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Lemon Balm
Lemon Balm
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Asterids
Order: Lamiales
Family: Lamiaceae
Genus: Melissa
Species: M. officinalis
Binomial name
Melissa officinalis

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), not to be confused with bee balm, Monarda species, is a perennial herb in the mint family Lamiaceae, native to southern Europe and the Mediterranean region.

It grows to 70-150 cm tall. The leaves have a gentle lemon scent, related to mint. At the end of the summer, small white flowers full of nectar appear. These attract bees, hence the genus name Melissa (Greek for 'honey bee'). Its flavour comes from the terpenes citronellal, citronellol, citral, and geraniol.



This herb can be easy to cultivate in Plant Hardiness Zones 4 to 9 according to the United States Department of Agriculture. In zone 4, it needs winter mulch and a well-drained sandy soil to survive. In zone 7, it can be harvested at least until the end of November. While it prefers full sun (as described on most plant tags), it is moderately shade-tolerant, much more so than most herbs. In dry climates, it grows best in partial shade. It can also be easily grown as an indoor potted herb.

Lemon Balm requires light and at least 70 degrees Fahrenheit to germinate so it is best to plant indoors or in spring and not to cover the seeds.

Lemon Balm grows in clumps and spreads vegetatively as well as by seed. In mild temperate zones, the stems of the plant die off at the start of the winter, but shoot up again in spring. It can be easily grown from stem cuttings rooted in water, or from seeds. Under ideal conditions, it will seed itself prolifically and can become a nuisance in gardens.



Culinary use

Lemon balm is often used as a flavouring in ice cream and herbal teas, both hot and iced, often in combination with other herbs such as spearmint. It is also frequently paired with fruit dishes or candies.

Medicinal uses

The crushed leaves, when rubbed on the skin, are used as a repellant for mosquitos.[citation needed]

Lemon Balm is also used medicinally as a herbal tea, or in extract form. It is claimed to have antibacterial, antiviral properties (it is effective against herpes simplex). [2][3][4]

It is also used as a an anxiolytic, mild sedative or calming agent. At least one study has found it to be effective at reducing stress, although the study's authors call for further research. [5] Lemon balm extract was identified as a potent inhibitor of GABA transaminase, which explains anxiolytic effects. Major compound responsible for GABA transaminase inhibition activity in lemon balm is rosmarinic acid. [6]

Its antibacterial properties have also been demonstrated scientifically, although they are markedly weaker than those from a number of other plants studied.[7] The extract of Lemon balm was also found to have exceptionally high antioxidant activity.[8]

Lemon balm is mentioned in the scientific journal Endocrinology where it is explained that Melissa officinalis exhibits antithyrotropic activity, inhibiting TSH from attaching to TSH receptors, hence making it of possible use in the treatment of Graves' disease or hyperthyroidism. [9]

Lemon balm essential oil is very popular in aromatherapy. The essential oil is commonly co-distilled with lemon oil, citronella oil, or other oils.

Lemon balm is used in some variations of the Colgate Herbal toothpaste for its soothing and aromatic properties.[10]

Lemon balm should be avoided by those on thyroid medication (such as thyroxine) as it is believed that the herb inhibits the absorption of this medicine.[11]

Despite extensive traditional medicinal use, melissa oil has been prohibited by the International Fragrance Association (IFRA)'s 43rd amendment.[12]


Lemon Balm contains eugenol which kills bacteria and has been shown to calm muscles and numb tissues. It also contains tannins that contribute to its anti-viral effects, as well as terpenes that add to its soothing effects.

Traditionally this herb has been used for Grave's disease, as a sedative, and as an antispasmodic.



  1. ^ "Melissa officinalis information from NPGS/GRIN". Retrieved 2008-03-04. 
  2. ^ Kucera, L.S., Cohen, R.A., Herrmann, E.C., "Antiviral activities of extracts of the lemon balm plant" Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, vol. 130, issue 1, Antiviral Sub, pp. 474-482, 1965
  3. ^ Allahverdiyev, A., "Antiviral activity of the volatile oils of L. against virus type-2", Phytomedicine, Volume 11, Issue 7, pp657-661
  4. ^ Schnitzlera, P., Schuhmachera, A., Astania, A., Reichling, J., "Melissa officinalis oil affects infectivity of enveloped herpesviruses", Phytomedicine, Vol. 15, Iss. 9, pp734-740, 3 September 2008 [1]
  5. ^ Kennedy, D.O.; W. Little, A.B. Scholey. (2004). "Attenuation of laboratory-induced stress in humans after acute administration of Melissa officinalis (Lemon Balm)". Psychosom Med 66 (4): 607–613. doi:10.1097/01.psy.0000132877.72833.71. PMID 15272110. 
  6. ^ "Bioassay-guided fractionation of lemon balm (Melissa officinalis L.) using an in vitro measure of GABA transaminase activity". Retrieved 2010-03-08. 
  7. ^ Nascimento, G.G.F.; J. Locatelli, P.C. Freitas, G.L. Silva (2002). "Antibacterial activity of plant extracts and phytochemicals on Antibiotic-resistant bacteria". Brazilian Journal of Microbiology 31 (4). 
  8. ^ Keyvan Dastmalchi, H.J. Damien Dorman, Päivi P. Oinonen, Yusrida Darwis, Into Laakso and Raimo Hiltunen, "Chemical composition and in vitro antioxidative activity of a lemon balm (Melissa officinalis L.) extract", LWT - Food Science and Technology, Vol. 41, No. 3, Apr. 2008, pp. 391-400.
  9. ^ MICHAEL AUF’MKOLK, JONATHAN C. INGBAR, KEN KUBOTA, SYED M. AMIR and SIDNEY H. INGBAR, "Extracts and Auto-Oxidized Constituents of Certain Plants Inhibit the Receptor-Binding and the Biological Activity of Graves’ Immunoglobulins*", Endocrinology Vol. 116, No. 5, 1985, pp. 1687-1693.
  10. ^ Colgate Herbal Uses Melissa
  11. ^ University of Maryland Medical Centre, "Lemon Balm"
  12. ^,+Standards+Compliance/IFRA+Standards/page.aspx/56

External links


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