Anna Holton is the former copy editor at State-by-State Gardening.

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Lemon Balm
by Anna Holton       #Herbs

What can produce a mild sedative effect, relieve cramps and gas and produce antibacterial and antiviral properties, according to modern research? Lemon balm.


No new discovery, lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) was noted by the 16th century physician Paracelsus as healing patients at death’s door. The Roman scholar Pliny, another believer in the effects of lemon balm, thought it prevented infection in open wounds, a function clinically proven today for all balsamic oils. Over the years, lemon balm has been used as a remedy for a myriad of ailments: bloating, gout, mood disorders, bronchial inflammation, high blood pressure, palpitations, vomiting, toothaches, earaches and headaches.


Although not very flavorful when cooked, its lemony scent makes it perfect for teas, hot or cold. According to, “John Hussey, of [London], who lived to the age of 116, breakfasted for 50 years on balm tea sweetened with honey.” To make a tea, tear or crush about 1 teaspoon of leaves to release the aromatic properties, then pour hot water over them. Steep for 10 minutes and strain.

In addition to teas, lemon balm can be used as a garnish to decorate green salads, fruit salads, drinks, chicken molds, etc. Another decorative (and sweet smelling) use for lemon balm is as greenery in flower arrangements and potpourris to brighten and freshen the kitchen or any room of the home.


Southern Herb Growing by Madalene Hill and Gwen Barclay calls lemon balm “one of the easiest herbs to grow.” It can be started from seeds, cuttings or divisions. If weeds are pulled and dead stalks are cut, lemon balm will thrive in any soil type, but it especially enjoys rich soil. In the event of stressful conditions, such as a too hot/cold or to too wet/dry environment, simply cut it to the ground, and it will quickly recover. While the top of the plant dies down in winter, the root is perennial.

Lemon balm, chives and winter onions look great planted together (Photo by Jim Long.)


The genus Melissa is native to Europe, Central Asia and North America, but lemon balm is specifically native to Southern Europe. The name “balm” comes from the Greek language, meaning bee, due to the insects’ attraction to the plant.

Lemon balm’s rootstock is short with a square, branching stem (both characteristic of the mint family) that grows 1 to 2 feet high. When the heart-shaped leaves are rubbed or bruised, they emit the fragrance lemon balm is so famous for. White or yellow flowers are found in loose, small bunches produced from the axils of the leaves, and bloom from June to October.


As long ago as the 1600s and earlier, respected names were proclaiming the benefits of lemon balm. The famous English author John Evelyn said, “Balm is sovereign for the brain, strengthening the memory and powerfully chasing away melancholy.” In 1696, the London Dispensary wrote, “An essence of balm, given in Canary wine, every morning will renew youth, strengthen the brain, relieve languishing nature and prevent baldness.” While it may not be a cure for baldness, many other medicinal uses and benefits have been clinically proven. Have you had your lemon balm today?


Melissa officinalis (Photo by Jessie Heaven Lotz.)

Botanical Name: Melissa officinalis

Other common names: balm mint, bee balm, blue balm, cure-all, garden balm, honey plant, sweet balm, sweet Mary

Family: Labiatae (Mint)

Daily dosage: 8 to 10 grams (about 2 teaspoons)

Medicinal uses: bloating, gout, mood disorders, bronchial inflammation, high blood pressure, palpitations, vomiting, toothaches, earaches, headaches, cramps, gas and prevention of infection

• Cultivated for over 2,000 years

• Herbaceous perennial

• One of the easiest herbs to grow

• No known drug interactions

• No known harmful effects for pregnant or breastfeeding women


Southern Herb Growing
Madalene Hill and Gwen Barclay with Jean Hardy

The Big Book of Herbs: A Comprehensive Illustrated Reference to Herbs of Flavor and Fragrance
Arthur O. Tucker and Thomas Debaggio

The Herb Society of America New Encyclopedia of Herbs and Their Uses
Deni Bown

(From Alabama Gardener Volume IV Issue VI.)


As with any plants/herbs with purported "medicinal" uses, please check with your physician before ingesting or applying any herbal remedy, poultice, tea, etc. This article is only intended to educate and entertain our readers. We are not medical professionals and cannot recommend the use of herbs for medicinal or cosmetic purposes.


Posted: 05/02/12   RSS | Print


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Ruth Mason McElvain - 05/18/2012

Wow, Anna, thank you very much for this lil expose on lemon balm.  Ima gonna follow my herbal impulses about it and include lemon balm in my herbs. Love your work here.

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