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Herbal Monograph

Herb: Lemon Balm  (Melissa Officinalis)

Other Names:    sweet mary, honey plant, cure-all, dropsy plant, melissa.  Not to be confused with Nepeta cataria citriodora (lemony cat mint or lemon catnip).    (2)

Character/Energetics: before flowering, taste and smell is lemon-like, later astringent and warming (2); cold, dry, sour, slightly bitter (15).    

Meridians/Organs/Body Parts affected: nerves and circulation    (14)

Parts used:  Dried or fresh leaves;  whole plant.    (2)

The essential oil, the concentrated essence, has the same properties as the leaves but is far more potent.    (15)

Identification & Harvesting:  Small bilabiate flowers in 6 one-sided false whorls in the axils of the upper leaves.  Upper lip is slightly domed and divided into two parts;  lower lip is trilobal with an extended middle lobe.  Flower has 4 stamens.  Fruit is oblong-ovate, 1.5-2 mm long, and a medium-brown nutlet.  Plant grows up to 2.5 feet high, perennial;  erect, branched stems.  Leaves are petiolate with an ovate, 1-3 inch long, 1-2 inch wide crenate leaf blade, pointed at end, wedge-shaped at base.  Grows both wild and cultivated in eastern Mediterranean, western Asia, central Europe.  Collect leaves before flowering and before excessive branching.  Dry quickly at about 100 F.  Store for up to 1 year in sealed, non-plastic containers, protected from light and moisture.    (2)

Harvest leaves two or three times a year between June and September.  Cut off the young shoots when they are 12″ long.  Dry in shade not above 90 F.    (8)

A perennial herb in the mint family native to the Med, western Asia, southwestern Siberia, and norther Africa.  Widely naturalized in North America and elsewhere.    (61)

Active Constituents:    Volatile oils– chiefly geranial (citral a), neral (citral b), citronellal;  these three together constitute 40-75% of the volatile oils and the aroma carrier;  other volatile oils incl. linalool, geraniol, geranylacetate, methyl citronellate, trans-beta-ocimene, 1-Octen-3-ol, 6-methyl-5-heptene-2-on, beta-caryophyllene, caryophyllebepoxide, germacren D, eugenol;  glycosides — from the alcoholic or phenolic components of the volatile oils;  for example eugenol glycoside;  caffeic acid derivatives — rosmaric acid up to 4.7%;  flavonoids incl. cynaroside, cosmosiin, rhamnocitrin, isoquercitrin;  triterpene acids incl. ursolic acid.    (2)

Rich in essential oils citral, citronellal, geraniol and linalol;  bitter principles;  flavones;  resin. (8)

volatile oils incl. citronellal, polyphenols, tannins, bitter principles, flavonoids, rosmarinic acid.(15)

Actions:    Mild sedative, anti-spasmodic, anti-bacterial, anti-viral effects.    (2)

carminative, anti-spasmodic, anti-depressive, diaphoretic, hypotensive.  Circulatory tonic, peripheral vasodilatant.    (8)

Primarily diaphoretic, sedative;  also anti-tryptic, antispasmodic    (14)

sedative, anti-depressant, digestive, relaxes peripheral blood vessels, diaphoretic, relaxant/restorative nervine, antiviral, antibacterial, carminative, antispasmodic.    (15)

Shown to be sedative, antispasmodic, antifungal and antibacterial.    (61)

Conditions and Uses:  Used for nervousness and insomnia. The drug is used for nervous agitation, sleeping problems, and functional gastrointestinal complaints with meteorism.

In folk medicine, the  drug is utilized for decoctions of the flowering shoots for nervous complaints, lower abdominal disorders, nervous gastric complaints, hysteria and melancholia, chronic bronchial catarrh, nervous palpitations, vomiting, migraine, nervous debility, and hypertension.    (2)

Relieves spasms of the digestive tract and flatulent dyspepsia.  Indicated in dyspepsia associated with anxiety or depression.    (8)

Internal uses — colds, fevers, flu:  infusion*.  Melancholy:  tincture*, fluid extract*, infusion*.  Specific for children and infants when signs of fever, colds and flu approach.

*Usually used in combination with other herbs when treating the indicated problem.    (14)

Good for depression, tension, anxious stomach upset, feverish colds;  used externally on sores or swellings.  Only a few drops make an excellent antidote to depression.  Mix 5 ml oil with 100 g ointment base for insect bites or to repel insects.    (15)

It has been used to reduce fever, induce sweating, calm the GI tract, treat colds, relieve spasms, cramps and headaches.  Tea was valued for nervous disorders.  Long a popular remedy for insomnia.  German authorities allow its use for insomnia due to nerves and for GI spasms.  Studies show activity against viruses, incl. mumps and herpes.  Used in Germany to treat cold sores and herpes conditions.  Cream application is shown to quicken healing of herpes lesions considerably, but only if treatment is begun early in the infection.    (61)

Combinations: Combine with hops, chamomile or meadowsweet for digestive troubles; with lavender and lime blossom for stress and tension (8)  

Combine with catnip tea for nervous fevers, or hyperactive children with digestive disturbances.  Peppermint, spearmint and elder flowers are other herbs that combine well with lemon balm to treat fevers.    (14)

Add chamomile or meadowsweet as anti-inflammatories, or a little hops as a bitter and antispasmodic.  Use as a simple in tea, or combine with wood betony, skullcap, vervain for sedative or restorative action.    (15)                                                                                                                                                       

Precautions:    Only the fresh herb, no more than 6 months old, is useful as a sedative, due to the high volatility of the oils;  German Commission E requirements do not account for this phenomenon.  No known hazards or side effects with designated dosages.    (2)

Cayuga Botanical R.D. Note — [However, once the oils have been rendered into a solvent such as alcohol, as part of a tincturing process for example, they may last for years in solution, in a cool, dark place protected from cosmic rays.  Therefore this 6 month time limit does not apply to herb that has already been tinctured, as long as the process itself was timely.  The note above from source (2) in Identification & Harvesting admonishing a 1 year storage limit seems over-cautious.  With minimal outside influence on an alcohol-based tincture, it will last almost indefinitely.]

No known side effects or hazards.    (61)

Tincturing Process:

Applications: Infusion:  pour 1 cup hot water over 1.5 – 4.5 g. herb and strain after 10 min.    (2)

2-6 ml tincture 3 x daily.    (8)

Infusion:  steep 5-15 min., 6 oz. as needed, frequently.  Tincture:  30-60 drops (1/2-1 tsp) as needed.  Fluid extract:  1/2-2 tsp as needed.  Powder:  10 #0 capsules (60 grains) as needed.  Sweeten the tea with honey and give hot to feverish children covered with warm blankets.    (14)

Fresh leaves make a refreshing lemon tea in summer.    (15)


Dosage:    Avg daily dose is 8-10 g herb.    (2)

Up to 3.6 g. capsules daily.  Steep 1-1/2-4 tsp dried herb in 1 cup hot water for 10-15 min.    (61)                                                                                                                        

General Notes:    “Balm is sovereign for the brain, strengthening the memory and powerfully chasing away melancholy.” — John Evelyn, 1679.  Melissa comes from the Greek for “honey bee”, and lemon balm has the same healing and tonic properties as honey and royal jelly.  Gerard said the herb “comforteth the hart and driveth away all sadnesse,” and it was a favorite in medieval elixirs of youth.  Pure essential oil is difficult to obtain commercially;  it is often adulterated with lemon or lemongrass oils.    (15)

More than two millennia of history.    (61)                                                                                                                                                    



(2)  PDR for Herbal Medicines (Medical Economics Co., 1998), p. 967-68

(8)  The New Holistic Herbal by David Hoffman, p. 177

(14) Natural Healing With Herbs by Humbart Santillo BS, MH, p. 139

(15) The Complete Medicinal Herbal by Penelope Ody, pgs. 78, 155, 165

(61) 101 Medicinal Herbs by Steven Foster, pgs. 128-29

PHOTO: Wikipedia