Materia Medica - Lemon Balm
This mint family relative has deep historical usage throughout European folk medicine, the
Arabic tradition, and North American medical herbalism.
"Lemon Balm causeth the mind and the Heart to be Merry” - Avicenna
Latin Binomial: Melissa officinalis (In Greek, Melissa means honeybee)
Common Name(s): Lemon Balm, balm, bee balm, melissa, melissa balm
TCM Name: Xiang feng cao, xiang feng hua
Ayurvedic Name: Neembu balm sayantram
Family: Lamiaceae (Mint family)
Physical Description of the Plant: Lemon Balm is a lemon-scented, aromatic perennial with serrated heart-shaped leaves and whorls of small white flowers typical of many members of the Lamiaceae family. It spreads easily from seed and underground
Habitat: Native to the Mediterranean and various regions in Northern Africa, Western Asia, and Southern Europe, it is widely cultivated and naturalized throughout the world in temperate areas.
Harvest and Collection: The best time to harvest Lemon Balm is early summer before flowering, but many herbalists use both leaves and flowers
Parts of the Plant Used: Aerial parts
Qualities: Calming, relaxing
- citral a
- citral b
- other monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes
- Tannins unique to Lamiaceae:
- triterpenylic acid
- bitter principles
- Vasodilating hypotensive
- Sedative stomachic
- Uterine tonic
Indications: anxiety, restlessness, digestive problems due to nervousness, colds, migraines, menstrual cramps, insomnia, depression, hypertension, and irritability associated with stress or hyperthyroidism. Infused oil used externally, and tincture taken internally effective for treating herpes simplex types 1 and 2, including chicken pox and shingles.
The diagnostic picture for Lemon balm is associated with hyperthyroidism: anxiety, restlessness, palpitations, headache and irritability. It interferes with the binding of TSH to thyroid cell membranes and inhibits iodothyronine deiodinase, thus prevents incorporation of iodine into T4 synthesis and peripheral conversion of T4 to T3; and blocks the thyroid binding of the stimulating auto-antibodies found in Graves' disease.
Contraindications/Cautions: It is contraindicated with hypothyroidism and in pregnancy unless used under the guidance of a qualified health care practitioner.
Interaction Characteristics: CNS depression; increases thyroid hormone clearance
Tincture: Fresh or dry liquid extract: 20-40 drops 2-3 times daily in a little water.
Infusion: 1 tablespoon fresh or dried leaves per cup of hot water; 4-8oz 2-3 times daily.
Combinations: It is often found as a tea in combination with other relaxing herbs such as valerian, hops and chamomile.
Energetics: Slightly warm; in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) it is considered energetically cooling and drying.
Folklore: Lemon balm steeped in wine was used orally and topically in ancient Greek and Roman medicines, as surgical dressing for wounds, and to treat venomous bites and stings, as mentioned in the writings of Dioscorides and Pliny the Elder. The same medicinal wine form is also used in the Indian Materia Medica (Nadkarni, 1976). The Ayurvedic Pharmacopoeia (AP) lists Melissa officinalis, along with the related Indian species M. parviflora, for dyspepsia associated with anxiety or depressive states, in a dried herb or alcoholic fluid extract form. The AP reports its actions as carminative, antispasmodic, diaphoretic, and sedative (Karnick, 1994).
Nicholas Culpepper wrote that Lemon Balm was ruled by the planet Jupiter and associated with the zodiac sign of Cancer, therefore having an association with the water element and an effect on emotions. It was used in spells to heal broken hearts and to attract romantic love.
Carmelite water, or 'eau des Carmes' as it is called in France, was a distilled alcoholic digestive tonic containing lemon balm, lemon peel, nutmeg, and angelica root, formulated by the Carmelite nuns from the Abbey of St. Just in the 14th century. It was used for centuries in Europe to support healthy digestion and is still available today.
Flower Essence: Issues of the head, specifically the sixth chakra. Lemon Balm brings support to alleviate sinus pain, headaches, muddled thinking and any other electrical glitches in the third eye/ sixth chakra. It works gently but persistently to clear impediments and allow the smooth expansion of light in this chakra. Apply Lemon Balm to the third eye/center of the brow.
Applications: Lemon Balm helps calm anxiety and a nervous stomach due to stress. It is a great nighttime herb for children, promoting restful sleep and helping to prevent nightmares. Magically Lemon Balm is used to protect and to attract love.
1 Cup of packed lemon balm leaves – 1 Cup of Water – 1 Cup of Sugar. Bring to a boil, for 1 minute until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and cover. Let stand 30 minutes. Strain the leaves from the syrup. Store the syrup in the refrigerator. Use to sweeten lemonade and iced tea. Pour into club soda for Italian sodas or mix with club soda and vodka or whiskey for a summery cocktail.
Pack a jar half full of lemon balm leaves, fill it with honey. Let sit for a month before straining and use the honey to flavor tea, desserts, and more.
Lip Balm for Cold Sores
Lemon balm has been studied as an effective treatment for cold sores. infuse the lemon balm in almond oil and add some beeswax to make a lip balm.
Fill a jar half full with fresh leaves, top with white wine vinegar (champagne vinegar is nice too) and seal. Place in a cupboard for 3 to 4 weeks. Strain and bottle the vinegar. Use in salad dressings, chutney, even fresh salsa for a delightful hint of lemon.
Fill a clean glass jar half full with packed fresh lemon balm leaves. Fill the jar with vodka (use the cheap stuff here). Let sit for one month in a dark cabinet, shaking when you remember. Strain the lemon balm. To the infused vodka add some simple sugar syrup to taste and bottle. Serve over ice.
Lemon Balm Shortbread
- 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1/2 cup + 1 Tbsp confectioner’s sugar
- 1 cup flour
- 1/8 tsp salt (omit if using salted butter)
- 3 Tbsp chopped fresh lemonbalm (about 2 dozen leaves)
- 1 tsp fresh lemon zest
- Rinse the lemon balm well and shake the excess water off, then allow to air dry completely. Pick off the leaves and discard the stems, then pile the leaves on top of each other, a dozen at a time, and roll into a tight “cigar”. Using a sharp knife, slice very thinly. Pile the shredded herbs into a mound and chop them up a bit more, until quite fine. Use right away.
- In a medium bowl, beat together the room temperature butter, chopped herb, fresh lemon zest, salt, and sugar until well mixed. Add the flour and mix well. You may need to use your hands for the final part of mixing. You can also use an electric mixer, just be sure not to overwork the dough after the flour has been added. Once the dough is smooth and coming together, roll it into a ball and flatten it. Wrap tightly in wax paper and chill for 20 minutes.
- Roll the flattened disc out on a lightly floured countertop and cut into shapes using a cookie cutter. Quick tip: shortbread dough can be a bit finicky to roll out (it can’t be too warm or too cool because of all that butter). So you can skip the whole rolling out step by shaping the ball of dough into a large cylinder shape, then cooling it in the fridge for 2 hours, and slicing about 1/4 inch thick. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, about 1 inch apart.
- If you rolled the dough, refrigerate the unbaked cookies for 20 minutes before baking. This helps them hold their shape and bake more evenly.
- Bake in a preheated 350 oven for 8 to 10 minutes on a rack placed in the top third of your oven. If your oven is on the hot side, check the cookies after 6 minutes to make sure they aren’t burning.
Yield: Makes about 2 dozen cookies. Serve with lemon balm tea.
The German Commission E reported sedative and carminative activity. In Germany, lemon balm is licensed as a standard medicinal tea for sleep disorders and gastrointestinal tract disorders.
The British Herbal Pharmacopoeia reported it is internally a sedative and externally a topical antiviral. British Herbal Pharmacopoeia (BHP). 1996. Exeter, U.K.: British Herbal Medicine Association. 29-30
Wöbling, R.H. and K. Leonhardt. 1994. Local therapy of herpes simplex with dried extract from Melissa officinalis. Phytomedicine 1:2531.
The hydroalcoholic lemon balm extract was a central nervous system sedative in animal studies. (Bruneton, 1995)
ESCOP lists its internal use for tenseness, restlessness, irritability, and symptomatic treatment of digestive disorders, such as minor spasms; externally, for herpes labialis (cold sores). ESCOP, 1997. 'Melissae folium.' Monographs on the Medicinal Uses of Plant Drugs. Exeter, U.K.: European Scientific Cooperative on Phytotherapy.
European herbs with cholinergic activities: Potential in dementia therapy Article in International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry 11(12):1063-1069 · December 1996