Lemon Balm

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Botanical: Melissa officinalis

Family: Lamiaceae

parts used: aerial leaves (Best harvested just before flowering. Before flowering, the taste and smell is lemon-like, later becoming astringent to balm-like and warming.
energetics: cooling, drying
properties: anti-depressant, antiviral, carminative, relaxing nervine

melissa officinalis - lemon balm
our first year lemon balm created 50 new plants!
used for: anxiety and stress, viral infection, nervous digestion, fevers, cough
plant preparations:infusion, essential oil, tincture, infused oil
common names:sweet balm or simply balm

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), also called sweet balm or simply balm, is a hardy perennial member of the Deadnettle Family (Lamiaceae), which makes it a relative of the mints. It is one of the few sour mints. And, as mints go, it’s energetics are complicated.

Matthew Wood says…

“Lemon balm has a sour taste, as its name indicates – it is one of the few sour mints. Like most sour plants, it is cooling and sedative. It combines this property with the typical nerve-calming powers of the mint family to make a strong, but safe and simple sedative. These powers are much more marked when the plant is tinctured fresh. A tincture of fresh melissa should be on the shelf in every household as a general sedative.”[1]

Lemon balm’s history dates back at least 2,000 years. In medieval Europe, the tea was valued for disorders of the nervous system. It has long been a popular folk remedy for insomnia.

The genus name Melissa means “honey bee” in Greek. Bees love this plant! Beekeepers still rub their hives with the plant, knowing that their bees will never leave and hoping that other bees will come. The plant is native to the eastern Mediterranean, and the Arabs were the first to extol its virtues. The Romans introduced the plant to Britain. Both Dioscorides and Pliny noted the plant’s analgesic, antispasmodic and vulnerary properties.

Culinary Uses for Lemon Balm

Lemon balm is a wonderful addition to fruit salads, herb butters, fruit drinks, and sorbets. It can also be used in many egg dishes, custards, a variety of soups and casseroles. Lemon Balm makes a great addition for stuffing for poultry,lamb, or fish. Its subtle flavor is a perfect for sauces and marinades for fish. Lemon balm combines well with many spices including chervil, pepper, thyme, and parsley.

Here is a nice recipe for lemon balm butter

Lemon Balm is one of the main ingredients in liqueurs such as the French Benedictine and Chartreuse.

A healthy and delicious recipe for lemon balm jelly. There is no fruit in the jelly, only honey for sweetness.

And what could be better than a lemon balm cookie? lemon balm cookie recipe

Cosmetic Uses for Lemon Balm

The last few years have seen an explosion in natural and herbal cosmetics. The going sentiment, “If you won’t eat it, don’t put it on your skin” is taken very literally by many people. Three things stand out about lemon balm in this regard…

  • Antioxidants Lemon balm has been found rich in rosmarinic acid. Several studies have proven rosmarinic acid antioxidants effects are ten times stronger than Vitamin E and Vitamin C. The antioxidants can protect our skin surfaces and preventing our cells damage by penetrating into our skins.[2] Antioxidants help our tissues and cells grow and repair.

    ESCOP (European Scientific Cooperative On Phytotherapy) lists its internal use for tenseness, restlessness, irritability, and symptomatic treatment of digestive disorders, such as minor spasms; externally, for herpes labialis (ESCOP, 1997).[3]

  • Sensitive Skin & Acne Lemon balm possesses anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties. Lemon balm natural herbal cosmetics are able to alleviate redness, itching, swelling, irritation, burning, rashes and lumpiness of sensitive skins. It also prevents skin infections and acne outbreaks. Lemon balm contains powerful natural astringents and antiviral properties which known as tannins. Besides, lemon balm also possesses important antibacterial properties call eugenol. These make lemon balm highly recommended by herbalists for those who have acne prone, oily and sensitive skin.
  • Make at Home Ease It is often assumed that making natural herbal cosmetics is difficult. Not so! Using lemon balm to support healthy skin is not hard at all. For many recipes, you only need a handful of lemon balm leaves and water. Remember, if you won’t eat it, don’t put it on your skin! Homemade botanicals are 100% natural but they have shorter shelf life containing no preservatives or chemicals.
lemon balm - melissa officinalis
lemon balm on a spring morning

Using Lemon Balm for Wellness

According to the October 28, 2003 edition of Neuropsychopharmacology, British researchers at the Human Cognitive Neuroscience Unit of Northumbria University’s Division of Psychology have discovered that the historical reputation of Melissa officinalis as a calmative and mood-elevator has a basis in reality. In the study, 20 “healthy, young participants received single doses of 600, 1000, and 1600 mg or encapsulated dried [M. officinalis] leaf, or a matching placebo, at 7-day intervals.

Cognitive performance and mood were assessed predose and at 1, 3, and 8h[ours] postdose … The most notable cognitive and mood effects were improved memory performance and increased ‘calmness’ at all postdose time points for the highest (1600 mg) dose. However, while the profile of results was overwhelmingly favorable at the highest dose, decrements in the speed of timed memory task performance and on a rapid visual information-processing task increased with decreasing dose.

These results suggest that doses of Melissa officinalis at or above the maximum employed here can improve
cognitive performance and move and may therefore be a valuable adjunct in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.” A follow-up double-blind study by a different team of researchers did indeed find that lemon balm extract had positive effects when administered to Alzheimer’s patients with mild to moderate symptoms. [Kennedy, Little, Haskell, Scholey]

In a double-blind study, 18 healthy volunteers received two daily doses of lemon balm or a placebo for seven days. The lemon balm “increased mood and significantly increased calmness and alertness.”[5]
Its tension-relieving and antispasmodic qualities also make it useful for migraines. In Medical Herbalism, David Hoffman notes that its volatile oils seem to “act on the interface between the digestive tract and nervous system.”[5] As a mild vasodilator of the peripheral blood vessels, lemon balm can also lower blood pressure.

Lemon balm has the reputation of being an excellent mosquito repellent. Use it by rubbing the fresh leaves against the skin. Lemon balm extract has been found to have “exceptionally high” antioxidant activity, as well as mild antibacterial and rather stronger antiviral properties; in one study it was found to affect the herpes simplex virus. Researchers at the University of Maryland Medical Center, however, warn that lemon balm “should be avoided by those on thyroid medication (such as thyroxine), as it is believed the herb inhibits
the absorption of this medicine.”[6]

lemon balm bloom
lemon balm bloom

The herb is used for nervous agitation, sleeping problems, functional gastrointestinal complaints, menstrual cramps and urinary spasms.

Lemon balm has been used to reduce fevers, induce sweating, calm the digestive tract, treat colds, inhibit the growth of fungi and bacteria, and relieve spasms related to cramps and headaches.

It is thought that the volatile oils in lemon balm contain chemicals that relax muscles, particularly in the bladder, stomach, and uterus, thereby relieving cramps, gas, and nausea.[llahverdiyev, A., N. Duran, M. Ozguven and S. Koltas] The volatile oil, in particular the constituents citral and citronellal, is responsible for the plant’s calming effect on the limbic system within the brain, and for its anti-spasmodic action. The water-soluble polyphenols are anti-viral and these constituents are present in infusion and tincture, but not the essential oil.

M.Grieve states, “It is now recognized as a scientific fact that the balsamic oils of aromatic plants make excellent surgical dressings: they give off ozone and thus exercise anti-putrescent effects. Being chemical hydrocarbons, they contain so little oxygen that in wounds dressed with the fixed balsamic herbal oils, the atomic germs of disease are starved out, and the resinous parts of these balsamic oils, as they dry upon the sore or wound, seal it up and effectually exclude all noxious air.[7]

To make the tea, pour 1 pint of boiling water upon 1 oz. of herb, infuse 15 minutes, allow to cool, then strain and drink freely. If you add a touch of honey or sugar and a little lemon juice (or some peel) it makes a refreshing summer drink.

Like lemon in your drink? Just think of the beverages (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic) that can be created using a Lemon Balm Simple Syrup.

Dosage: 1-2 teaspoon(s) of dried lemon balm in 1 cup of hot water, infused for 10-15 minutes (drink 2-4 cups/day); 3-5 mL, 3-4x/day of a 1:5 tincture

*All doses come from the book Herbal Therapy and Supplements by David Winston and Merrily A. Kuhn.

Safety:

Video!Lemon balm has such a wonderful lemon scent – and it’s great as a summer iced tea. Learn all about it from Brigitte Mars, Mary Bove, Michael Tierra, David Winston and Matthew Wood.

“It is an hearbe greatly to be esteemed of students, for by a special property it driveth away heaviness of mind, sharpeneth the understanding, and encreaseth memory.”
~ Thomas Coghan, a 16th Century Oxford Don6

Clinical Research on Lemon Balm

  • llahverdiyev, A., N. Duran, M. Ozguven and S. Koltas, 2004. Antiviral activity of the volatile oils of Melissa officinalis L. against herpes simplex virus type-2., Phytomedicine, 11: 657-661. [PMID: 15636181]
  • Coleta, M., M.G. Campos, M.D. Cotrim and A. Proenca Cunha, 2001. Comparative evaluation of Melissa officinalis L., Tilia europaea L., Passiflora edulis Sims and Hypericum perforatum L. in the elevated plus maze anxiety test. Pharmacopsychiatry, 34: 20-21. [PMID: 11518069]
  • Kennedy, D.O., W. Little and A.B., 2004. Schley, Attenuation of laboratory-induced stress in humans after acute administration of Melissa officinalis (lemon balm). J. Pharm Pharmacol., 56: 677-681. [PMID: 15272110]
  • 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;20(2):96-102. [PMID: 16444660]
  • Dos Santos-Neto LL, de Vilhena Toledo MA, Medeiros-Souza P, de Souza GA. The use of herbal medicine in Alzheimer’s disease-a systematic review. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2006 Dec;3(4):441-5. [PMID: 17173107]

Works Cited:

  • [1]VI. The Indispensable Nerve Sedative.” Matthew Wood Selections from “The Earthwise Herbal” North Atlantic Books, 2008
  • [2] Zahedan Journal of Research in Medical Sciences, March 12, 2014, “A Brief Overview of the Effects of Melissa officinalis L. Extract on the Function of
    Various Body Organs”
  • [3] European Scientfic Cooperative on Phytotherapy http://escop.com/
  • [4] Kennedy, Wake, Savelev, Tildesley, Perry, Wesnes, and Schole, “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, 2003 Oct 28(10):1871-81.
  • [5] Hoffman, David. Medical Herbalism. 2003. pg. 567.
  • [6] University of MD Medical Center: http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/lemon-balm
  • [7] Maude Grieve, A Modern Herbal