Lemon balm is a perennial herbaceous plant that grows spontaneously along hedges, at the base of walls and near rubble. It is also grown in the garden. It is widespread in southern Europe and western Asia. It can develop in shady areas and up to 1000 meters above sea level. The name of the plant derives from honey, since it is a species from which bees produce a large amount of honey, indeed it could be said that it is the honeyest plant species that exists. Lemon balm belongs to the Labiatae family and its full botanical name is Melissa officinalis L. It is also commonly called Citronella, Cetronella, Lemon grass and Fior d'api. The plant has branched stems at the base and erect that reach a height of twenty to eighty centimeters. The flowers are small, white and pink, even yellowish in some varieties and bloom from June to September. The characteristic of these flowers is that they have a lemon-like odor that disappears when they are dried. Lemon balm is a plant with a long herbal tradition, it has been known and appreciated in this sense since ancient times. The parts of the plant used in herbal medicine are the leaves, but also the flowering stem. The plant is cut when in bloom and dried in a cool, dry place.
Lemon balm is one of the most used and known plants in the herbal field. In the tenth century, the Arabs considered it a remedy for sadness and melancholy, while the Carmelite nuns invented lemon balm water which was used by the people to achieve calm and tranquility in the most critical periods of life. The main action of lemon balm is, in fact, at the level of the central nervous system. This effect is mainly due to the presence of an essential oil (linalool, citronellal, citral, gerinal) from which the aroma of the plant derives. Other components are: resins, tannins, flavonoids and rosmarinic acid. Further officinal virtues are attributed to the latter. The essential oil of the plant would initially have an exciting effect and subsequently a sedative effect. Due to its sedative action it is used to treat psychosomatic disorders of the gastrointestinal tract, such as dyspepsia and stomach pains., But also to treat other ailments caused by irritability and nervousness, such as insomnia and tachycardia. Lemon balm is useful in cases of neurovegetative dystonia, that is, nervous disorders that occur with heart and gastrointestinal somatization. The sedative effects of the plant also allow to protect the gastric mucosa from ulcers related to painful spasms and hypersecretion of gastritis juices from nervous gastritis. Lemon balm extracts have also been used in subjects suffering from bulimia nervosa (binge eating followed by vomiting) as protective substances of the gastric walls. The essential oil of lemon balm, in addition to its sedative action, also has antispasmodic, antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal properties. A study revealed that a lemon balm cream treatment for herpes of the lips reduces its duration and attacks. The antispasmodic activity of lemon balm also makes it useful in cases of nausea, vomiting and various types of pain (headache, stomach pain, menstrual pain, etc.). A study also showed that the rosmarinic acid of lemon balm interferes with the production of the thyroid hormone TSH.
To exert its beneficial effects, lemon balm is taken in the form of infusion, fresh plant juice, powder (contained in capsules), lemon balm water and mother tincture. The infusion is prepared with two grams of leaves in a cup of boiling water, to be left to infuse for 5 minutes. The recommended dose is one to three cups a day. The recommended dose of fresh plant juice is one tablespoon three times a day, while lemon balm water provides a daily dose of six tablespoons a day. The mother tincture of lemon balm is prepared with the fresh aerial part of the plant collected before flowering. The most effective mother tincture of lemon balm is the hydroalcoholic one. The recommended dose is 40 drops three times a day. The recommended dose for the capsules is two to two times a day before main meals. To get the most out of taking lemon balm products, extracts no older than six months should be used, because they are likely to lose all the essential oil content. Lemon balm extracts are also used for external applications. With the essential oil, frictions are made to combat neuralgia, headaches and migraines. Lemon balm ointments are applied to the lips in case of herpes simplex. Due to the effects on TSH production, the intake of lemon balm is not recommended for those who suffer from hypothyroidism and for those who take thyroid hormones.
A pack of 20 sachets of lemon balm leaves for herbal tea costs about six euros; same cost for a 50ml bottle of lemon balm mother tincture. A pack of 50 capsules based on lemon balm costs just over 14 euros. A 100ml bottle of lemon balm water costs 15 euros.
Melissa officinalis belongs to the Lamiaceae family. The particular name of the plant is linked to the power it exerts on bees thanks to the unique scent of its flowers.
In the language of flowers, lemon balm symbolizes gaiety.
It is considered the plant of health and good mood, also thanks to its many beneficial properties for our body. It is said that lemon balm has a high power in itself capable of absorbing cosmic energy and transmitting it to the individual.