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Lemon Balm - Melissa officinalis

Lemon Balm a member of the mint family - has been cultivated as a bee plant for over 2000 years; it was put into the hives to attract swarms, as the leaves contain the same terpenoids as that found in the glands of honey bees.

Lemon balm - Melissa officinalis - is grown all around the world; its wonderful refreshing citrus fragrance has led to its widespread cultivation in gardens. Lemon Balm has pretty clusters of pale-yellow flowers that appear in late summer and lemon scented ovate leaves. The foliage also is not without merit - often gold splashed variegations. It is not evergreen, but hardy enough to pop up each spring and delight - especially with the bright new foliage.

Lemon balm is a vigorous bushy perennial growing from 12-32 in (45cm) in height. It is a good plant for organic gardeners, for it attracts a wide range of beneficial insects. The main reason it attracts bees, is because of the flower structure - it has a 'landing pad' from which the bee can forage deep into the flowers.

Propagation of Melissa officinalis

Lemon Balm growing in old tin potLemon balm seeds take a long time to germinate. The secret to germinating Lemon Balm Seeds, is to expose them to light. Not covering the seeds with a layer of compost, and providing a temperature of at least 20deg.

However, they can also be easily grown from stem cuttings taken in spring. Plant the cuttings in a sunny position in a rich moist soil, approximately 12 inch apart. Alternatively for just a few plants, they can easily be rooted in a glass of water. Lemon balm grows rapidly cut back hard to keep it under control.

Growing Lemon Balm

Lemon Balm is a member of the mint family. The natural habitat for Melissa - when growing in the wild - is virtually anywhere in Europe and Central Asia, growing in mainly damp areas, including river banks and other waste ground areas. In spite of its liking for damp areas, it is very drought resistant if grown in Europe. In North America, it is often seen growing wild and regarded as a weed.

Lemon Balm - Melissa officinalis - is a herbaceous perennial herb, which dies to ground level each winter and then re-emerges each spring. The leaves are rough and serrated, with a strong smell of lemon when crushed or brushed against. It is a good ground cover herb, but also looks well in herb bed, herbaceous border, rockery or planted in a container, where it makes a good foliage plant.

There is an attractive golden variegated variety of Lemon Balm - Melisa officinalis Aurea, which has the same characteristics as the normal green variety.

In spite of its claimed uses as a Bee Attractant, Lemon Balm, when planted in the vegetable plot, seems to have insect repellant properties. This is certainly true of itself, for it is virtually trouble free in the garden.

Lemon Balm Medicinal

All the parts of the Lemon balm are used medicinal. Lemon balm effectiveness is compared with Mint, as it has the same soothing effect on the stomach and the digestive system. Infusions or the balm are taken internally for nervous anxiety, depression, headaches and indigestion. Lemon balm has insect-repellent properties, and is antibacterial and antiviral. In ointment form can be applied to sores, cold scores skin irritations, insect bites and stings and even in connections involving herpes and other viruses.

There is considerable evidence to prove that a daily drink of Lemon Balm Tea, is good as an anti-oxident - lapping up free radicals within the system.

The essential oil is of Lemon Balm is used in aromatherapy, and is said to assist in Alzheimer's disease if inhaled.

Its main claim to fame is when used as a sedation aid - supposedly having properties to help calm the user.

We have found no detrimental information to the use of Lemon Balm.

The crushed leaves - when applied to the skin - act as a mosquito repellant. (First hand knowledge and information for that!)


Try adding tangy Lemon balm leaves to fruit salads for something spectacular, fresh vegetables come alive when this herb is added. Mince the leaves and to add olive oil to use as a marinade for lamb or fish dishes. Add other herbs and make herb vinegars. Lemon balm works wonderfully when added to soups and stews and even cakes.

Lemon Balm is suited to making a herbal tea, and the extracts and oils are used in cooking.

Recipes for Lemon Balm

References - Akhondzadeh S, Noroozian M, Mohammadi M, et al. Melissa officinalis extract in the treatment of patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease: a double blind, randomised, placebo controlled trial. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry 2003;74:863-6.

Burns A, Byrne J, Ballard C, Holmes C. Sensory stimulation in dementia. BMJ 2002;325:1312-3


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