Synonyms and Common names: Sweet Balm, Lemon Balm, Balm.
Description and Habitat: The root-stock is short, the stem square and branching, and grows 1 to 2 feet high. At each joint of its stem pairs of broadly ovate or heart-shaped, crenate or toothed leaves appear which emit a fragrant lemon odour when bruised. They also have a distinct lemon taste. The flowers small, white or yellowish, and are in loose, small bunches from the axils of the leaves, they bloom from June to October. The plant dies down in winter, but the root is perennial. Lemon balm grows best in rich, moist, well-drained and slightly acidic to slightly alkaline soil. The Herb prefers full sun but will do just as well in partial shade. Once established, lemon balm self-sows freely and will spread if unchecked.
Parts used: The leaf – dried and cut.
Harvesting: Harvest before it flowers and the leaves are young for optimum fragrance. Be careful not to bruise the leaves as you harvest them. You can, however, take leaves throughout the season. For full harvest, cut the entire plant 2" above the ground. Dry on trays rather than hanging in the shade, and dry quickly to prevent it from turning black. Do not harvest unless sunny weather is predicted for several days. The plant’s yield may be scarce during its first year, but will prove ample in the second and subsequent years.
Constituents: Volatile oils, flavonoids, polyphenols.
Actions: Soothing, sedative, promotes sweating.
Indications: Insomnia, anxiety, nervousness, restlessness, irritability, herpes and hyperthyroidism.
Therapeutics and Pharmacology: In the nervous system, the oil is the main agent which when used to calm and soothe, and has a relaxant effect on the muscles. This has been supported by research, where Melissa has been used in states of excitability, palpitations, depression, and headache.
The polyphenolics, especially the rosmarinic acid, are responsible for an antiviral action: a cream made from lemon balm has been shown to be effective against herpes simplex, more commonly known as cold sores. The duration of the outbreaks have been seen to be halved and the outbreaks themselves become less frequent. Lemon balm also has an action on the thyroid by reducing over-activity of the gland (hyperthyroidism). In the reproductive system, lemon balm has been used in the menopause to ease symptoms, including hot flushes and anxiety, and to regulate periods, as well as alleviating period pains.
Contraindications: No significant adverse effects from lemon balm have been reported. Unlike sedative medications, lemon balm is safe even while driving or operating machinery. Lemon balm's sedating effects are not intensified by alcohol.
Persons with glaucoma should avoid lemon balm essential oil, as animal studies show that it may raise the pressure in the eye.
Some people may experience dermatitis after excessive contact with lemon balm.
Honeybees like lemon balm, so be careful there are none on the plants that you pick.
Preparation and Dosage:
Infusion - made from 2 tablespoons of the herb steeped for ten to fifteen minutes in 150 ml of boiling water
Tincture - can also be used at 2-3 ml three times per day.
Topical – Use as cream and apply 3 – 4 times a day to the herpes lesions.
Lemon balm is frequently combined with other medicinal plants. For example, peppermint and lemon balm together are very effective for soothing an upset stomach. Valerian is often combined with lemon balm for insomnia and nerve pain.
Infusion - Take for depression, nervous exhaustion, indigestion, nausea, and the early stages of colds and influenza. Best made with fresh leaves.
Tincture - Has a stronger but similar action to the infusion. Best made from fresh leaves. Small doses (5 - 10 drops) are usually more effective.
Compress - Use a pad soaked in the infusion to relieve painful swellings, such as gout.
Ointment - Use for sores, insect bites, or to repel insects. Combine 5 ml oil with 100 g ointment base for insect bites or to repel insects.
Massage Oil - Dilute 5 - 10 drops oil in 20 ml almond or olive oil, and use for tension or chest complaints.
Lemon Balm Tea as a relaxing drink
2 cups dried lemon balm leaves
1 cup rosebuds
1 cup orange blossoms
Remove leaves from the lemon balm twigs, and discard twigs. Mix leaves with rosebuds and orange blossoms, crushing as you combine. Use 2 teaspoons of this mixture to make 1 cup of tea, and sweeten each cup with 1 teaspoon of honey.
Additional Comments and Folklore:
Lemon balm is a hardy lemon-scented perennial that was a favourite with bee-keepers in ancient times. They would rub some of the crushed fresh leaves on beehives to encourage bees to return to their hives and bring others with them.
Melissa officinalis, is derived from the Greek word Melissa, meaning honeybee, and it was planted and used by the beekeepers of the Temple of Artemis to help keep the sacred honeybees content.
Lemon Balm was carried into Europe through Spanish trade routes, eventually making its way into the monastic gardens throughout Europe. It was included in the formula for Carmelite water, a drink and perfume developed and closely guarded by the Carmelite friars and used as a drink to ward off nervous headaches and as a perfume to bring good cheer while masking strong odours in medieval and renaissance Europe.
Lemon balm was used to ward off evil and to promote good health, love and good cheer. Sachets of the herb placed under the pillow or near the bed are said to provide a refreshing, relaxing sleep.
In the Ephesian (Turkey) ceremonial the life of the bee was the model. The great goddess was the queen bee, the mother of her people, and her image was outlined not unlike the bee, with a grotesque mixture of the human form. Her priestesses were called Melissai. With ancient Green religious doctrine, the Melissai priestesses served the great mother Rhea or Cybele or the goddess of earth and nature such as Demeter, Persephone and Artemis. The honeybee was considered to be a form the human soul took when descending from the goddess Artemis herself.
It was only those souls who had lived a righteous life who were named Melissai, and afterwards, they were returned to heaven, just as the bee returned to her hive. Bees were not only important in the cosmology of ancient man but also in their commerce (honey and wax). So anything that helped to attract the valued honeybees to a hive, or keeping the honeybees from swarming, gained in stature and usage to man as well. This is where lemon balm enters recorded history. Lemon balm was a sacred herb in the temple of Artemis/Diana, and the herb that assisted the ancient beekeepers in keeping honeybees happy and well-fed with nectar was, of course, Lemon balm.
According to Pliny the Elder, bees were ‘delighted with this herb above others’, this statement accounts for lemon balms Greek-derived scientific name ‘Melissa’ and the lesser-known name of ‘apiastrum’. Both of Lemon balms given Green names mean bee/honey bee. In ancient Greece sprigs of lemon balm were placed into beehives to attract wandering honeybee swarms.
Dioscorides recommended application of lemon balm leaves to “the stings of the venomous beast and the bites of mad dogs.” He also stated “the leaves being smeared on they well assuage the pains of gout”
Homer speaks of “sweet balm and gentle violets” which seems to refer to the healing virtues of lemon balm by our ancient ancestors.