Lemon balm
Lemon Balm (5744694087).jpg
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Asterids
Order: Lamiales
Family: Lamiaceae
Genus: Melissa
M. officinalis
Binomial name
Melissa officinalis

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis),[1] balm,[2] common balm,[3] or balm mint, is a perennial herbaceous plant in the mint family Lamiaceae and native to south-central Europe, the Mediterranean Basin, Iran, and Central Asia, but now naturalized in the Americas and elsewhere.[4]

It grows to a maximum height of 70–150 cm (28–59 in). The leaves have a mild lemon scent similar to mint. During summer, small white flowers full of nectar appear. It is not to be confused with bee balm (genus Monarda), although the white flowers attract bees, hence the genus Melissa (Greek for "honey bee").

a bumblebee feeding on a lemon balm flower

The leaves are used as a herb, in teas, and also as a flavouring. The plant is used to attract bees for honey production. It is grown as an ornamental plant and for its oil (to use in perfumery). The tea of lemon balm, the essential oil, and the extract are used in traditional and alternative medicine, including aromatherapy. The plant has been cultivated at least since the 16th century, but research is still being conducted to establish the safety and effects of lemon balm.

History and domestication[edit]

Sources date the medicinal use of lemon balm to over 2000 years ago through the Greeks and Romans. It is mentioned by Theophrastus in the Historia Plantarum, dated to around 300 BC,[5] as "honey-leaf" (μελισσόφυλλον).[6] Lemon balm was formally introduced into Spain in the 7th century, from which its use and domestication spread throughout Europe.[5] Its use in the Middle Ages is noted by herbalists, writers, philosophers, and scientists, with Swiss physician and alchemist, Paracelsus, deeming it the "elixir of life".[7][8] It was in the herbal garden of John Gerard, 1596.[9] Lemon balm was introduced to North America with the arrival of early colonists, and is recorded to have been among the herbs cultivated in Thomas Jefferson's garden.[10]


The plant is used to attract bees to make honey. It is also grown and sold as an ornamental plant. The essential oil is used as a perfume ingredient,[11] but the plant has other culinary and medicinal uses. Lemon balm is used in some toothpastes.[12]

Culinary arts[edit]

Lemon balm is used as a flavouring[11] in ice cream and herbal teas, both hot and iced, often in combination with other herbs such as spearmint. It is a common addition to peppermint tea, mostly because of its complementing flavor.[citation needed]

Lemon balm is also paired with fruit dishes or candies. Additionally, it can be used in fish dishes and is the main ingredient in lemon balm pesto.[13]:15–16 Its flavour comes from geraniol (3-40%), neral (3-35%), geranial (4-85%), (E)-caryophyllene (0-14%), and citronellal (1-44%).[14]

It is also one of the ingredients in Spreewald gherkins.

Traditional medicine[edit]

"Melissa" (M. officinalis) essential oil

In traditional Austrian medicine, M. officinalis leaves have been prescribed for internal use—as a tea—or external application—as an essential oil—for the treatment of disorders of the gastrointestinal tract, nervous system, liver, and bile.[15] Lemon balm is the main ingredient of Carmelite water, which is still for sale in German pharmacies.[16]

In alternative medicine it is proposed to be a sleep and digestive aid.[17]

Lemon balm essential oil is popular in aromatherapy.[18] The essential oil is commonly co-distilled with lemon oil, citronella oil or other oils.

Folklore and traditional uses[edit]

Nicholas Culpeper considered lemon balm to be ruled by Jupiter in Cancer, and suggested it to be used for weak stomachs, to cause the heart to become merry, to help digestion, to open obstructions of the brain, and to expel melancholy vapors from the heart and arteries.[19]

The herbalist John Gerard considered it especially good for feeding and attracting honeybees. The alchemist Paracelsus believed that lemon balm had the power to restore health and vitality.[20] Traditionally, an alchemical tincture of lemon balm was the first tincture an aspiring alchemist made.[21]


Melissa officinalis is native to Europe, central Asia and Iran, but is now naturalized around the world.[13][22]

Lemon balm seeds require light and at least 20 °C (70 °F) to germinate. 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. Lemon balm grows vigorously; it should not be planted where it will spread into other plantings.

As of 1992, the major producing countries were Hungary, Egypt, and Italy for herb, and Ireland for essential oil.[23]


The many cultivars of M. officinalis include:

  • M. officinalis 'Citronella'
  • M. officinalis 'Lemonella'
  • M. officinalis 'Quedlinburger'
  • M. officinalis 'Lime'
  • M. officinalis 'Mandarina'
  • M. officinalis 'Variegata'
  • M. officinalis 'Aurea'
  • M. officinalis 'Quedlinburger Niederliegende' is an improved variety bred for high essential oil content

Chemical properties[edit]

Lemon balm has also been shown to possess antimicrobial, antiviral, antispasmodic and antitumoral properties.[7][24][25][26]

The composition and pharmacology and potential uses of lemon balm have been extensively studied, especially with regard to its traditional uses.[27] Randomized, double-blinded clinical studies in people, however, have been limited and have had few subjects. Those studies cannot be used for generalized conclusions about the safety or efficacy of lemon balm and its components; what doses are safe and effective is especially not clear.[27]


Lemon balm contains eugenol, tannins, and terpenes.[28] It also contains (+)-citronellal, 1-octen-3-ol, 10-α-cadinol, 3-octanol, 3-octanone, α-cubebene, α-humulene, β-bourbonene, caffeic acid, caryophyllene, caryophyllene oxide, catechin, chlorogenic acid, cis-3-hexenol, cis-ocimene, citral A, citral B, copaene, δ-cadinene, eugenyl acetate, γ-cadinene, geranial, geraniol, geranyl acetate, germacrene D, isogeranial, linalool, luteolin-7-glucoside, methylheptenone, neral, nerol, octyl benzoate, oleanolic acid, pomolic acid ((1R)-hydroxyursolic acid), protocatechuic acid, rhamnazin, rosmarinic acid, stachyose, succinic acid, thymol, trans-ocimene and ursolic acid.[29][30] Lemon balm may contain traces of harmine.[31]

Rosmarinic acid appears to be the most important active component, but the interaction of chemicals within lemon balm, and with chemicals in other herbs with which it has been commonly used in traditional medicines, is poorly understood.[27] Lemon balm leaf contains roughly 36.5 ± 0.8 mg rosmarinic acid per gram.[32]



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  2. ^ Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Balm" . Encyclopædia Britannica. 3 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  3. ^ "Melissa officinalis". Natural Resources Conservation Service PLANTS Database. USDA. Retrieved 6 July 2015.
  4. ^ "Kewe World Checklist of Selected Plant Families". Archived from the original on 2021-02-14. Retrieved 2014-08-27.
  5. ^ a b Kennedy, D.O.; Scholey, Andrew B.; Tindsley, N.T.J.; Perry, E.K.; Wesnes, K.A. (2002-07-01). "Modulation of mood and cognitive performance following acute administration of Melissa officinalis (lemon balm)". Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior. 72 (4): 953–964. doi:10.1016/S0091-3057(02)00777-3. ISSN 0091-3057. PMID 12062586. S2CID 44542554.
  6. ^ Theophrastus, Enquiry into Plants, VI.1.4, identified as "M. officinalis" in the index of the Loeb Classical Library edition by Arthur F. Hort, 1916 etc.
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  9. ^ As "Melissa" (Common Blam) in both issues of Gerard's Catalogus, 1596, 1599: Benjamin Daydon Jackson, A catalogue of plants cultivated in the garden of John Gerard, in the years 1596–1599, 1876;
  10. ^ Zirkle, Conway (December 2001). "Thomas Jefferson's Garden Book. Edwin Morris BettsThomas Jefferson and the Scientific Trends of His Time. Charles A. BrowneJefferson and Agriculture. Everett E. EdwardsPapers Read before the American Philosophical Society in Celebration of the Bicentennial of Thomas Jefferson. Thomas Jefferson". Isis. 37 (1/2): 84–85. doi:10.1086/347980. ISSN 0021-1753.
  11. ^ a b "Taxon: Melissa officinalis L.". USDA: U.S. National Plant Germplasm System. Archived from the original on 28 August 2016. Retrieved 8 October 2016.
  12. ^ Dousti, Mashta; et al. (2012). "Evidence-based Traditional Persian Medicine". In Rastogi, Sanjeev; Chiappelli, Francesco; Ramchandani, Manisha Harish; Singh, Ram Harsh (eds.). Evidence-based practice in complementary and alternative medicine : perspectives, protocols, problems, and potential in Ayurveda. Berlin: Springer. p. 88. ISBN 9783642245640.
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  17. ^ "Monograph: Lemon Balm". Health Canada. 17 March 2008. Archived from the original on 30 March 2017. Retrieved 8 October 2016.
  18. ^ Masters, Susanne (22 February 2013). "The benefits of lemon balm". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 11 October 2016. Retrieved 8 October 2016.
  19. ^ Culpeper, Nicholas (1814). Culpeper's Complete Herbal. No. 8, White's Row, Spitalfields.: Richard Evans. pp. 15–16.CS1 maint: location (link)
  20. ^ Grieve, Maude (1971). A Modern Herbal Vol. I. New York: Dover Publications Inc. p. 76.
  21. ^ Greer, John Michael (2017). Encyclopedia of Natural Magic. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications. p. 289. ISBN 9780738706740.
  22. ^ United States Department of Agriculture, "PLANTS Profile for Melissa officinalis," http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=MEOF2 Archived 2010-04-14 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved July 2, 2010.
  23. ^ Axtell, B.L.; Fairman, R.M (1992). "Melissa officinalis". Minor oil crops. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. ISBN 978-92-5-103128-5.
  24. ^ Miraj, Sepide; Rafieian-Kopaei; Kiani, Sara (September 2016). "Melissa officinalis L: A Review Study With an Antioxidant Prospective". Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine. 22 (3): 385–394. doi:10.1177/2156587216663433. ISSN 2156-5872. PMC 5871149. PMID 27620926.
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