Lemon Balm by Student Contributor Monique Van Gunten 2015

    Melissa officinalis Monograph                       by Monique VanGunten 2015 Lemon balm, sunshine herb, apiastrum, bawme, Melissa, smiths bawme, iron-wort, blue Oswego tea, scarlet monarda, bee balm, heart’s delight, melissaphyllon, dropsy plant, Zitronenmelisse, honey plant, sweet balm, common balm is of the Lamiaceae family.  The botanical name […]

    Melissa officinalis Monograph                       by Monique VanGunten 2015

    Lemon balm,

    sunshine herb,

    apiastrum, bawme,

    Melissa, smiths bawme,

    iron-wort, blue

    Oswego tea, scarlet

    monarda, bee balm,

    heart’s delight,

    melissaphyllon, dropsy

    plant, Zitronenmelisse,

    honey plant, sweet

    balm, common balm is

    of the Lamiaceae


     The botanical name

    Melissa is of Greek

    origin and refers to the

    flower being a favorite

    amongst bee and has

    long been an official

    herb of the

    apothecaries. It was

    used at the Temple of

    Diana at Ephesus as a

    healing herb. Since it

    was an officially

    recognized herbal

    remedy, the herb is

    therefore called Melissa


     Lemon balm is a

    perennial member of

    the Mint family and is

    called lemon balm

    because of its fresh and

    lemony smell.

    Melissa, the lemon

    balm and bee herb, can

    feed the bees as a tea

    that has been sweetened with honey from another hive, or with sugar. The hives can

    also be rubbed with lemon balm to discourage bees from swarming and to keep the

    hive happy and healthy. According to the sixteenth-century German physician

    Tabernaemontanus, bees will not sting a man if he is carrying lemon balm or wearing

    a wreath of the herb on his head. Melissa’s herbal use dates back over 2000 years. The

    ancient Greeks and Romans used it medicinally and information was recorded as far

    back as 300BC in Theophrastius’s Historia Plantarum. The great Arabic physician

    (980-1037) said that lemon balm caused “the mind and heart to be merry. Melissa is

    associated with the feminine, the moon and the water. Culpepper associated it with

    Jupiter and astrological constellation Cancer and is believed to have powers of

    healing, success and love. Melissa has been used to counteract magic and

    enchantment by being hung over the door on Midsummer’s eve to discourage

    maleficent influences. German ‘old wives’ suggest wrapping sprigs of lemon balm in

    babies’ diapers to keep away evil spirits, stomachaches and flatulence. The great

    Arabic physician (980-1037) said that lemon balm caused “the mind and heart to be


    I was quite delighted when I started working with Melissa. I have been able to

    grow my own from seed and have experienced all growth stages of this wonderfully

    aromatic herb. It tends to cheer me up after nibbling on a few of its fresh leaves. I’ve

    used Melissa in multiple tea blends to give them an extra bit of flavor and pick me up.

    I personally enjoy a chilled glass of Melissa tea on a sunny afternoon with a nice bar

    of chocolate. Melissa has helped me sort out my scattered thoughts in a gentle and

    pleasant manner by drinking a fresh cold infusion or even adding a tablespoon of

    fresh lemon balm glycerite to my tea of choice. I have used the essential oil in my

    baths and it has never failed to perk me up and get my day going sans coffee.

    Herbal Appearance:  Lemon balm has a perennial rootstock, and forms a thick,

    medium to light green, leafy and compact bush when well established and can grow to

    be 30 years old and 3 ft. high. The entire plant has a strong and sweet lemony smell.

    Its leaves taste like lemon with a somewhat astringent aftertaste. The leaves are

    opposite and either heart shaped or oval with serrated edges and is wrinkled. The

    leaves contain oil glands that gives the plant its shiny finish. Lemon balm flowers

    appear in clusters of 3-6 and their colors vary from white to yellowish, pink, pale blue

    or purple. The seeds are tiny and black and fall easily. The many stems are upright,

    square, branching and a little hairy.

    Growing Melissa:  This herb is easy to cultivate outdoors and needs fertile, well

    drained sandy soil to survive. Lemon balm is in the mint family, therefore it grows in

    clumps and spreads rather quickly. It can be grown easily from seed and can be grown

    from stem cuttings. Under ideal conditions, it will seed itself prolifically and can

    become a nuisance in gardens and prefers full sun, but is mildly shade tolerant.

    Melissa requires watering on a regular schedule, taking care not to overwater. Melissa

    can be susceptible to whitefly, spider mites, thrips and powdery mildew. When

    harvesting, before the plant flowers, pick leaves as needed or cut entire plant back to 2

    inches above the ground. Growing from seed, start indoors 6-8 weeks before the last

    frost. The germination process takes between 12-21 days and the seeds need sun light.

    Melissa in the garden helps to repel garden pests and aids the growth of plants placed

    in its vicinity.

    Veterinary Values:  Melissa officinales is administered by veterinarians as a mild

    sedative and to counteract the effects of shock. Cows are given lemon balm and

    marjoram tea after calving. It can be used as a fodder, and is said to increase the milk

    production of dairy cattle.

    Household & Cosmetic Uses:  The fresh lemony scent makes Melissa a delightful

    potpourri and room spray. It has been hung in bunches in the kitchen as an air

    freshener. It will drive moths out of the cupboards and linen closets. Lemon balm oil

    and lemon balm water are added to perfumes and colognes and used as perfuming

    agents for cosmetic mixtures. A strong infusion can be made to darken hair and to

    cover the first traces of grey. Eye drops and compresses can be made to ease tired

    eyes and a lemon balm gargle can help sweeten the breath. I have used lemon balm

    tea in the making of my body wash and have noticed a mild calming effect similar to

    chamomile. The wash left my skin feeling refreshed and balanced.

    Medicinal Merits:  The heart shaped leaves of Melissa are its medicinal signature. It

    was praised by Arab physicians, used by Paracelsus in his Elixir Vitae and taken by

    monks to aid in concentration. It was prescribed to dispel melancholic vapors arising

    from the heart and arteries, to counteract hysteria and hypochondria, to cure epilepsy

    and renew vital spirits and to strengthen the brain and rejuvenate the body. According

    to Matthew Wood, Melissa is one of the few aromatic mints that is sour and cooling

    and reduces excitation of heat as well as nervousness.

    Modern Medicine:   Melissa’s efficacy as a heart and nerve herb has been confirmed

    by modern medicine. It is one of the few herbs with a strengthening influence on the

    heart, which at the same time calms the nerves. Melissa is a gentle herb that can be

    taken long term without any harmful side effects. A tea, tincture or glycerite can be

    taken daily to strengthen the heart and to help prevent coronaries. For those that have

    suffered from a heart attack, nervous nausea, migraines, hysteria, sleeplessness,

    flatulence, dyspepsia, colic associated with nervousness, circulatory troubles,

    aneurism, cramps, heart palpitations, atrial fibrillation, high blood pressure,

    hyperadrenalism, hyperthyroidism, amnesia, menopausal imbalances (combine with

    peach leaf), thyroid imbalances, excessive sexual excitement, vomiting, fevers

    including of young children, shingles, herpes, nervous digestive disorder, IBS

    (combines well with Mentha piperita), seasickness, tobacco poisoning, morning

    sickness, circular thoughts, unusual stress and autoimmune disorders will benefit from

    the usage of Melissa. Blending Melissa with Lavender makes a good herbal follow up

    for anyone suffering from partial paralysis, a tendency of faintness, anemia and

    women plagued with menstrual cramps. Matthew Wood has also mentioned that

    Melissa can help promote conception. I interviewed Brigitte Mars and she told me

    that lemon balm clears heat, calms the heart, improves concentration, improves chi

    circulation, cleanses the liver and lifts the spirits. It is a good tea for children before

    bed, it helps with nightmares and allows for good sleep. It is used in the treatment for

    asthma, ADD, bronchitis, chicken pox, colic, colds, flatulence, Grave’s disease, heart

    palpitations, migraine, Newcastle disease, teething, shingles, salinity and nausea.

    Brigitte also mentioned that lemon balm can be used to make Eau des Carmes, a

    reviving wine made by the Carmelites and dating from the seventeenth century. The

    only concern that she had about lemon balm, is that it is not beneficial for those with

    a hypothyroid condition because it can lower thyroid function. Brigitte loves lemon

    balm and puts sprigs of it in her water bottle, she juices it, adds it to salads, smells it

    and has it growing abundantly in her garden.

    Melissa is considered to be one of the finest tonics and restoratives for nervous

    function and has a successful treatment of schizophrenia, moderate alzheimer’s

    disease and the HSV-2 virus. It is traditionally used for depression and solomnence

    (lethargy & drowsiness) as well as for agitation. Its sedative properties are particularly

    expressed through the volatile oil. Inhalation of the delicate essential oil is uplifting

    and immediately enhances concentration and promotes happy vibrations. When I

    made a trip to Colorado, I came across a very well stocked and quaint apothecary

    called Rebecca’s and asked the herbalists what they thought of such a happy and

    refreshing herb. One of them uses Melissa in her own personal salves to help with

    topical fungal infections of the skin. The owner likes to use the essence of the oil in

    her shop’s oil burner to help ‘lighten the mood. Another herbalist likes to add it to the

    complimentary tea blend to assist everyone with their perusing and shopping. She felt

    that it helps one to think more clearly and become more content with their experience

    at Rebecca’s. In the tincture form, it is more of a stimulating and effective tonic due

    to the additional benefit of the bitters, resin and acids which are not significantly

    present in the volatile oil. Melissa can be used for neurological and cognitive

    symptoms of lymes disease including poor memory, lack of concentration and

    confusion. According to the Osaka Prefectural Institute of Public Health in Japan,

    Melissa has been proven to inhibit giant cell formation of Molt-4 cells with and

    without HIV-1 infection and showed inhibitory activity against the HIV-1 reverse

    transcriptase. Pliny and Dioscorides also recommended lemon balm for wound

    healing, swelling, dog bites, insect sting, and overeating; all of which point to the

    antimicrobial, antiseptic, and carmative properties the tannins in lemon balm exhibit.


    * Flavanoids- Quercitrin, rhamncitrin, rhamnazin

    Flavinoid sub-category 7- glucocide- Apigenin, kaempferol, quercetin, luteolin

    * Phenolic acids and tannins- Rosmarinic acid(up to 4%), glycoside bound caffeic acid

    and chlorogenic acids, ferulic acid, hydroxycinnamic acid,  protocatechuic acid

    * Triterpenic acids- Ursolic acid, pomolic acid, oleonolic acid

    * Additional components- Methyl carnosoate, 2-(3’4’-dihydroxyphenol)-1,3-

    benzodioxole-5-aldehyde, Monoterpenes

    Lemon Balm is considered an Antioxidant, Anti- inflammatory, Anti-

    spasmodic, Nervine, Anti-fungal, Anti-viral, Anti-tumor, Diaphoretic, Hepatic, Anti-

    bacterial, Anti-neoplastic, Anti-depressive, Anti-microbial, Anti-thyrotropic, a Sedative

    & Febrifuge.

    Formulary:  For best results, use fresh lemon balm leaves and flowers without the

    stems. Dry herb can be used but will not be as strong. I like to use dried lemon balm

    for teas and fresh plant material for tinctures and glycerites. A lemon balm glycerite

    should be in every medicine cabinet! It is gentle and safe enough for children, the

    elderly and the emotionally taxed.

    *Tincture of fresh herb:  1:2 (100A) Ingest up to 60 drops 3x a day

    *Tincture of dried herb:  1:5 (75A:25W) Ingest up to 60 drops 3x a day

    *Glycerite of fresh herb:  Bruise the plant matter and follow the simpler’s method of

    extraction using glycerine as the menstruum.

    *Water extract:  Basic tea of fresh or dried herb 2 tsp per cup                            

    *Juice or succus: The fresh leaves may be juiced and drank.

    *External:  The tincture or tea is specific for herpes and may be applied full strength

    to the lesions. Cream & bath salts/oils of Melissa can help with skin irritations and

    insect bites.

    *Contraindications:  None known. Safe for general use.

    Literature Citations:

    *Cover picture-courtesy of W. Muller (1885)

    *Making Plant Medicine page 176 Richo Cech (2000)

    *Essential Herbal Wisdom pages 441-448 Arrowsmith (2009)

    *J Neural Neurosurg Psychiatry-Controlled Human study at Roozbeh Psychiatric

    Hospital Tehran,Iran (7-1-2008) Greenmedinfo.com/substance/Melissa-lemon balm

    *Tick Borne Diseases-Medical Herbalism by David Winston, RH (2006)

    *Nervous-Successful Treatment of Schizophrenia with Phytotherapy-Chanchal

    Cabrera (10-31-95) Greenmedinfo.com/substance/Melissa-lemon balm

    *Herb, Nutrient & Drug Interactions, Clinical Implications & Therapeutic Strategies-

    Bebell Mitchell Stargrove, Jonathan Treasure, Dwight McKee (2008) –

    Greenmedinfo.com/substance/Melissa-lemon balm

    *How to Grow Lemon Balm-herbgardening.com

    *Lemon Balm-Weekend Gardener.com (1995-2000)

    *Interview with herbalists from Rebecca’s Apothecary Boulder, Co 2015

    *The Book of Herbal Wisdom page 377 Matthew Wood (1997)

    * Anti HIV-1 Activity of Herbs in Labiatae, Osaka Prefectural Institute of Public

    Health, Japan (1-1-1986) Greenmedinfo.com/substance/Melissa-lemon balm

    *Phytomedicine In-Vitro Study-A Allahveriyer, N. Duran, M. Ozguven, S. Koltas

    (November 2004) Greenmedinfo.com/substance/Melissa-lemon balm

    *Herbal Legacy.com Lemon Balm by Melissa Morrison

    *Medicinal Plant Constituents by Christopher Hobbs pages 24-53

    *Woodherbs.com/lemonbalm.html by Matthew Wood

    *Lemon Balm: An Herb Society of American Guide (2007)

    *Interview with Brigitte Mars via email at brigittemars@gmail.com (2015)