Melissa Officinalis

Lemon balm, common balm, or honey leaf

Botany

Lemon Balm is a member of the plant family Lamiaceae. Lemon balm is a vascular plant that lacks secondary woody tissue, and can grow 70-150 cm tall. The plant grows in shoots, with the leaves coming off radially at approximately one inch intervals. The shoot is a light green, while the leaves are a deep green with a soft appearance. Leaves are almond shaped, with visible vein structure. The very small, white flowers are present spring through early summer. Today, this herb is present in much of the United States and Canada as a result of being introduced to new climes. It is mainly present in the East, Midwest, and Northwest regions of the United States, and in Eastern and Western Canada. Lemon balm grows well in mild climates, near sea level and with average precipitation. Slightly sandy soil with a pH of around 7 is best for optimal growth. The plant prefers full sun and well-drained soil. The plant seeds itself well, so if left unattended to grow, this perennial will overtake a garden.

Chemistry

The active agents in lemon balm include rosmarinic acid, eugenol, tannins, and terpenes. Rosmarinic acid is a GABA transaminase inhibitor, which provides the calming effects. It acts by being transported in the blood attached to human serum albumin and lysozyme. Eugenol is a muscle relaxant and an antibacterial agent. Tannins have antiviral properties, and they act by binding to proteins or other macromolecules with their hydroxyl groups. Terpenes have a soothing effect, and they are the primary component of the essential oils of the plant. The antiviral and antibacterial properties of the plant were discovered in the late sixteenth century, and lemon balm has been used consistently in medicine since then.

Fun Fact

History

Historically, lemon balm was used by peoples living in Southern Europe and the Mediterranean. The earliest mention was in ancient Greece, when Theophrastus (371-287 B.C.) wrote about a “honey leaf” that is believed to be lemon balm. The plant was also present in the garden of famous herbalist John Gerard in England in 1596. In the past, it was used for its calming effects. Also, Melissa means honey bee in Greek, and the Greeks commonly planted this herb to attract honey bee swarms to their hives. The Greeks also used it as a topical wound treatment as early as the third century B.C.

Uses/Pharmacology

Lemon balm is used all over the world today to treat many ailments, although it is most popular in alternative medicine. It is used as a tea to calm spasms in the digestive tract, particularly when the digestive upset is associated with anxiety or depression. It is an antispasmodic as well as an anti-depressive and calming agent, so it treats the depression or anxiety while calming the GI tract. It is used as a stress reliever, and also has a tonic effect on the heart to lower blood pressure. Crushed leaves can be rubbed on the skin as a mosquito repellant, due to the citronellal in the leaves. It can be used in a tea or as an extract for its antiviral and antibacterial properties.

Dosing/Recipes

Lemon balm is often used as a flavoring in teas and ice creams, and in certain pesto dishes in place of some of the basil. Recipes for different teas are available, but most call for pouring a cup of boiling water over two to three teaspoons of the dried herb or four to six fresh leaves and steep for 10-15 minutes. This can be taken in the morning and evening. Also, for digestive issues the lemon balm can be combines with hops, chamomile, or meadowsweet. For stress, it can be combined with lavender and lime blossom. The only caveat of using lemon balm internally is due to the eugenol contained in the leaves. Eugenol is a hepatotoxic agent and can cause death if taken in large amounts. However, since the concentration is small in lemon balm, a very large amount of the herb would have to be taken to cause these effects. Therefore, the herb is safe for normal consumption.

Contraindications/Interactions/Adverse Reactions

References Cited

[1] David Hoffmann. The Complete Illustrated Holistic Herbal: A Safe and Practical Guide to Making and Using Herbal Remedies. Element Books, 1996. Page 113.

[2] Ibid.

[3] United States Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service Growth Habits Codes and Definitions. http://plants.usda.gov/growth_habits_def.html

[4] Ali Osman Sari and Ahyan Ceylan. Yield Characteristics and Essential Oil Composition of Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis L.) Grown in the Aegean Region of Turkey. Turk J Agric For 26 (2002) 217-224.

[5] United States Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service Plants Profile.  http://plants.usda.gov/java/nameSearch-keywordquery=melissa+officinalis&mode=sciname&submit.x=0&submit.y=0

[6] Ibid.

[7] Yield Characteristics and Essential Oil Composition of Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis L.) Grown in the Aegean Region of Turkey.

[8] Ibid.

[9] The Complete Illustrated Holistic Herbal: A Safe and Practical Guide to Making and Using Herbal Remedies. Page 113.

[10] Ibid.

[11]Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Pedro L.V. Falé, Lia Ascensão, Maria L.M. Serralheiro, Parvez I. Haris. Interaction between Plectranthus barbatus herbal tea components and human serum albumin and lysozyme: Binding and activity studies. Spectroscopy, 2011, 26, 79-92.

[14] The Complete Illustrated Holistic Herbal: A Safe and Practical Guide to Making and Using Herbal Remedies. Page 113.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Thompson, DC; Barhoumi, R; Burghardt, RC (1998). "Comparative toxicity of eugenol and its quinone methide metabolite in cultured liver cells using kinetic fluorescence bioassays". Toxicology and applied pharmacology 149 (1): 55–63.