woods (oak, beech and chestnut woods) in marginal or coppice areas; but also in areas with meso-thermophilic shrubs, pine forests and junipers. The preferred substrate is calcareous with a basic pH and soil with low nutritional values and a dry regime.
It is present from the hill to the mountain at altitudes up to 1400 m a.s.l.
Melittis melissophyllum is a perennial herbaceous plant, about 50 cm tall, with robust rhizome and filiform secondary roots, and quadrangular stem, erect unbranched, covered with a fine whitish down denser at the nodes.
It has leaves with short petioles or subsessiles which are opposite two by two on each node of the stem; the lamina is oval or elliptic-lanceolate, with evident ribs, has a heart shape, pointed with 10-20 rounded teeth on each side, glabrous or sparsely hairy, with hairs on the central rib, ciliate at the edge. If crushed, they give off a pleasant coumarin smell similar to that of lemon.
The flowers are large, fragrant and hermaphroditic, 2-6 in number are gathered in bundles at the axilla of the upper leaves carried by a 5-12 mm hairy peduncle. They have a green calyx, often membranous, brown when dry, flared-campanulate and hairy, with mucronate and sometimes denticulated, briefly ciliated teeth, the upper one about twice as long as the lower ones. The corolla of 3-4 cm in the shape of a long trumpet of a dark red, pink or white color with an erect tube, the upper lip quadrangular, the lower trilobe yellow sometimes mottled with pink or decorated with a purple design with the central lobe larger and slightly curved downwards. Stamens 4 didynamus with hairy filaments that do not surpass the lobes of the corolla. Bifid stigma.
The fruit is schizocarpic; it is a microbasarium included in the chalice with globose, trine, hairy and brownish mericarps measuring 3-3.5 mm.
The Bastard Balm is a plant that prefers a rich substrate and is resistant up to about -20 ° C.
This plant doesn’t need a lot of care, the soil needs to be light and the location a little shady.
The plant can be grown starting from seed that is sown in seedbeds or in pots in the autumn period.
The transplant must be done in the summer.
It can also propagate by division of tufts in spring. The larger tufts can be replanted directly into their permanent positions, although it is best to pot the smaller tufts and grow them in seedbeds until they take root well.
Customs and Traditions –
Melittis melissophyllum is a plant that has several medicinal properties and the dried leaves can be used to make tea.
The flowers have a pleasant sweet honey-like scent and are the largest of the Lamiaceae.
The leaves become sweetly scented as they dry and retain their fragrance for a long time.
This coumarin-scented herb (like freshly mown hay) is occasionally used to make a type of drink.
Its medicinal properties are: astringent, blood purifier, diuretic, emmenagogue, sedative, vulnerary.
This plant, like other Lamiaceae species, is quite aromatic and goes well with cabbage and tomatoes.
Its aromatic nature helps repel parasites.
The substances present are coumarin, a dried plant, which gives it the properties of blood purifying, emmenagogue, astringent, vulnerary, diuretic and sedative.
It facilitates menstruation and relieves the pains that accompany it.
Among other uses, it should be remembered that the flowers, despite being a rustic plant, are abundant and graceful so they are easily used in rock gardens (especially at the edge of flower beds planted with shrubs).
This plant is generally rejected by grazing livestock even if its flowers are sucked by honey bees, so it is considered invasive and must be eradicated from pasture meadows.
Preparation Method –
The Bastard Balm is a plant whose aerial parts are used.
Tea-like drinks can be prepared with the dried leaves.
The fresh or dried leaves in the shade are used to prepare an aromatic tea which after meals has a digestive action and is also a sedative of duodenal spasms.
Combined with yarrow and primrose it is a good sleeping pill.
It is also used in external applications to heal wounds which helps to heal and to relieve pain from bruises and inflammation.
– Acta Plantarum – Flora of the Italian Regions.
– Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
– Useful Tropical Plants Database.
– Conti F., Abbate G., Alessandrini A., Blasi C. (ed.), 2005. An annotated checklist of the Italian vascular flora, Palombi Editore.
– Pignatti S., 1982. Flora of Italy, Edagricole, Bologna.
– Treben M., 2000. Health from the Lord’s Pharmacy, Advice and experiences with medicinal herbs, Ennsthaler Editore.
Warning: Pharmaceutical applications and alimurgical uses are indicated for informational purposes only, they do not represent in any way a medical prescription; therefore no responsibility is taken for their use for curative, aesthetic or food purposes.