Standardized: lemon balm
Other: balm, bee balm, melissa, melissa balm
Melissa officinalis L.
Plant Family: Lamiaceae
Used since ancient times to calm the heart and the body, lemon balm with its delicate lemony flavor uplifts the spirit and any culinary dish it is added to. It has been used to sweeten jam, jellies, as an addition to salad, and as a flavoring for various fish and poultry dishes and liqueurs. Further, lemon balm is used for making perfumes, in cosmetics, and in furniture polish manufacturing. It is often found as a tea in combination with other relaxing herbs such as valerian, as an essential oil, and also in ointments for topical applications.
Native to the Mediterranean and various regions in N. Africa, Asia, and Europe,1 lemon balm is a lemon-scented, aromatic, perennial with serrated heart-shaped leaves and whorls of small blue, yellow, or white flowers typical of many members of the Lamiaceae family.6 It is widely cultivated and naturalized throughout the world in temperate areas.1 There are 5 species of Melissa such as M. parviflora (synonym M. axillaris) used in Ayurveda (the traditional system of Indian healing), and also including M. yunnanensis, M. flava and M. romana, although various sources suggest that the latter may be a synonym for M. officinalis as well.3,9 Some of the species have similar properties, but not all of them. Further, some other mint family genera such as Cedronella Mexicana (synonym Agastache mexicana)10 or Nepeta cataria ’Citriodora' 11 are used interchangeably in folk medicine. However, most of the traditional and modern use has been with M. officinalis.
Cultivation And Harvesting
Lemon balm is an easy to grow perennial thriving in USDA zones 4-8 that prefers moist and fertile soil, yet can also tolerate drought. 6,12
History And Folklore
The use of lemon balm goes back thousands of years to the time of the ancient Romans and Greeks.7,13 One of its first recorded uses was as a wine infused liniment (topical preparation) applied for insect bites and stings. Dioscorides (a Greek physician, pharmacologist, and botanist practicing in the 1st century in Rome, who authored the herbal De Materia Medica), mentions its use in this way 13,14,15 and it was also employed in this same manner in Ayurvedic medicine.16 In the Middle Ages it was used to balance mood, promote sleep, and support healthy digestion and has been used this way ever since.17 St. Hildegard of Bingen, an herbalist and nun born in 1098 C.E. in present day Germany said, “Lemon balm contains within it the virtues of a dozen other plants.”18 According to Nicholas Culpepper (a botanist, avid astrologer, physician, herbalist, and author of the Complete Herbal, written in 1653), said dried lemon balm may be made into a fine 'electuary' (sweet tasting medicinal paste) with honey. He wrote that it was ruled by the planet Jupiter and associated with the zodiac sign of Cancer, therefore having an association with the water element and thus an effect on emotions.15 He further praises its virtues, saying: "Let a syrup be made of the juice of it and sugar and…(let it) be kept in every gentlewoman's house…(it) hath so much purging quality in it…as to expel those melancholy vapours from the spirits and blood which are in the heart and arteries" 15
Lemon balm was traditionally used to uplift the spirits and to enhance memory.5,13 As Culpepper mentioned, some of its healing properties were spiritual in nature. This herb was used in spells to heal broken hearts19 and also to attract romantic love.20 It was believed that a lemon balm bag put under the pillow could help promote sleep 11 and put in the bath would promote relaxation.
In an ancient text of the Middle East recounting Azerbaijani folk medicine practices called the Tibbname, a bath in lemon balm tea was believed to support heart health and to promote healthy skin. 21 It was a common practice to apply lemon balm externally or to take internally to calm nerves and soothe the spirit. 21 Melissa officinalis, and its cousin, M. parviflora, have been utilized in Ayurveda to calm the stomach and balance mood13 and has been utilized in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), in which it is considered energetically cooling and drying, for thousands of years as well.18 According to herbalist Matthew Wood, "melissa will generally sedate most people." 19 This herb is believed to be particularly soothing when the physical complaints are accompanied by and/or stem from emotional upset.2,18 Thus, in particular, lemon balm was utilized to calm nervous tension and associated digestive complaints.11 Carmelite water, or 'eau des Carmes' as it is called in France, was a distilled alcoholic digestive tonic containing lemon balm, lemon peel, nutmeg, and angelica root, formulated by the Carmelite nuns (Roman Catholic religious order) from the Abbey of St. Just in the 14th century.7,11,14 It was used for centuries in Europe to support healthy digestion and is still available today.7,11,14
Flavor Notes And Energetics
slightly bitter, lemony, aromatic11
carminative13,22 antispasmodic, diaphoretic, thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) antagonist22
Uses And Preparations
Dried leaf as a tea, tincture, or made into an ointment Fresh leaf as an essential oil, tincture, or fresh leaf tea
The Commission E approved the internal use of lemon balm for promoting sleep and relaxation and for supporting the health of the digestive system.18 Many studies have investigated lemon balm's sedative actions, with most of them being conducted on either a combination with valerian,3 or on the aromatherapuetic effect of the essential oil. However, one human clinical study in 2003, on the dried leaf of lemon balm by itself, did suggest that it has a positive effect on mood and memory.4
Melissa, the generic name, is the Greek word for 'honeybee,' named such because of the bee's love of the this beautifully scented herb.7 In ancient mythology, the group of nymphs called 'melissai' were credited as those who discovered honey. Their symbol was the bee, and it was believed that they metamorphosed into bees at times, and at one such point, a swarm of these nymph-bees were believed to have guided wanderers to the ancient land of Ephesus (now Turkey).8
Specific: No known precautions.
General: We recommend that you consult with a qualified healthcare practitioner before using herbal products, particularly if you are pregnant, nursing, or on any medications.
- United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service, Beltsville Area Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). Accessed at http://www.ars-grin.gov/cgi-bin/npgs/html/taxon.pl?40944#syn on July 28, 2014.
- Lawless J. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils: The Complete Guide to the Use of Oils in Aromatherapy and Herbalism. Dorset, UK: Element Books Limited; 1995.
- Burfield, T. (2004). Accessed at www. cropwatch. org on July 26, 2014.
- Kennedy DO, Little W, Haskell CF, Scholey AB. Anxiolytic effects of a combination of Melissa officinalis and Valeriana officinalis during laboratory induced stress. Phytother Res. 2006 Feb;20(2):96-102.
- Kennedy DO, Wake G, Savelev S, Tildesley NT, Perry EK, Wesnes KA, Scholey AB. Modulation of mood and cognitive performance following acute administration of single doses of Melissa officinalis (Lemon balm) with human CNS nicotinic and muscarinic receptor-binding properties. Neuropsychopharmacology.
- Perry E, Pickering A, Wei Wei Wang, Houghton P, and Perry N. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. Winter 1998, 4(4): 419-428.
- Foster, S. Herbal Renaissance. Utah: Peregine Smith Books; 1984.
- Grieve M. A Modern Herbal. New York: Dover Publications, Inc. Accessed at http://botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/n/nettle03.html on July 10, 2014.
- Greek Myth Index. Accessed at: http://www.mythindex.com/greek-mythology/N/Nymphae.html on July 26, 2014.
- The Plant List (2010). Version 1. Published on the Internet. Accessed at: http://www.theplantlist.org on July 26, 2014.
- Moore M. Los Remedios: Traditional Herbal Remedies of the Southwest. Santa Fe. New Mexico: The Museum of New Mexico Press; 1990.
- Kress H. Practical Herbs 2. 2013. Accessed at http://www.henriettesherbal.com/articles/pract-herbs2.html on July 26, 2014.
- Fern K.www.pfaf.org 1996. Plants for a Future Database. The Field, Penpol, Lostwithiel, Cornwall, PL22 0NG. 1996-2012. Accessed at http://www.pfaf.org/user/default.aspx on July 26, 2014.
- Blumenthal M, Goldberg A, Brinckmann J, eds. Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E Monographs. Austin, TX: American Botanical Council; Newton, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications; 2000.
- Morrison M. The Benefits Of The Use Of Lemon Balm In Herbal Preparations: History of Lemon Balm. Accessed at http://www.herballegacy.com/Dr._Christopher_Formulas.html on July 21, 2014.
- Culpeper N. Culpeper's complete herbal: a book of natural remedies for ancient ills. Accessed at: http://www.complete-herbal.com/culpepper/balm.htm on July 26, 2014.
- Nadkarni, K. M. (Ed.). (1996). [Indian materia medica]; Dr. KM Nadkarni's Indian materia medica: with Ayurvedic, Unani-Tibbi, Siddha, allopathic, homeopathic, naturopathic & home remedies, appendices & indexes. 1 (Vol. 1). Popular Prakashan.
- University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC). All rights reserved. UMMC is a member of the University of Maryland Medical System, 22 S. Greene Street, Baltimore. http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/lemon-balm.
- de la Forêt R. Accessed at http://www.methowvalleyherbs.com/2011/06/luscious-lemon-balm-plant-for-what-ails.html on July 26, 2014.
- Wiccan Spells – Magick for the Modern Witch -Accessed at: http://wiccanspells.info/love-spells/spell-to-heal-a-broken-hear/#axzz38Kl1agM2 on July 22, 2014.
- Cunningham, S. Cunningham's Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs. Woodbury: Llewellyn Publications; 2000.
- Alakbarov, F. (2003). Aromatic herbal baths of the ancients. HerbalGram, 57, 40-49. Citing: Tibbname (Book of Medicine) (in medieval Azeri). Manuscript from the collection of the Institute of Manuscripts in Baku; copied in 1712.
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This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.