Lemon balm


Lemon balm


Scientific Name:

Melissa officinalis

Common Names:

Lemon Balm, Sweet Mary, Honey Plant, Dropsy Plant, Melissa, Sweet Balm

Traditional Names:






  • The flowers are small, white, and bilabiate, and are found in one-sided false whorls in the axils of the upper leaves. Each flower has an upper lip that is divided in two parts, and a lower lip that is 3-lobed. The flower has 4 stamens. The fruit is a 1.5 to 2 mm long brown nutlet (Gruenwald et al. 2000).
  • Lemon balm is a perennial that grows up to 90 cm high, with erect, quadrangular, branched stems. The leaves are petiolate and ovate with pointed ends (Gruenwald et al. 2000).
  • Before flowering, the taste and smell of the herb is lemon-like, becoming astringent later (Gruenwald et al. 2000).



  • Lemon balm is indigenous to the east Mediterranean region and west Asia, and is cultivated or established in the wild elsewhere (Gruenwald et al. 2000).
  • Lemon balm is a fast-growing perennial hardy to Zones 4 through 9, and it can be grown as an annual in colder regions. Lemon balm prefers moist but well-drained soil and a bit of shade (Gladstar 2012).





Parts Used:

  • The whole aerial part of the plant (leaves and flowers) or just the leaves, dried or fresh, and are used medicinally. Essential oil is extracted by distillation from the leaves (Gladstar 2012; Gruenwald et al. 2000).


Collection and Harvesting:

  • Lemon balm leaves can be harvested anytime during the growing season, but are more flavorful before the plants flower. When the plants do begin to flower, they can be snipped back for a second crop of leaves (Gladstar 2012).
  • The leaves are separated from the stems and then air-dried, or they can by dried quickly in a food drier at temperatures between 30 to 40° C. The leaves retain their wonderful scent even when dried (Gladstar 2012; Gruenwald et al. 2000).



  • Lemon balm contains volatile oils [citral, citronellal, geranial, neral, citronellol, b-ocimene, b-caryophyllene, germacrene D] , tannins, bitters, polyphenols [protocatechuic acid, hydroxycinnamic acid derivatives, caffeic acid, chlorogenic acid, rosmarinic acid, 2-(3',4'-dihydroxyphenyl)-1,3-benzodioxole-5-aldehyde], vitamin C, catechin, resins, and flavonoids [glycosides of luteolin, quercetin, apigenin, kaempferol] (Barnes et al. 2007; Gladstar 2012).
  • The chief volatile oil components are geranial, neral, and citronellal (Gruenwald et al. 2000).



  • Lemon balm has mild sedative and carminative, spasmolytic, antibacterial, antiviral, anti-oxidative, and anti-hormonal effects (Gruenwald et al. 2000).
  • Lemon balm’s rich concentration of volatile oils, specifically citral and citronellal, calms the nervous and digestive systems, with antispasmodic actions (Gladstar 2012).
  • Lemon balm's demonstrated antiviral, anti-herpes properties seem to result from tannic acid, polyphenols (e.g., caffeic acid, rosmarinic acid, protocatechuic acid), and flavenoids (e.g., quercetin) (Duke 1997).
  • Lemon balm's sedative action is attributed largely its constituent terpenes (e.g., monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes) (Duke 1997).



  • Lemon balm is used internally for nervous agitation and sleeping problems (insomnia) (Gruenwald et al. 2000).
  • Lemon balm is used externally for Herpes labialis (Kraft & Hobbs 2004).
  • Unproven uses for lemon balm (Gruenwald et al. 2000):
    • In folk medicine, lemon balm is utilized as a decoction of the flowering shoots for nervous complaints, lower abdominal disorders, meteorism, nervous gastric complaints, hysteria and melancholia, chronic bronchial catarrh, nervous palpitations, vomiting, migraine, nervous debility, headache and high blood pressure.
    • Lemon balm is used externally for rheumatism, nerve pains and stiff necks (compress).
  • In homeopathy, lemon balm is used for menstrual irregularities (Gruenwald et al. 2000).



  • Lemon balm can be combined with rose hips, chamomile, and borage flowers to make a tea which soothes irritated nerve endings and eases away the day’s tension (Gladstar 2008).
  • Mixed mint tea made with lots of lemon balm plus other mints, such as hyssop, oregano, peppermint, rosemary, sage, self-heal, spearmint or thyme, is good for viral infections (Duke 1997).


Preparation and Dosage: (Gruenwald et al. 2000)

  • To prepare an infusion of lemon balm, pour one cup (200 ml) of hot water over 1.5 to 4.5 g of dried or powdered lemon balm. and strain after 10 minutes.
  • The average daily dose of lemon balm is 1.5 to 4.5 g.
  • The homeopathic dosage of lemon balm is 5 drops, 1 tablet, or 10 globules every 30 to 60 minutes (acute) or 1 to 3 times daily (chronic). If taken parenterally (administered as an injection), inject 1 to 2 ml subcutaneously (under the skin) 3 times daily for acute symptoms or once daily for chronic symptoms.



  • People with glaucoma should avoid lemon balm essential oil as citral may raise ocular eye pressure (Duke 1985).
  • At high doses (185 mg/kg/day/3 months), citral may produce benign prostatic hyperplasia (benign enlargement of the prostate) (Duke 1985).
  • The American Pharmaceutical Association advises patients with Graves disease to avoid lemon balm; however other sources suggest that it is useful for treating Graves disease (Duke 1985).
  • Lemon balm is considered a thyroid inhibitor. Those suffering from hypothyroidism or low thyroid activity should use it only under the guidance of a health-care practitioner (Gladstar 2012).


Drug Interactions:

  • N/A.





History and Origin:

  • Lemon balm is native to the eastern Mediterranean region, western Asia, and mountainous parts of southern Europe, but has been naturalized and now grows abundantly worldwide (Georgetown University Medical Center 2015).
  • Lemon balm has traditionally been used as a mild sedative to treat anxiety and insomnia and to generally “lift the spirits” by many cultures for over 2,000 years. The name Melissa is taken from the Greek word for “bee” because the fragrant plants attract bees (Georgetown University Medical Center 2015).



  • Tea made from the leaves of Melissa officinalis has historically been used for nervous disorders, hyperthyroidism, migraines, and hypertension (Georgetown University Medical Center 2015).
  • Lemon balm is one of the primary ingredients in Carmelite water, an alcoholic infusion that was created in the 16th century by Carmelite nuns, that included orange blossom water, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, and other fragrant herbs. Carmelite water was recommended for headaches and neuralgia, and gentlewomen were urged to keep a syrup of lemon balm juice at hand to treat stomach ailments (Georgetown University Medical Center 2015).
  • The ancient physician and philosopher Avicenna recommended lemon balm as an external treatment for wounds and ulcers and as an internal remedy for melancholy (Georgetown University Medical Center 2015).


Growing Information: (Gladstar 2012)

  • Lemon balm is a fast-growing perennial hardy to Zones 4 through 9, and it can be grown as an annual in colder regions.
  • Lemon balm prefers moist but well-drained soil and a bit of shade, but will grow in full sun as well.
  • The seeds can be sown directly in the soil in fall or started indoors in the spring.


Personal Impressions and Experiences:

  • Most mints grow well in Port Neville, and I am hoping to get some lemon balm established in my herb garden.
  • I enjoy the flavor of lemon balm in teas, so I will be experimenting with it more in the future.


Historical Botanical Illustrations:

Lemon balm illustrations


Melissa officinalis (common balm) - A Modern Herbal by Mrs M. Grieve at