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DISCLAIMER: These pages are presented solely as a source of INFORMATION and ENTERTAINMENT and to provide stern warnings against use where appropriate. No claims are made for the efficacy of any herb nor for any historical herbal treatment. In no way can the information provided here take the place of the standard, legal, medical practice of any country. Additionally, some of these plants are extremely toxic and should be used only by licensed professionals who have the means to process them properly into appropriate pharmaceuticals. One final note: many plants were used for a wide range of illnesses in the past, but be aware that many of the historical uses have proven to be ineffective for the problems to which they were applied.

aka Balm, Balm mint, Bee balm, Blue Balm, Citronele, Common balm, Cureall, Dropsy Plant, Garden balm, Honeyplant, Melissa,
Melissenblätter (Ger), Sweet balm

(Melissa officinalis syn Folia melissae)
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•Increases effects of phenobarbitol.
•Volatile oil increases narcotic effect of hexobarbital.

CONTRAINDICATED: •NOT used during pregnancy or when night sweats are present.
•NOT used when thyroid activity is low.
•NOT used with the presence of glaucoma.
•NOT used with prostatic hyperplasia.

CONTAINS: Volatile oil (including citronellal), citral a, citral b, eugenol, geraniol, flavonoids (including linalool), rosmarinic acid, tannins (including labiatic acid), bitter, resin, polyphenols, sodium, chlorine and triterpenoids.

A member of the mint (Labiatae) family, which is native to southern, eastern and central Europe, especially in the mountainous regions. It has been cultivated in the Mediterranean area for about 2000 years and known to be cultivated for its fragrance since the early 1600's. It is believed it was brought to Spain by Arab traders, then brought to Germany by Benedictine monks. It is naturalized in England and the United States and was an important part of the early Colonial garden. When lemons were scarce, the dried leaves were added to jams and jellies. It grows one to two feet high, the rootstock is short (roots do not creep like other members of the mint family), the stem is square and branching with broadly ovate, hairy, toothed leaves which appear in pairs at each stem joint. When brushed, they emit a lemon fragrance, the lowest part of the plant being richest in essential oil. The taste is also that of lemon. The flowers are white in loose, small bunches in the upper leaf axils. The fruit is a smooth nutlet and the seeds within it are tiny.

The word 'melissa' is from the Greek, meaning 'bee' due to the busy activity of the creatures around these plants. It was known to the Greeks as melisophyllon and to the Romans as apiastrum. It was often mentioned in the Greek and Latin classics and steeped in wine by the Greeks for fevers. It is said by the Arabs to bring intelligence to all who feed on it, animals and man alike.

The word balm (at one time 'bamm') is a shortened form of 'balsam' (meaning sweet smelling oil). Paracelsus (1493-1541) held lemon balm in high regard. He made a preparation called 'primum ens melissa' which he and others believed renewed their youth. It has long been regarded as useful for all complaints of a nervous or melancholy disposition. It was listed in the London Dispensary of 1696 and it was remarked "An essence of balm, given in Canary Wine, every morning will renew youth, strengthen the brain, relieve languishing nature and prevent baldness". Balm steeped in wine was said to "comfort the heart and drive away melancholy and sadness". The leaves were steeped in wine, then the wine drunk. The leaves were applied externally as a cure for the bites and stings of venomous animals and insects. This belief may owe some semblance of fact to the balsamic oils of aromatic plants which made good surgical dressings in their day due to antiputrescent action. Lemon balm is sometimes mistaken for Lemon Catnip (Nepeta citridora) which is an emmenagogue.

At one time the product, Carmelite Water, consisting of spirits, lemon balm, lemon-peel, nutmeg, angelica and possibly coriander was regarded as highly useful against nervous headache and neuralgia. Emperor Charles V was said to have drunk it daily. His parents were Philip the Fair of Flanders and Joanna the Mad of Spain. He may have believed himself protected from hereditary madness by the practice. This popular product of the 17th century was made by Carmelite nuns and sold as 'Eau de Mélisse de Carmes'. It is still sold in Germany as Klosterqu melissen Geise. Compound Spirt of Melissa is still listed in the German Pharmacopoeia, but no longer contains lemon balm, being replaced by citronella oil (Cymbopogon nardus). It is said to have a similar action and is cheaper, but its fragrance in much less refined.

Commercial sources of the oil are often adulterated with lemon oil or lemongrass oil.

John Evelyn (1620-1706): "Balm is sovereign for the brain, strengthening the memory, and powerfully chasing away melancholy."

Gerard: "It is profitably planted where bees are kept. The hives of bees being rubbed with the leaves of bawme, causeth the bees to keep together, and causeth others to come with them." And : "The juice of balm glueth together greene wounds."

Pliny: "When they (bees) are strayed away, they do find their way home by it." And: "It is of so great virtue that though it be but tied to his sword that hath given the wound, it stancheth the blood."

Avicenna (Muslim herbalist): " make the heart merry."

Culpeper: "...causeth the mind and heart to become merry." And: "Let a syrup be made with the juice of it and kept in every gentle woman's house to relieve the weak stomachs and sick bodies of their poor and sickly neighbors."

PROPAGATION: By seed (need light to germinate and will do so in 3 to 4 weeks) in spring and planted out when 4 inches tall, by self-sown seedlings, by layering, by division in spring, by cuttings in spring and summer. Perennial.
NEEDS: Part shade. Average well-drained, but moisture-retentive soil. Requires a sheltered position in the north and special protection in the upper areas of Zone 5. Plant 2 feet apart. Cut back after flowering for fresh crop of leaves. Susceptible to powdery mildew. Lends itself well to window boxes and container planting.
HARVEST: The herb just before flowering. Unlike other herbs which are at their best when the dew has dried off them in the morning, Lemon Balm should be harvested in mid to late afternoon when the oils are strongest. Before flowering, cut stems leaving 3 inches above ground. Dry quickly and gently without heat. To preserve the volatile oil, drying temp should not exceed 95ºF. Used fresh or dried for infusions, liquid extracts, ointments and tinctures. The fresh leaves are distilled for oil.

FLOWERS: White, 1/3-inch long in upper leaf axils, 2-lipped with 4 curved stamens and 5-toothed calyx, appear July to October.
PART USED: Above ground portion of plant (leaves) and the oil.
SOLVENT: Boiling water.
Golden Lemon Balm (M.o. 'Aurea')
Variegated Lemon Balm (M. o. 'variegata')
Lime Balm (M. o. 'Lime')


Antiseptic, aromatic, cooling, sedative, nervine, relaxant, mild tranquilizer, anti-depressive, anti-spasmodic, carminative, diaphoretic, febrifuge, antihistaminic, vulnerary, hepatic, circulatory stimulant (relaxes peripheral blood vessels and lowers blood pressure), and inhibits thyroid activity.
Used in centuries past as a mild form of valium. Particularly noted for its effect on the higher nervous system as a relaxant and tranquilizer. Used for conditions of the digestive system with an underlying basis of nervousness and for other symptoms relating to general nervous tension, including insomnia (a hot cup of tea before bedtime). There is an uplifting effect in mood and temperament simply from smelling the plant. It has been used for 'cabin fever' and 'stage fright'. Also for hyperactivity in combination with other herbs.
Said to be as effective a tonic as honey and royal jelly.
Jas been combined with other herbs (or alone) for chronic fatigue syndrome (1 cup tea taken 2 to 3 times daily).
Has been used for nausea: 10 to 15 drops of tincture on a lump of sugar.
Tea has been used for headaches and tiredness. Also migraine (and/or tension headaches), melancholia, colic, dizziness, hyperthyroidism, depression, anxiety, nervous exhaustion, hysteria, nausea, and palpitations. Combines well with meadowsweet, chamomile and hops (hops not used in cases of chronic depression). 'Spirit of Melissa' has been used to help treat psychiatric problems (ie. dystonia).
Has been used to calm nervous stomach, to soothe and calm the gut due to an element of bitterness to provide digestive support. Has been used for gas and colic. Has been used for excitability in children accompanied by upset stomach. Has been used as a mild digestive aid in hot weather. Has been used for nervous babies who need soothing.
Has been used to soothe stress and related headaches. And to ease anxiety related sleeplessness.
Has been used to relieve menstrual cramps and for irregular menstruation.
Has been combined with wood betony, skullcap, or vervain tincture to use as a sedative or restorative.
The warm infused oil has been used as an ointment or massage oil for depression, tension, asthma and bronchitis and eczema (also ointment).
Has been used externally for herpes, soreness, gout and insect bites (a compress or pad soaked in the infusion is used).
Volatile oil shows antiviral properties as a hot tea. Produces mild perspiration. Contains sodium and chlorine (prevents excessive metabolic loss during perspiration). A tea has been taken at the onset of cold and flu symtoms to 'sweat it out' before it takes hold. The antiviral activity has shown to be effective against mumps and cold sores. The essential oil has been used in a steam inhalent for upper respiratory infections.
Has been used for colds and flu in children by giving 1 tbsp at a time throughout the day. Said to be especially helpful if fever and nausea accompany symptoms. Has also been used for hand, foot and mouth disease (common contagious illness caused by coxsackie virus and often seen in daycare centers and pre-schools).
Has been used for laryngitis.
Has been used with other herbs for spasmodic hiatal hernia with flatulence.
The tea has also been shown to inhibit division of tumor cells.
Has been used in chlorosis (a type of anemia most often seen in girls and young women).
An ointment made from the plant has been used for sores, cold sores, insect bites, or to repel insects. An ointment made from the essential oil (combine 5 ml of oil with 100 g. olive oil and enough beeswax to solidify) is used for insect bites and to repel insects.
Has been used in the bath for nervous tension, insomnia, nervous problems and to promote onset of menstruation in cases where it is delayed.
Has been used in herbal pillows for sleeplessness.
Slightly inhibits Grave's disease.
A clay poultice, mixed with lemon balm, has been used for inflammation of the nerves.
A fresh crushed leaf has been applied to insect bites. Has also been used in poultice form for sores, tumors, and milk-knots.
The fresh extract has been dabbed onto shingles.
Was once mixed with salt and dabbed on wens.
Long considered an excellent child remedy and a good substitute for chamomile.
Once used to dress and heal wounds. Historically it was also used to relieve heart cramps in cases of angina. Fermented cider was heated to the boiling point, then quickly removed from the heat. Towels were soaked in the liquid and placed as hot as tolerable on both arms, covering each completely. At the same time, a compress of lemon balm was placed over the heart. Was also used to syringe the ear for earache (not recommended - for ear problems, see a doctor.) Was also once used in cases of tobacco poisoning.
Sometimes called "scholar's herb" as regular consumption of the tea is reputed to enhance memory (see also: Rosemary).
FEVER DRINK: Put 2 sprigs lemon balm with a little wood sorrel into a stone jug together with the a peel (sliced thin) of a small lemon (remove the bitter white portion). Pour in 3 pints of boiling water, sweeten and steep. (Bardswell)
MASSAGE OIL: Dilute 5 to 10 drops essential oil in 20 ml of almond or olive oil.
CARMELITE WATER: 2 lbs fresh leaves and 4 oz. angelica root (other additions were also employed - see above). Combine with ½ gallon of orange blossom water and a gallon of alcoholic spirits and allow to sit, covered, for 2 weeks. It was rubbed on the body after bathing and also taken internally as a rejuvenator.

!All others buy commercial preparations and follow directions carefully!
POWDER = 10 to 40 grains at a time.
INFUSION = 2 tsp of herb to 1 cup boiling water, steeped 5 minutes. Or, 1 oz. herb (dried or fresh) to 1 pint water. For delayed menstruation: steep 2 Tbsp in 1 cup boiling water for 5 minutes, strain, taken hot 3 times daily. For children: 1 tsp to 8 oz of water, steeped 3 minutes, strained and given ½ to 1 cup 3 times daily. For babies: give by dropperful.
TINCTURE = (best made from fresh leaves) Small doses of 5 to 10 drops are more effective than larger doses. Or, ½ to 1 fl. dram. Or, 2 to 4 ml taken 3 times daily. Or, ½ to 1 tsp. For nervous or upset stomach due to anxiety or emotional upset: 5 to 10 drops in a little water or warm tea. For children: ½ tsp given 3 times daily. For babies: dilute ½ oz. in ½ oz. water and give 20 to 30 drops per dose.
FLUID EXTRACT = ½ to 1 tsp in water up to 3 times daily.
COLD EXTRACT = use 2 tsp per cup of cold water and let stand 8 hours.

Used to bathe discharging eyes in puppies. In cases of distemper, cotton swabs are dipped in the infusion and used to clear the eyes and nose of mucous.
Used as an eye lotion for ingrowing lids.
Part of a restorative program in cases of shock in dogs and cats (animal should be fasted from solid food for 24 hours and given a tsp of honey mixed into a half tsp of brandy or sweet red wine 3 times daily). Include a strong brew of balm when restoring to normal food.
Used to bring down retained afterbirth in farm animals. Also used for farm animals for eye ailments, nervous and brain disorders, heart abnormalities, uterine disorders, to increase milk yield and to prevent miscarriage.

A few drops used in a diffusor for depression, nervousness and insomnia.

Best used fresh in cooking. Substitute for lemon peel in recipes. Fresh leaves used to flavor black tea, salads, vegetables, egg dishes, punch, marinades, soups, sauces, vinegar, game and fish (a noted use in Spain), cordials liqueurs (ie. Benedictine and Chartreuse), wine cups, beers, fruit drinks, ice creams and stewed fruit. Makes an excellent tea. The flower tips and young leaves are floated in wine or fruit cups as a flavoring and garnish. It is also substituted for lemon rind in jam making and chopped fresh leaves are added to marmalade. Make a strong tea and stew fresh or dried fruit in it. Goes well with corn, broccoli, asparagus, lamb, shellfish, ground black pepper, olives and beans. Was placed in ale to clarify it in the same manner a ground ivy. Add a sprig to cider. Add chopped leaves to cream cheese.
TEA = 1 pint boiling water poured over 1 oz of herb. Steep 15 minutes, allow to cool; strain and drink. Add a little sugar and lemon peel or juice for a refreshing summer drink.
CLARET CUP = 1 bottle Claret, 1 pint German Seltzer-water, a small bunch of lemon balm, a small bunch of borage, 1 sliced orange, half a cucumber (sliced thick), a liqueur glass of Cognac, and 1 bruised sugar-candy.
Place ingredients in covered jug which is well immersed in crushed ice and stir all together. When cup has been iced for about an hour, strain. (Cook's Guide - Francatelli)
LEMON BALM WINE (1829) = 40 lbs sugar dissolved in 9 gallons of water. When cool, pour over 2½ lbs of lemon balm and a little 'new yeast'. Allow to stand uncovered for 24 hours, then cover with cheesecloth and allow to ferment for 6 weeks. Decant and bottle. A lump of sugar is added to each bottle. Was aged 2 years, being better in its 2nd year.

Cleanses the skin. Infusion used as astringent skin lotion. Steamy facials used for acne. Soothing in the herbal bath. Used as a body rub (see 'Massage Oil' above).

Used in potpourri (best gathered in late summer); herbal pillows.
Combine with moth repellant herbs and sew into bags.
Used in the making of 'tussie mussies' (a combination of fragrant herbs tied together and originally carried by 18th century English judges to ward off smells in the courtroom).
Used to make sleep pillows.

Rub fresh leaves into wood to fragrance and condition. Also the juice from stems and leaves rubbed on furniture will leave a gloss and fresh fragrance- was thought the best conditioner for oak furniture. Used to perfume soap. Added to laundry water to fragrance linens and clothing.
Place a few drops of the oil in boiling water or on light bulbs to release the scent.

Used as insect repellent.

Essential oil is used in perfumery. Also has some commercial value as a flavoring for beverages, ice cream, candy and baked goods.
Was used as a strewing herb in times past, being laid on the floor to freshen a room. Strewing herbs were popular and necessary before the idea of sanitation caught on.
Made into garlands and small wreaths which were worn on the head (called 'chaplets').
In the 16th century, it was rubbed on beehives to encourage bees to create honey.
Has been used in charms to attract love or placed in the bath for the same purpose.


©2000 & 2005 by Ernestina Parziale, CH