If you have ever had the luxury of smelling fresh Lemon Balm, you know how refreshing it can be. A blend of sweet, Citrus, and Mint, all in one inhale – with a sigh of relief and euphoria on the exhale. Once dried, the leaves of Lemon Balm lose a lot of their fragrant volatile oils that give it that iconic scent, and finding authentic essential oil can be quite a challenge (although it is possible). But what makes this plant so alluring?

There are many advantages to Lemon Balm, in both aromatherapy and herbalism, which proves this multi-faceted plant to be a must-have in your apothecary. In this article, we will explore ways to use Lemon Balm and its many benefits, ranging from physical to mental health, plus you’ll get a fun herbal recipe to try making at home.    


Latin Name: Melissa officinalis

Other Names: Balm, Lemon Balm

Family: Labiatae (Lamiaceae)

Parts Used: leaf

Aroma: fresh, herbaceous, citrus, slightly sweet

Organ/System Affiliation: respiratory, nervous, digestive, skin

Physiological Effect: cooling, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, antiviral, anti-depressive, analgesic, calmative, carminative, choleretic, digestive stimulant, hypotensive, litholytic, vasodilator


History and Folklore of Lemon Balm

Lemon Balm is a perennial herb in the Mint family that thrives in disturbed places. Native to the Mediterranean, it now grows all across the world – in gardens, parks, or along roadsides – oftentimes welcomed, and sometimes considered a weed. This plant spreads so effortlessly by self-seeding that if it's in your garden, you’ll find it keeps coming back (or popping up in other places). 

It can easily be mistaken for Mint, but this plant’s highly aromatic, lemony scent helps set it apart from its relatives. It has square stems and opposite leaves and can grow up to 2 feet tall. In the summer, it blooms tiny 2-lipped flowers near the top of the plant that are white, yellow, or pink. The leaves are slightly hairy with a wrinkled look. Long considered a pollinator plant, it was given the latin name Melissa officinalis, a nod to the Greek word for “honeybee” and a tribute to the bees that adore this plant so much.  

Lemon Balm has a long history in herbalism, with the earliest recorded medicinal use in 300 B.C. [1] It was used by ancient Greek and Roman physicians for asthma, as well as toothaches and wounds for its analgesic properties [2]. Paracelsus, a Swiss physician and alchemist in the 1500s, referred to Lemon Balm as “the elixir of life”, as he believed that it helped support a long, happy, and healthy life [2]. The famous Arab physician, Avicenna (980 - 1037), once said that Lemon Balm "causes the mind and heart to be merry".



Ways to Use Lemon Balm

Traditionally, Lemon Balm has been used in a variety of ways to access its many different medicinal properties, including (but not limited to) aromatherapy, herbal tea, tincture, and topically. Each application offers a similar yet sometimes slightly different set of health benefits. In aromatherapy, it is more common to see the essential oil in use than the aromatic plant parts burned in incense. However, there are examples of dried Lemon Balm being used in incense, like smudge sticks and incense cones. 

​​Unfortunately, it is very expensive to make Lemon Balm essential oil, due to the extremely high amount of fresh leaves needed to produce just one bottle. All essential oils require a large volume of fresh plant material for extraction, however, this plant is one of the lowest yielding oils compared to other plants, which means it requires higher amounts of fresh plant parts. 

As a result, many producers have started cutting corners. A lot of Lemon Balm essential oil on the market today is not truly from the plant itself – it is actually a mixture of other similar smelling aromatic plants, like Lemongrass and Citronella, with additives of natural chemicals that mimic the constituents of Lemon Balm [2]. Make sure to always read the label and when in doubt, research or check with the supplier.



5 Reasons to Have Lemon Balm in Your Apothecary

Stress Soother

Lemon Balm is commonly used to help calm the nervous system and soothe stress, anxiety, and depression. It can be especially supportive to those who experience nervous indigestion or get that feeling of butterflies in their stomach when they are anxious. Lemon Balm is also traditionally used for insomnia and restlessness, and has been known to to uplift moods. Many have reported success with Lemon Balm in the treatment of benign heart palpitations. The ways you can use this plant for nervous system support include burning it as incense, an essential oil diffuser, or consuming herbal tea or tincture.

Digestive Support

Like many other Mint family plants, Lemon Balm can be helpful for soothing digestive ailments. It can ease issues like abdominal pain and discomfort, nausea, indigestion, gas and bloating. The best way to access these benefits is from internal use by consuming herbal tea or tincture.

Mental Clarity

In aromatherapy, Lemon Balm can be uplifting to the mind and spirit, most likely due to its Lemony-Citrus aroma. It is also believed to help support mental clarity and clear brain fog. According to one scientific study, consuming Lemon Balm helped increase cognitive function, including memory and concentration [3]. To experience these health benefits, you can try burning the plant as incense, using an essential oil diffuser, or consuming herbal tea or tincture.

Antiviral

Due to its antiviral nature, Lemon Balm can help ease the symptoms of canker sores (cold sores) and shingles. According to one scientific study, Lemon Balm not only soothed the symptoms, but it also helped reduce the chances of the outbreak spreading, lessened the duration of symptoms and increased the healing time. The study also concluded that using Lemon Balm topically may help reduce the likelihood of future outbreaks [4]. You can apply an herbal poultice (for cold sores and shingles), the tincture or the diluted essential oil topically to the affected area (not for cold sores), or consume the herbal tea or tincture for these antiviral benefits.

Pain Relief

Thanks to Lemon Balm’s analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and calming properties, it can be an effective herbal remedy for pain relief. Besides its ancient use for addressing toothaches, it is also traditionally used for soothing migraines and menstrual cramps [2]. Lemon Balm can be helpful for easing headaches, especially if they are caused by stress or tension. You can try applying the diluted essential oil topically to the affected area or consume the herbal tea or tincture for some natural pain relief.

Precautions

Avoid using Lemon Balm if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. It is not recommended for use on children under the age of 2. Do not use it topically on damaged or extremely sensitive skin and do not exceed 1% dilution ratio. Avoid using it if you have prostatic hyperplasia and glaucoma [2]. If you are taking prescription medications, check with your doctor before using it internally, especially if you are taking medication for thyroid disease. 

Lemon Balm “Carmelite Water” Recipe

If you are lucky enough to have fresh Lemon Balm growing near you, you may want to try making your own hydrosol, which you can use for aromatherapy or to apply topically. You can also try this fun, ancient recipe for Lemon Balm Carmelite water! You can use fresh or dried leaves for this recipe, but if you have access to fresh leaves we highly recommend using them. 

Carmelite water is an ancient, traditional herbal spirit created by Carmelite monks in France in the early 1600s. It was commonly used externally as a perfume and internally for digestive support and pain relief [5]. The recipe has been kept secret by some, and passed on through generations; there are a variety of recipes on record that incorporate slightly different herbs and liquids, but they all include Lemon Balm as the key ingredient. This is my favorite spin on the time-honored recipe. 

Ingredients

1 cup fresh Lemon Balm leaves or 1/2 cup dried 

1 TBSP dried Angelica root

1/4 cup dried Chamomile

Zest of 1 small Lemon

1 tsp. Cinnamon chips 

1/8 tsp. freshly grated Nutmeg or a pinch of dried powder

1 bottle dry white wine

Directions

  1. Place all of your ingredients into a large glass mason jar.
  2. Pour the wine into the jar, making sure that all of the herbs and spices are covered with liquid.
  3. Stir well and cover with a lid.
  4. Allow it to sit for about 5 hours.
  5. Strain the herbs out by using a fine mesh strainer, cheese cloth, or a coffee filter.
  6. Store in an airtight container in the fridge and use within 3-5 days. Best enjoyed chilled!

Optional

Other traditional herbs you can include are Mugwort, Sage, Gentian root, Fennel, Coriander, Sandalwood, or Clove. You can also use vodka, gin or a different type of alcohol. If you would like to avoid alcohol altogether, you can simply brew this recipe as an herbal tea and add a sweetener like honey if you wish.

Summary

With the myriad of uses for Lemon Balm, it’s no wonder it has been coined the “elixir of life”. Lemon Balm can help support us in many different aspects of life, from boosting our mental and emotional health, to relieving pain and digestive upset; this herb is truly an ally. If you are able to, consider growing this lovely plant in your garden or in a pot, as it is a joy to simply be in this plant’s presence, and its aroma is a true gift.


Article Written By Melissa Szaro

References

  1. Meyers, M. (2007). Lemon Balm: An Herb Society of America Guide. Kirtland, OH: The Herb Society of America. https://www.herbsociety.org/file_download/inline/d7d790e9-c19e-4a40-93b0-8f4b45a644f1
  2. Mojay, G. (1997). Aromatherapy for Healing the Spirit: Restoring Emotional and Mental Balance with Essential Oils. Rochester, VM: Healing Arts Press.
  3. Scholey, A.,Gibbs, A., Neale, C., Perry, N., Ossoukhova, A., Bilog, V., Kras, M., Scholz, C., Sass, M., and Buchwald-Werner, S. (2014). Anti-Stress Effects of Lemon Balm-Containing Foods. Nutrients, 6(11), 4805-4821; https://doi.org/10.3390/nu6114805
  4. Koytchev, R., Alken, R.G., Dundarov, S. (2011). Balm mint extract (Lo-701) for topical treatment of recurring herpes labialis. Phytomedicine, Volume 6, Issue 4, October 1999, Pages 225-230. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0944-7113(99)80013-0
  5. Forêt, R. (2011). What Exactly Is Carmelite Water? (Hint: It Has Wine in It). Learning Herbs. https://learningherbs.com/remedies-recipes/carmelite-water/

© 2022 The Northwest School of Aromatic Medicine. All rights reserved.

*The statements above have not been evaluated by the FDA, and are for educational purposes only. This article is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. This article should not be taken as medical advice. Please consult your physician before you use this information for health purposes.