Its delicate lemon scent also gave melissa (Melissa officinalis L.) its non-scientific name. Besides being used as an aromatic kitchen herb, lemon balm leaves are mainly used as a herbal medicine because of their calming effect. Melissa provides help for restlessness, stress, tension and difficulty falling asleep. But it can also have a relaxing and soothing effect on gastrointestinal complaints. Learn more about the occurrence, appearance, effect and medicinal use of lemon balm in this article.
Occurrence and distribution of lemon balm
Melissa or lemon balm (Melissa officinalis L.) belongs to the genus Melissa. There are only four plants in this genus. Three rarer species are found exclusively in Asia. Melissa flava Benth which occurs in Tibet and the Himalayas. Melissa yunnanensis C.Y.Wu & Y.C. This species only grows in Tibet and Yunnan (a southwestern province of China). Melissa axillaris Benth can be found from Nepal to China.
Lemon balm, scientific name Melissa officinalis L., is by far the most common of the four species. It was originally widespread in large parts of southern Europe (especially in the eastern Mediterranean), in North Africa and as far as western Asia. Lemon balm belongs to the Lamiaceae family and is related to many aromatic herbs such as rosemary, thyme and sage. It is also used as a culinary herb, which is why lemon balm grows in many gardens, and from which the plant often “escapes”. This is why the herb can now sometimes be found growing wild in Switzerland. Lemon balm prefers sandy to loamy soils with a high nutrient content.
Appearance of lemon balm
Lemon balm is a bushy herb that can grow up to one metre high. The leaves are similar to those of peppermint. The typical characteristic of the plant is a pleasant lemony smell that is extremely noticeable when the leaves are rubbed. This fragrance is created by their essential oil they contain. The oil is visible with a good magnifying glass and is found in glandular scales on the upper side of the leaves. The plant blooms between June and August when it forms numerous, small white to pink flowers. Synonymous names such as “bee weed” refer to the fact that the plant's flowers are readily sought out by bees.
As a perennial plant, it also survives cold winters through its rhizome, a part of the shoot that grows underground. If you cultivate it in the garden, it tends to spread via runners and become rampant.
Ingredients and effect of lemon balm
When used for medical purposes, lemon balm leaves are used to make tea, tinctures or dry extracts. In addition to essential oil, they contain large quantities of so-called lamiaceous tannins such as caffeic acid or rosmarinic acid. The ingredients are said to have antispasmodic, antimicrobial and antiviral properties.
The lemon smell and taste of the plant comes from an essential oil which contains citral and citronellal as fragrant volatile constituents. Bitter substances such as mucilage, saponins and flavonoids are also contained in lemon balm leaves.
Since the composition depends very much on the variety, cultivation and harvesting of the plant, only carefully checked dried leaves or ready-to-use medicines from the pharmacy or drugstore should be used. Important for tea preparation with all essential oil drugs: cover the tea while the leaves are steeping.
Lemon balm as a medicinal product
Traditionally, lemon balm leaves are used internally to improve mild stress symptoms and as a sleep aid, as well as for mild cramp-like gastrointestinal complaints. In addition, the medicinal plant can be used externally to treat herpes infections (cold sores) due to its antiviral properties.
Lemon balm for nervousness and insomnia
Melissa officinalis L. has a calming effect on the central nervous system. Melissa leaves can be combined with other medicinal plants that also have a calming effect, such as hops, lavender, passion flower and valerian. These medicinal plants have similar effects but different mechanisms of action.
Other uses of lemon balm
In addition to its use for nervous and stress-related complaints, lemon balm also seems to have a direct effect on the gastrointestinal tract. It is traditionally used for the symptomatic treatment of mild gastrointestinal complaints and relieves cramps and flatulence.
Melissa officinalis L. is also traditionally used against herpes labialis (cold sores). Ingredients such as rosmarinic acid have antimicrobial and antiviral effects. Lemon balm extract is used in the form of ointments, creams and oils.
This is general information. For individual advice, please contact a specialist.