Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is the most well-known member of the genus Melissa and is cultivated in temperate zones around the world. The finely serrated, egg-shaped leaves of the lemon balm plant give off a lemony scent when you brush against them. The leaves and flowers can be enjoyed when fresh or dried and are used as a seasoning or to make tea. Lemon balm contains essential oils and is used as a medicinal herb for its digestive, antimicrobial, and relaxing properties.
Lemon balm is a versatile culinary herb which you can use to flavor many different types of savory and sweet dishes. It has a mild and pleasant herbal taste with citrus tones. You can use lemon balm in place of lemon peel in recipes. Add fresh lemon balm to salads, sandwiches, steamed vegetables, soups, and stews. Use it in desserts to add a bright lemony flavor to fresh fruit salads, sorbets, and tarts. Marinades, dressings, and herb vinegar will benefit from the addition of fresh or dried lemon balm. Lemon balm pairs well with rosemary, oregano, and other Mediterranean herbs.
Make a delicious tea using fresh or dried lemon balm and mint leaves, add honey to taste.1,2
You can purchase lemon balm as fresh sprigs in some supermarkets, health food stores, and farmers markets. It is often sold as a potted herb in garden centers. Dried lemon balm is sold in bulk or packaged in tea bags in health food stores, online, and in some supermarkets.
Lemon balm grows wild in temperate zones around the world. You can find it growing in sandy and scrubby areas, in meadows, and on the edges of forests. Wild lemon balm can be found at elevations ranging from sea level to the mountains.2
Fresh: Wrap fresh lemon balm in damp paper towels and store in the refrigerator up to 5 days.
To freeze: Chop fresh lemon balm and place in ice cube trays. Add water to fill, then freeze until you are ready to use it.
To dry: Tie fresh lemon balm into bundles and hang it upside down until it is dry. Store the dried leaves in a tightly sealed container.2
To grow your own:
You can grow lemon balm by planting seeds, cuttings or root divisions in spring or autumn. It is drought tolerant and will grow in any well-drained soil, but it prefers a light, rich, and moist soil in a partly shaded location. Lemon balm grows into a bush about 18 inches around. Harvest the stems and leaves regularly to encourage vigorous "growing". As a member of the mint family, it is a durable and vigorous perennial with a tendency to spread.2,3
The main components of the essential oils in Melissa officinalis are citral (neral and geranial), citronellal, linalool, geraniol, and β-caryophyllene-oxide.
Phytochemicals in lemon balm include phenolic acids, terpenes, rosmarinic acid, and caffeic acids. Lemon balm also contains tannins and eugenol acetate.2,3
Powder and extracts made from lemon balm are a popular ingredient in dietary supplements, tinctures, and ointments. Lemon balm preparations may have relaxing properties which can help ease insomnia, tension, and anxiety. They also contain antiviral and antimicrobial properties which may help heal cold sores and fight infections.2,3
Use as a medicinal plant:
Gentle and mildly relaxing, lemon balm is used to relieve stress and anxiety, ease insomnia, and to help treat cold sores. It can help relieve indigestion and nausea and help minimize menstrual cramps. Lemon balm may help ease headache and toothache pain.2,3
Further research is needed to determine the efficacy of lemon balm.
If you are taking capsules, powder, or other commercially prepared supplements or herbs choose brands that have been tested by independent sources, such as ConsumerLab.com or U.S. Pharmacopeia Convention (USP). Herbs and supplements are not evaluated as a drug by the Food and Drug Administration, and there may be issues with purity, quality, or safety.
Used since ancient times, lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is a lemon-scented herb that comes from the same family as mint (Lamiaceae). The herb originated in southern Europe and has become naturalized in many parts of the world. Lemon balm is a perennial plant when grown in temperate zones. It has a bushy "growing" habit, with fragrant, egg-shaped leaves that feature serrated edges.2,3
Literature / Sources:
- Dr. Sue Hamilton, “Growing and Cooking with Lemon Balm,” Farm Flavor, accessed September 11, 2018. https://www.farmflavor.com/ at-home/cooking/ growing-and-cooking-with-lemon-balm/
- Lemon Balm: An Herb Society of America Guide. PDF file. 2007. http://www.herbsociety.org/ file_download/inline/ d7d790e9-c19e-4a40-93b0-8f4b45a644f1
- Wikipedia. Lemon balm.