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Lemon Balm

Lemon Balm

Botanical Description & Habitat

Melissa officinalis


Common names

Balm mintBee balm
Blue balmDropsy plant
MelissaSweet balm

Native of southern and central Europe, West Asia, and North Africa; it has been naturalized in some parts of the United States.

It is a perennial plant which grows up to three feet in height. The stem is upright and hairy; the leaves are green, opposite, ovate, and deeply serrated. White, pale yellow or rose-colored flowers grow in axillary whorls from the leaf axils, and bloom from July to August.

Medicinal parts
Whole herb - dried at peak of flowering

Historical Properties & Uses

Lemon balm is used to soothe nervous problems, to cure upset stomach and indigestion, and to relieve bronchial spasms. Due to its concentration of essential oil and tannin, lemon balm has very effective antibacterial and antiviral properties, and probably possesses the antispasmodic characteristics common to other essential oils. The herb also demonstrates cholagogue properties.

Lemon balm has a pleasant aroma and taste, making it a popular aromatic tea. Although there is some experimental validation for its use in nervous conditions, and particularly as a sleeping aid, its common use as an emmenagogue has not been investigated.

Lemon balm appears to be completely safe to use.

Method of Action

Lemon balm is a cholagogue
Lemon balm can double or triple bile output, thus substantiating its claim as a cholagogue.

Lemon balm may be a good neural sedative
Lemon balm was combined with valerian, hops, and passion flower in a German proprietary medicine; it increased patients' ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.

Lemon balm has good antibacterial properties
Lemon balm is antibacterial against several gram positive and gram negative bacteria, including Staphylococcus aureus, Bacillus subtilis, Mycobacterium phlei, Streptococcus (various strains), Salmonella enteritidis, and Klebsiella (various strains).

Lemon balm has excellent antiviral properties
Hot water extracts of lemon balm have strong in vitro antiviral properties against such diseases as mumps, herpes simplex, Newcastle's disease, Vaccinia, and Semliki Forest Disease. The best results were obtained using embryonated chicken eggs as the culture medium.

Gelatin was injected into the eggs after lemon balm extract eliminated antiviral activity. Extracts of lemon balm suppressed infectivity in chick embryo monolayers. In virucidal tests, the herb had only a minimal neutralizing effect on influenza A and B virus lethality for eggs. If the herb extract was injected into the eggs prior to introduction of influenza viruses, no lethality was observed.

Under certain conditions, lemon balm extract inhibited agglutination of erythrocytes by Newcastle's disease and mumps viruses; hemagglutination activity could be restored by the addition of gelatin or by the dilution of nonactive mixtures of virus and extract.

Lemon balm's active principle was precipitated by gelatin and by lead acetate. All data suggest the active moiety is a tannin; its mode of action seems to involve the surface of the host cell in addition to the neutralization of the virus.

Lemon balm has antispasmodic properties
The antispasmodic property of lemon balm is probably due to the presence of eugenol acetate, which has demonstrated antispasmodic and antihistaminergic properties in isolated guinea pig ileum.

Drug Interactions & Precautions

Possible Interactions
The antihistaminic property of lemon balm will antagonize the effects of heparin.

Due to the presence of eugenol, lemon balm may inhibit certain liver microsomal hydroxylating systems, thereby producing toxic effects from drugs which are normally metabolized by those systems.

In the absence of other hard data, it may be assumed observable interactions occur between the many central nervous system drugs and the psychoactive principles in lemon balm.

There is evidence combined use of bactericidal and bacteriostatic agents will lower the effectiveness of the bacteriostatic agent. How this finding applies to herbal antibiotics is not known.

Safety Factors & Toxicity

The toxicity level of lemon balm has not been determined at this time.

This herb has approval status by the German Commission E.


Blumenthal, M (Ed.): The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. American Botanical Council. Austin, TX. 1998.

Preparation & Administration

Three times a day

Dried leaf
2-4 grams

made from 1 tsp of dried leaf

Fluid extract
1:1 in 25% alcohol, 2-4 ml

1:5 in 45% alcohol, 3-6 ml

Note: This Herbal Preparation information is a summary of data from books and articles by various authors. It is not intended to replace the advice or attention of health care professionals.


Am Hospital Formulary Service. Am Soc of Hosp Pharm. Wash, D.C.

Blumenthal, M (Ed.): The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. American Botanical Council. Austin, TX. 1998.

Bressler, R., M.D. Bogdonoff & G.J. Subak-Sharpe. 1981. The Physicians Drug Manual. Doubleday & Co, Inc. Garden City, NY. 1213 pp.

Chabrol, E. & R. Charonnat. Les agents therapeutiques de la secretion biliaire. Annuales De Medecine, 37(1), 131-142, 1935.

Debelmas, A.M. &Rochat, J. Plant. Med. Phytothera., 1, 23, 1967.

Goodman, L.S. & A. Gilman. 1975. Pharm Basis of Thera. MacMillan, NY.

Hansten, P.D. 1979. Drug Interactions, 4th ed. Lea & Febiger, Phila.

Hermann, E.C., Jr. & L.S. Kucera. Proceedings Of The Society For Experimental Biology And Medicine, 124, 869, 1967.

Hyde, F.F. British Herbal Pharmacopoeia. British Herbal Medicine Assoc: West Yorks, England, 1983.

Jaffe, H., et.al. 1968. In vivo inhibition of mouse liver microsomal hydroxylating systems by methylenedioxyphenyl insecticide synergists and related compounds. Life Sciences, 7. pp. 1051-1052.

Kastrup, E.K., ed. 1981. Drug Facts and Comparisons, 1982 edition. Facts and Comparisions Division, J.P. Lippincott Co, Phila(St. Louis).

Kucera, L.S. & E.C. Herrmann, Jr. Proceedings And Society For Experimental Biology And Medicine, 124, 865, 1967.

Kucera, L.S., R.A. Cohen & E.C. Herrmann, Jr. Antiviral activities of extracts of thge lemon balm plant. Annals Of The New York Academy Of Sciencesd, pp. 374-482.

Lewis, Walter H. and Elvin-Lewis, Memory P.F. Medical Botany: Plants Affecting Man's Health, John Wiley and Sons. New York, l977.

List, P. & L. Hoerhammer. 1969-1976. Hagers Hanbuch der Pharmazeutischen Praxis, vols. 2-5. Springer-Verlag, Berlin.

Martin, E.W. 1978. Drug Interactions Index, 1978/79. J.B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia.

Maruzzella, J.C. & N.A. Sircurella. Antibacterial activity of essential oil vapors. J Of The Am Pharm Assoc. 49(11), 692-694, 1960.

Moese, J.R. & G.I. Lukas. Zur wirksamkeit einiger aetherischer ole und deren inhaltsstoffe auf bakterien. Arzneimittel-forschung, 7(11), 687-692, 1957.

Mowrey, Daniel B., Ph.D. Exper. Psych., Brigham Young University. Director of Nebo Institute of Herbal Sciences. Director of Behavior Change Agent Training Institute. Director of Research, Nova Corp.

Nelson, R.M., C.G. Frank & J.O. Manson. 1959. The antiheparin properties of the antihistamines, tranquilizers and certain antibiotics. Surg Forum, 9. pp. 146-150.

Scientific Committee, British Herbal Pharmocopaeia, British Herbal Med Assoc, Lane House, Cowling, Na Keighley, West Yorks, Bd Bd220lx, l983

Essential Oil

See Melissa Essence under Aromatherapy


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