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PO Box 261, Fredonia, NY  14063


Fredonia, New York

Sunny Lemon Balm

Herbal Writing & Recipes

For educational purposes only. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

Sunny Lemon Balm

Sarah Sorci

If I had to rank medicinal plants based on glamour, lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) would be at the bottom of the list. Gardening with native, at-risk medicinals is all the rage. Lemon balm, however, is native to nearly every continent except the Americas (Asia, Europe, North Africa), and grows like a weed.1  Nevertheless, those of us who have smelled its strong, citrusy aroma know it's something special.  The volatile (essential) oils we smell are what make it an excellent carminative, or digestion supporter. It can relieve gas and intestinal cramping.
My director at the Blue Ridge School of Herbal Medicine, CoreyPine Shane, called lemon balm a “little dose of sunshine”-- a hot commodity in February. It contains mild antidepressant properties, and can effectively support those with anxiety, chronic stress, and insomnia. In a double-blind study, 18 healthy volunteers received two daily doses of lemon balm or a placebo for seven days. The lemon balm “increased mood and significantly increased calmness and alertness.”2 Its tension-relieving and antispasmodic qualities also make it useful for migraines. In Medical Herbalism, David Hoffman notes that its volatile oils seem to “act on the interface between the digestive tract and nervous system.”3 As a mild vasodilator of the peripheral blood vessels, lemon balm can also lower blood pressure.
Lemon balm’s antiviral properties are a common reason to use it in my practice. Clinical and lab trials have demonstrated its ability to reduce the frequency and severity of herpes simplex virus outbreaks-- both oral cold sores and genital herpes. Laboratory studies have also demonstrated lemon balm’s usefulness for those with Grave’s disease and hyperthyroidism.4
As suggested above, lemon balm is very easy to grow in part- to full sun-- some might say too easy. A large container may be preferable over growing directly in the garden, in the interest of avoiding a hostile takeover. Though lemon balm makes a delicious tea, it doesn’t dry as well as other herbs due to the rapid escape of its essential oils. I prefer to make a tincture or infused honey with the fresh leaves, before the plant flowers. If you make a tea, sun tea works well—a long steep in warm water, rather than boiled. If using hot water, be sure to cover your container to reduce the evaporation of volatile oils.  Enjoy!
1. Mountain Rose Herbs:
2. University of MD Medical Center:
3, 4. Hoffman, David. Medical Herbalism. 2003. pg. 567.