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Melissa officinalis - L.                
Common Name Lemon Balm, Common balm, Bee Balm, Sweet Balm, Lemon Balm
Family Lamiaceae or Labiatae
USDA hardiness 4-8
Known Hazards Can cause irritation in high concentrates. Avoid during pregnancy. Care if sensitive skin [301].
Habitats Waste places and derelict land near human habitations[9].
Range C. and S. Europe, W. Asia and N. Africa. Naturalized in Britain.
Edibility Rating  
Medicinal Rating  
Fully Hardy Well drained soil Moist Soil Semi-shade Full sun

Bloom Color: White. Main Bloom Time: Early summer, Early fall, Late summer, Mid summer. Form: Upright or erect.

Physical Characteristics       
 icon of manicon of flower
Melissa officinalis is a PERENNIAL growing to 0.7 m (2ft 4in) by 0.4 m (1ft 4in) at a fast rate.
It is hardy to zone (UK) 4 and is not frost tender. It is in flower from Jun to October, and the seeds ripen from Aug to October. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Bees.It is noted for attracting wildlife.
Suitable for: light (sandy) and medium (loamy) soils and prefers well-drained soil. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers dry or moist soil and can tolerate drought.

Synonyms Faucibarba officinalis. Mutelia officinalis. Thymus melissa.
Melissa officinalis Lemon Balm, Common balm, Bee Balm, Sweet Balm,  Lemon Balm

Melissa officinalis Lemon Balm, Common balm, Bee Balm, Sweet Balm,  Lemon Balm
Woodland Garden Sunny Edge; Dappled Shade; Shady Edge;
Edible Uses                                         
Edible Parts: Leaves.
Edible Uses: Condiment;  Tea.

Leaves - raw or cooked. A pleasant lemon-like aroma and flavour, they are used mainly as a flavouring in salads and cooked foods[5, 7, 8, 9, 14, 27, 183]. A lemon-flavoured tea can be made from the fresh or dried leaves[21, 183]. A bunch of the leaves can be added to china tea, much improving the flavour, the leaves are also added to fruit cups etc[4]. They are used as a flavouring in various alcoholic beverages including Chartreuse and Benedictine[238].
Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.

Antianxiety;  Antibacterial;  Antidepressant;  Antiemetic;  Antispasmodic;  Antiviral;  Aromatherapy;  Carminative;  Diaphoretic;  Digestive;  Emmenagogue;  
Febrifuge;  Sedative;  Tonic.

Lemon balm is a commonly grown household remedy with a long tradition as a tonic remedy that raises the spirits and lifts the heart[254]. Modern research has shown that it can help significantly in the treatment of cold sores[254]. The leaves and young flowering shoots are antibacterial, antispasmodic, antiviral, carminative, diaphoretic, digestive, emmenagogue, febrifuge, sedative, and tonic[4, 7, 9, 21, 165, 238]. It also acts to inhibit thyroid activity[238]. An infusion of the leaves is used in the treatment of fevers and colds, indigestion associated with nervous tension, excitability and digestive upsets in children, hyperthyroidism, depression, mild insomnia, headaches etc[4, 9, 238]. Externally, it is used to treat herpes, sores, gout, insect bites and as an insect repellent[238]. The plant can be used fresh or dried, for drying it is harvested just before or just after flowering[9]. The essential oil contains citral and citronella, which act to calm the central nervous system and are strongly antispasmodic[254]. The plant also contains polyphenols, in particular these combat the herpes simplex virus which produces cold sores[254]. The essential oil is used in aromatherapy. Its keyword is 'Female aspects'[210]. It is used to relax and rejuvenate, especially in cases of depression and nervous tension[238]. The German Commission E Monographs, a therapeutic guide to herbal medicine, approve Melissa officinalis for nervousness and insomnia (see [302] for critics of commission E).
Other Uses
Essential;  Pot-pourri;  Repellent.

The growing plant is said to repel flies and ants[14]. It is also rubbed on the skin as a repellent[238], though the essential oil would be more effective here[K]. An essential oil is obtained from the plant[100] (the exact part is not specified, it is probably the entire plant and especially the flowering stems). It is used medicinally. The whole plant is very pleasantly aromatic, the aroma lasting for a long time after the plant has been harvested. It is therefore a very useful ingredient in pot-pourri[4].
Cultivation details                                         
Landscape Uses:Border, Container, Rock garden. A very easily grown plant, it succeeds in any well-drained soil in a sunny sheltered position[200]. It prefers a light rich moist soil[37, 52],a warm position[27, 37] and partial shade[4]. Once established, this is a drought tolerant species[190, 200], it is a useful plant to try in difficult dry places[187], usually succeeding in the dustiest of soils once it is established[190]. Lemon balm is often grown in the herb garden, and sometimes also commercially[46], there are some named varieties[183]. Plants can often self-sow so freely as to become a menace[187]. If the plants are cut back hard after flowering, they will produce a fresh flush of leaves[238]. Members of this genus are rarely if ever troubled by browsing deer or rabbits[233]. A good bee plant[4, 8, 24]. A good companion plant, especially for brassicas[14]. Special Features:Attractive foliage, Edible, Fragrant foliage, Not North American native, Invasive, Naturalizing, Suitable for cut flowers, Suitable for dried flowers.
Seed - sow spring or autumn in a cold frame. Germination can be slow[200]. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots as soon as they are large enough to handle and plant out into their permanent positions when the plants are at least 15cm tall[K]. If there is plenty of seed it can be sown in an outdoor seed bed in April. Plant out into their permanent positions the following spring. Division in spring or autumn[111]. Very easy, larger clumps can be replanted direct into their permanent positions, though it is best to pot up smaller clumps and grow them on in a cold frame until they are rooting well. Plant them out in the spring. Cuttings in July/August.
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Expert comment                                         
Administrator .
Jul 17 2010 12:00AM
Great plant for pesto: 2 cups of Lemon balm leaves 1/2 cup of grated parmiggiano some walnuts 1/2 cup of olive oil salt & pepper mix everything with your blender. good for pasta and as bread spread
Botanical References                                         
Links / References                                         

  [K] Ken Fern Notes from observations, tasting etc at Plants For A Future and on field trips.

[4]Grieve. A Modern Herbal.
Not so modern (1930's?) but lots of information, mainly temperate plants.
[5]Mabey. R. Food for Free.
Edible wild plants found in Britain. Fairly comprehensive, very few pictures and rather optimistic on the desirability of some of the plants.
[7]Chiej. R. Encyclopaedia of Medicinal Plants.
Covers plants growing in Europe. Also gives other interesting information on the plants. Good photographs.
[8]Ceres. Free for All.
Edible wild plants in Britain. Small booklet, nothing special.
[9]Launert. E. Edible and Medicinal Plants.
Covers plants in Europe. a drawing of each plant, quite a bit of interesting information.
[14]Holtom. J. and Hylton. W. Complete Guide to Herbs.
A good herbal.
[21]Lust. J. The Herb Book.
Lots of information tightly crammed into a fairly small book.
[24]Baines. C. Making a Wildlife Garden.
Fairly good with lots of ideas about creating wildlife areas in the garden.
[27]Vilmorin. A. The Vegetable Garden.
A reprint of a nineteenth century classic, giving details of vegetable varieties. Not really that informative though.
[37]Thompson. B. The Gardener's Assistant.
Excellent general but extensive guide to gardening practices in the 19th century. A very good section on fruits and vegetables with many little known species.
[46]Uphof. J. C. Th. Dictionary of Economic Plants.
An excellent and very comprehensive guide but it only gives very short descriptions of the uses without any details of how to utilize the plants. Not for the casual reader.
[52]Larkcom. J. Salads all the Year Round.
A good and comprehensive guide to temperate salad plants, with full organic details of cultivation.
[100]Polunin. O. Flowers of Europe - A Field Guide.
An excellent and well illustrated pocket guide for those with very large pockets. Also gives some details on plant uses.
[111]Sanders. T. W. Popular Hardy Perennials.
A fairly wide range of perennial plants that can be grown in Britain and how to grow them.
[165]Mills. S. Y. The Dictionary of Modern Herbalism.
An excellent small herbal.
[183]Facciola. S. Cornucopia - A Source Book of Edible Plants.
Excellent. Contains a very wide range of conventional and unconventional food plants (including tropical) and where they can be obtained (mainly N. American nurseries but also research institutes and a lot of other nurseries from around the world.
[187]Phillips. R. & Rix. M. Perennials Volumes 1 and 2.
Photographs of over 3,000 species and cultivars of ornamental plants together with brief cultivation notes, details of habitat etc.
[190]Chatto. B. The Dry Garden.
A good list of drought resistant plants with details on how to grow them.
[200]Huxley. A. The New RHS Dictionary of Gardening. 1992.
Excellent and very comprehensive, though it contains a number of silly mistakes. Readable yet also very detailed.
[210]Westwood. C. Aromatherapy - A guide for home use.
An excellent little pocket guide. Very concise.
[233]Thomas. G. S. Perennial Garden Plants
A concise guide to a wide range of perennials. Lots of cultivation guides, very little on plant uses.
[238]Bown. D. Encyclopaedia of Herbs and their Uses.
A very well presented and informative book on herbs from around the globe. Plenty in it for both the casual reader and the serious student. Just one main quibble is the silly way of having two separate entries for each plant.
[254]Chevallier. A. The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants
An excellent guide to over 500 of the more well known medicinal herbs from around the world.
[301]Karalliedde. L. and Gawarammana. I. Traditional Herbal Medicines
A guide to the safer use of herbal medicines.
[302]From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia Commission E

Readers comment                                         
Elizabeth H.
keviodonnell@googlemail.com Fri Mar 10 2006
A very useful article but I was also wondering where one can purchase such a plant. I used to have one years ago but cannot trace any right now. Can you help at all? I live in London. My e-mail is keviodonnell@googlemmail.com Many thanks Kevin
Elizabeth H.
andre char Tue Jun 6 2006
If you want to buy the seeds you may try this website in the USA: johnnyseeds.com
Elizabeth H.
Anna - Cambridgeshire Mon Jul 3 2006
I had this plant growing in my back and front garden but didn't know what to do with it. Now I will use it in cooking, salads and try it as tea. I have saved this page, so that I can look back on it if need be - it has been ver useful to me.
Elizabeth H.
Heidi in Missouri Sun Jul 16 2006
I love this plant! I bought mine at Lowes and it grows like crazy. I am planning on making some bath salts with it.
Elizabeth H.
elle Mon Nov 27 2006
Mint lookalike with a strong lemony scent, though not as fabulous-smelling as lemon verbena. Seeds are easy enough to come by via various seed companies on the internet. Self-seeds itself around freely! Seedlings in unwanted places are easily pulled up when young, however and I've appreciated the way it turns up in some of the difficult to populate drier spots in the garden. Best to cut off the insignificant flowers if you are concerned about self-seeding. Reputed to be a bee plant but I haven't noticed them making a 'beeline' for it. However I grow lots of bee plants so they may have found others more appealing. I make tea from fresh leaves and it's a pleasant and calming drink, though not as flavoursome as it is scented.
Elizabeth H.
elle Mon Nov 27 2006
For those who can't find the plant, just do a websearch on 'melissa officinalis seeds' and you should find some mail order companies to send you some. Grows easily from seed as you will find when you have it in your garden and it self-seeds itself around freely! Seedlings in unwanted places are easily pulled up when young, however and I've appreciated the way it turns up in some of the difficult to populate dry spots in the garden. Best to cut off the insignificant flowers if you are concerned about self-seeding. I make tea from fresh leaves and it's a pleasant and calming drink, though not as flavoursome as it is scented.
Elizabeth H.
damon rigg Wed Sep 5 2007
I have found Lemon Balm to be an excellent aid in a good nights sleep.
Elizabeth H.
Thu Aug 28 2008
Lemon balm is available during planting season at all of the local Lowes, Home Depot, and Wal-Mart locations around here. It grows in a beach-ball sized patch in our garden. We use it for cooking (goes very well on fish and chicken when mixed with other herbs), fantastic calming herbal teas, mixed drinks, ice cream, and even mixed with tobacco for lemon-flavored cigarettes. Good stuff.
Elizabeth H.
Lil Blon Thu Sep 25 2008
All praises for this site, loads of info! But I've been looking for more specific details too, for instance the yield of melissa per hectare (I know, sounds OTT but I would like to grow more then few plants :) I would be really greatfull if anyone has some good links or book suggestions :)
Elizabeth H.
Louise Tue Apr 21 2009
I never used to see the point of lemon balm beyond the smell but now I've started making a tea out of it - I poor boiling water over the leaves, 5 or 6 suit me but I think it's up to taste, and then let it sit for 5 or 10 minutes and then drink. It smells lovely and is very soothing and relaxing. It has only a mild flavor though and I have noticed that differnt plants are somewhat different in flavour so worht experimenting.
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