Botanical Name: Melissa officinalis
Species: M. officinalis
Synonyms: Sweet Balm. Lemon Balm.
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), not to be confused with bee balm, Monarda species, is a perennial herb in the mint family Lamiaceae.
Other common names: Melissa, Balm, Balm Mint, Bee Balm, Blue Balm, Cure-all, Dropsy Plant, Garden Balm, Sweet Balm, Heart’s Delight
Part Used: Herb.
Habitat: A native of South Europe, especially in mountainous situations, but is naturalized in the south of England, and was introduced into our gardens at a very early period.
The root-stock is short, the stem square and branching, grows 1 to 2 feet high, and has at each joint pairs of broadly ovate or heart-shaped, crenate or toothed leaves which emit a fragrant lemon odour when bruised. They also have a distinct lemon taste. The flowers, white or yellowish, are in loose, small bunches from the axils of the leaves and bloom from June to October. The plant dies down in winter, but the root is perennial.
The genus Melissa is widely diffused, having representatives in Europe, Middle Asia and North America. The name is from the Greek word signifying ‘bee,’ indicative of the attraction the flowers have for those insects, on account of the honey they produce.
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It grows to 70-150 cm tall. The leaves have a gentle lemon scent, related to mint. At the end of the summer, little 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.
Balm grows freely in any soil and can be propagated by seeds, cuttings or division of roots in spring or autumn. If in autumn, preferably not later than October, so that the offsets may be established before the frosts come on. The roots may be divided into small pieces, with three or four buds to each, and planted 2 feet apart in ordinary garden soil. The only culture required is to keep them clean from weeds and to cut off the decayed stalks in autumn, and then to stir the ground between the roots.
This herb can be easy to cultivate in United States Department of Agriculture Plant Hardiness Zones 4 to 9. 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. It is moderately shade-tolerant, much more so than most herbs. In dry climates, it grows best in partial shade.
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.
Use in Food and drinks:
It is used as a flavouring in tisane and ice cream, but its most common use is to make herbal teas. It makes a particularly refreshing iced tea, especially when mixed with other herbs such as spearmint. It is also often paired with fruit dishes or candies.
Its use in cooking of different dishes is very much appreciated.
Carminative, diaphoretic and febrifuge. It induces a mild perspiration and makes a pleasant and cooling tea for feverish patients in cases of catarrh and influenza. 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 sugar and a little lemonpeel or juice be added it makes a refreshing summer drink.
New research shows that its polyphenols can help significantly in the treatment of herpes simplex and zoster infections. Two other secondary compounds of this plant, citral and citronellal, calm the central nervous system.
Balm is a useful herb, either alone or in combination with others. It is excellent in colds attended with fever, as it promotes perspiration .
Used with salt, it was formerly applied for the purpose of taking away wens, and had the reputation of cleansing sores and easing the pains of gout.
John Hussey, of Sydenham, who lived to the age of 116, breakfasted for fifty years on Balm tea sweetened with honey, and herb teas were the usual breakfasts of Llewelyn Prince of Glamorgan, who died in his 108th year. Carmelite water, of which Balm was the chief ingredient, was drunk daily by the Emperor Charles V.
Commercial oil of Balm is not a pure distillate, but is probably oil of Lemon distilled over Balm. The oil is used in perfumery.
Balm is frequently used as one of the ingredients of pot-pourri. Mrs. Bardswell, in The Herb Garden, mentions Balm as one of the bushy herbs that are invaluable for the permanence of their leaf-odours, which,
‘though ready when sought, do not force themselves upon us, but have to be coaxed out by touching, bruising or pressing. Balm with its delicious lemon scent, is by common consent one of the most sweetly smelling of all the herbs in the garden. Balm-wine was made of it and a tea which is good for feverish colds. The fresh leaves make better tea than the dry.’
The crushed leaves, when rubbed on the skin, are used as a repellant for mosquitos.
Lemon Balm is also used medicinally as a herbal tea, or in extract form. It is claimed to have antibacterial, antiviral properties, and it is also used as a 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. Its antibacterial properties have also been demonstrated scientifically, although they are markedly weaker than those from a number of other plants studied.
Lemon Balm has been used for thousands of years as an effective calmative that is good for all kinds of nervous problems, including tension headaches, migraines, neuralgia, hysteria, nervous tension, stress, anxiety, excitability, heart palpations (resulting from anxiety) and agitation. Frequently called “the calming herb,” it may be effective in treating Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorders, easing such symptoms as inability to listen, fidgeting, inability to sustain attention and shifting from one incomplete task to another. It also appears to relax muscle tension without daytime drowsiness.
To prevent insomnia, Lemon Balm is used to calm and relax the nerves, and Lemon Balm is an old and particularly reliable treatment for relieving the feelings of melancholy and depression.
Lemon Balm is also effective in calming the digestive tract. It relieves dyspepsia, colic, gas, upset stomach, indigestion and stomach cramps (particularly when related to nervous tension).
In the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, Lemon Balm shows great promise, because of the herb’s possible central nervous system acetylcholine receptor activity and antioxidant properties. It may even positively affect cognitive abilities, enhance memory and improve mental clarity.
Further demonstrating Lemon Balm’s calmative qualities, the herb has been used to relieve irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), stopping the spasms and relieving the pain and cramps associated with the disease. In addition, although it is strong enough to ease spasms, it is not so strong as to cause constipation.
Lemon Balm is an old folk remedy for treating feverish patients. It promotes perspiration and cools the body by breaking a fever. It is especially helpful in cases of colds and flu. Lemon Balm is also said to relieve bronchial catarrh and some forms of asthma.
In cases of hyperthyroidism, the flavonoids and polyphenolics found in Lemon Balm induce thryroid-regulating actions and have been known to block the attachment of thyroid cells by antibodies that cause Graves’ disease, a condition that results in hyperthyroidism and over-stimulation of the thyroid gland.
Lemon Balm is said to possess excellent antiviral properties. Its volatile oils have been known to destroy viruses in test tubes in as little as three hours, and this quality makes the herb especially helpful in combating cold sores and herpes virus infection. In addition, it is also thought to relieve the pain, itching, and sting of an outbreak. According to recent research, topical use of Lemon Balm speeds healing time of herpes simplex virus sores on the mouth.
It is valuable for brain and strengthens memory.It prevents brain fatigue, sharpens comprehension,counteracts depression and reverse the spirit.A cold infusion of the balm has a calming effect on the nurves.
The herb is useful in treating several other diseases. It is used in strengthening the gums and remove the bad taste from the mouth.Leaves and stems are considered useful in liver and heart diseases as also venomous insects bite.
Lemon balm essential oil is very popular in aromatherapy. The essential oil is commonly co-distilled with lemon oil, citronella oil, or other oils.
A clinical multicentric study in Germany offers evidence of the antiviral activity of a specially prepared dried extract of lemon balm against herpes simplex infections. The extract was a concentrated (70:1) dry extract of lemon balm which was included at a level of 1% in a cream base. Patients applied the cream 2-4 times daily for 5-10 days. In the group receiving the active Melissa cream, there was a significant improvement in symptoms on day two compared to the placebo group and on day five over 50% more patients were symptom-free than in the placebo group. To be effective, the treatment must be started in the very early stages of the infection.
Research has clearly demonstrated the plant’s ability to impact the limbic system of the brain and protect the brain from the powerful stimuli of the body and should be part of any ADHD formula.
Lemon balm may be used topically in children to treat cold sores. The dosage would be the same as the recommendations for use in adults.
For internal use, adjust the recommended adult dose to account for the child’s weight. Most herbal dosages for adults are calculated on the basis of a 150 lb (70 kg) adult. Therefore, if the child weighs 50 lb (20 – 25 kg), the appropriate dose of lemon balm for this child would be 1/3 of the adult dosage.
The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and treating disease. Herbs, however, contain components that can trigger side effects and interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For these reasons, herbs should be taken with care, under the supervision of a health care provider qualified in the field of botanical medicine.
No side effects or symptoms of toxicity have been reported with lemon balm use, but this herb should not be used by pregnant or breast-feeding women.
Sedatives, Thyroid medications — Although not yet demonstrated in clinical studies, lemon balm may interfere with sedatives and thyroid medications. If you are taking sedatives (for sleep disorders or anxiety) or medications to regulate your thyroid, you should consult a health care provider before taking lemon balm.
The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.
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