Family: Lamiaceae (Labiatae), Melissa officinalis L.
Source: Simon, J.E., A.F. Chadwick and L.E. Craker. 1984.
Herbs: An Indexed Bibliography. 1971-1980. The Scientific Literature
on Selected Herbs, and Aromatic and Medicinal Plants of the Temperate
Zone. Archon Books, 770 pp., Hamden, CT.
Lemon balm, Melissa officinalis L., a perennial herb native
to southern climates of Europe and North America, is presently
found in both wild and cultivated states. Several other species
of Melissa have been reported from the Mediterranean and central
Asian areas, but only Melissa officinalis L. is
cultivated. The plant grows erect and reaches a height of 0.5
to 1 meter.
The reported life zone of balm is 7 to 23 degrees centigrade with
0.5 to 1.3 meters annual precipitation and a soil pH of 4.5 to
7.8 (4.1-31). The plant, which develops best in full sun
and deep soil, is sensitive to cold temperature and excessive
or inadequate water levels in the soil.
Horticulturally, lemon balm is grown as an annual or perennial,
harvested only once at flowering during the first year and twice
in subsequent years. Significant loss of aroma sometimes occurs
during drying. Both the white and pink flowers, which blossom
from middle to late summer, and the vegetative portion of the
plant are known to attract honeybees (1.8-38). The name of
the genus, Melissa, comes from the Greek word meaning "bee,"
attesting to the early recognition of this characteristic (14.1-3).
Irrigation does not appear to alter the essential oil in balm
The volatile oil, obtained by steam distillation of plant material
immediately after harvest, is used only limitedly in perfumery
because of perfumers are able to simulate the odor of lemon balm
with less expensive extracts of other aromatic plants. The oil
content of fresh leaves averages 0.1 percent or less with a large
range between 0.01 and 0.13% (14.1-8). Multiple harvests
and optimum horticultural practices have been reported to increase
the percent of extractable essential oil (4.3-15). The highest
levels of essential oil have been extracted in late summer from
the lower parts of the plants (4.3-15). The essential oil
contains geraniol, citronellol, cintronellal, linalool, eugenol
acetate, and nerol. The essential oil is often adulterated with
mixtures of lemongrass, citronella, or lemon oil (14.1-8).
The green, lemony-scented, aromatic leaves are used both
fresh and dried as a seasoning in salad dressings, sauces, soups,
meats, vegetables, desserts, and confections. Dried leaves are
often used in potpourris. As a flavoring agent, balm is used in
some alcoholic beverages and liqueurs and in herbal teas. Several
varieties, including a variegated type, are available for ornamental
uses, especially as border plants in gardens.
As a medicinal plant, lemon balm has traditionally been employed
against catarrh, fever, flatulence, headaches, influenza, and
toothaches. It has also been used as a carminative, diaphoretic,
and sedative. Recent evidence suggests that lemon balm has a depressant
or sedative action on the central nervous systems of laboratory
mice, (7.5-90). Oil of balm has also been shown to have antiviral,
antibacterial, and antispasmodic activity. Lemon balm has been
reported to be an insect repellent (11.1-96).
Bee balm (Monarda spp.), often confused with lemon balm,
is a separate member of the Labiatae family.
Lemon balm is generally considered safe for human consumption
as a spice/natural flavoring and a plant/oil extract (21 CFR section
182.10, 182.20 ).
[Note: References listed above in parentheses can be found in
full in the original reference].
Last modified 6-Dec-1997