COMMON NAMES: Balm, Balm Mint, Bee Balm, Blue Balm, Cytria, Erva Cidrera, Garden Balm, Hashishat al Nahil, Honey Plant, Kovanutu, Lemon Balm, Nd, Ogulotu, Seiyo-Yama-Hakka, Sweet Balm, Toronjil, Tronjon
Melissa officinalis is a perennial herb from the Lamiaceae (mint) family, which just happens to be the same family as Salvia divinorum. This herb can grow to be 3 feet (1 meter) tall, and 3 feet (1 meter) wide. The leaves are fuzzy with many tiny hairs, vary in shape from oblong oval to a heart shape, and all have a jagged toothed edge. They are a uniform green with a slight iridescent quality due to the many minute hairs that profusely grow all over the surface of the plant. Lemon Balm flowers are tiny, about a half inch (2 cm) and vary in color from a light pale yellow to a slightly purplish color when they mature. Most notably, when the leaves and stems are crushed they give off a strong lemony scent (Christman 2008).
Lemon Balm is native to southern Europe and northern Africa; although, over the last several centuries it has been successfully cultivated all over the world. Today it can be found growing wildly throughout North America, Europe, Asia, and in the Mediterranean. Because this is a very hardy plant that can withstand a wide range of temperatures, moisture levels and climate zones, it has become a popular house plant grown for its culinary uses and to make refreshing summer teas (Christman 2008).
TRADITIONAL USES: Melissa officinalis was first written about in the first century by Greek physician and pharmacologist Pedanius Dioscorides. He believed that depression or melancholia could be cured by soaking the leaves in wine and consuming the resulting concoction. The plant is botanically classified and officially recorded according to Carl Linnaeus’ botanical binomial nomenclature (Greive 2009).
Lemon Balm has long been known for its aromatic qualities and its culinary uses. The Greeks used Lemon Balm to treat insomnia, to calm nerves and alleviate anxiety. It was used as an ingredient in Mediterranean dishes, as a garnish, as an additive to flavor deserts, to make hot and cold teas, and as a flavoring agent in candies and gums; its essential oils were used in much the same manner as spearmint oil. Lemon Balm is also one of the psychoactive ingredients used to make the historically renowned Absinthe (Greive 2009).
TRADITIONAL PREPARATION: There are many different methods for preparing Lemon Balm. The leaves may be dried and steeped to make a refreshing tea; the fresh leaves may be crushed and squeezed to release essential oils, and then used to add a zesty flavor to summer drinks, fruit dishes, candies, and pastries. A paste can be made by crushing the leaves and simmering them in water until all of the essential oils are released. The plant material is then filtered out and the resulting water is then allowed to evaporate until all that is left is a thick paste that has use as a medical balm. Gardeners have long used this plant to attract bees into their fields to help pollinate their plants.
MEDICINAL USE: Melissa officinalis has been used to treat many different ailments and conditions throughout history. In antiquity it was used as calmative and for anxiety and stress. It was used to relieve insomnia and to induce a relaxed and serene state of mind. Recent studies have shown that there is some validity to these claims; the plant produces an abundant amount of terpenes, which have been shown to produce a soothing and calming effect. Even to this day people make a tea from the leaves to help them relax and fall asleep (Raintree Nutrition 1996).
There is also evidence that shows that applying a decoction of the plant oils directly to cold sores eliminates redness, improves the healing time and increases the time between outbreaks, due to the polyphenols produced in the plant. It has also been used to as a topical anesthetic and antibiotic, because the oils produce ozone, which prevents bacteria from growing on an open wound and helps heal minor flesh wounds (University of Maryland 2009).
In Native American communities Lemon Balm has been widely used to alleviate migraine headaches and reduce fevers. Water is infused with the leaves for fifteen minutes and then filtered, the tea is drunk and shortly after the patient will begin to sweat, which will help reduce the fever and purge the system of illness (Greive 2009).
TRADITIONAL EFFECTS: There are many active and useful alkaloids produced in the leaves and stems of the plant: such as tannins, polyphenols, eugenol, terpenes, citronellal, and geraniol. Specifically: 1-octen-3-ol, 10-alpha-cadinol, 3-octanol, 3-octanone, Alpha-cubebene, Alpha-humulene, Beta-bourbonene, Caffeic-acid, Caryophyllene, Caryophyllene-oxide, Catechins, Chlorogenic-acid, Cis-3-hexenol, Cis-ocimene, Copaene, Delta-cadinene, Eugenyl-acetate, Gamma-cadinene, Geranial, Geraniol, Geranyl-acetate, Germacrene-D, Isogeranial, Linalool, Luteolin-7-glucoside, Methyl-heptenone, Neral, Nerol, Octyl-benzoate, Oleanolic-acid, Pomolic-acid, Protocatechuic-acid, Rhamnazin, Rosmaric-acid, Rosmarinic-acid, Stachyose Succinic-acid, Thymol, Trans- ocimene, Ursolic-acid (Raintree Nutrition 1996).
Lemon Balm has been known to produce a mild state of serenity, tranquility and relaxation. At lower doses the effects are subtle and can easily go unnoticed. However, when taken in higher doses Lemon Balm can produce a stimulating effect which then leads to a calm and sedated feeling. Users have reported that their bodies must become accustomed to the plant over a period time and multiple uses before they feel the subtle effects. An extract of the herb binds to nicotinic and muscarinic-acetylcholine receptors (Raintree Nutrition 1996).
Christman, S. 2008. #952 Melissa officinalis Floridata.com
Greive, M. 2009. A Modern Herbal: Balm (Melissa officinalis) Botanical.com
Hillclimb Media. 2009. Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) GardenGuides.com
Lemke, C. 2007. Melissa officinalis – Lemon Balm Lamiaceae PlantoftheWeek.org
MedicineNet. 2009. LEMON BALM (Melissa officinalis) MedicineNet.com
Raintree Nutrition. 1996. Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) Rain-tree.com
University of Maryland. 2009. Lemon balm. University of Maryland: Medical Center.
USDA.2009. Melissa officinalis L. common balm. USDA Plants Database.