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Lemon balm

Written by: Ekatrina Barrett (2015)
Editor: Raffael Dudler (Dudler Herbal (July 2016).
(We acknowledge and thank Lincoln College for their support in sharing this monograph for educational purposes).

Botanical Information

Melissa officinalis is a member of the mint family, Lamiaceae (Labiatae).
It is a citrus-scented, aromatic perennial herb that grows to a height of 60cm.
The heart-shaped leaves are simple and arranged in an opposite formation, with deep veins and scalloped edges. Melissa flowers from June to October, and has small flowers on its axis, ranging in colour from white or yellow to a light pink (Hanrahan and Frey, 2005).

Common names/synonyms:
Balm, Faucibarba officinalis (L.) Dulac, Honeyplant, Lemon Balm, Mutelia officinalis (L.) Gren. ex Mutel, Sweet Balm, Thymus melissa Krause (Medicines Complete, 2015).

Plant Chemistry

Melissa contains a volatile oil that is composed of around 70 components, over 60% of which are monoterpenes. (Bisset, 1994) The main constituents as identified in a trial for efficacy against HSV were the monoterpenaldehydes citral a, citral b and citronellal. (Shnitzler et al., 2008).
It also has a composition of around 0.5% flavonoids, including apigenin and glycosides of luteolin (Heitz et al., 2000). Polyphenols are another active constituent of Melissa; these include (caffeic acid, chlorogenic acid and rosmarinic acid) (Carnat et al., 1998).

Preparation and use

Parts used: Dried leaves and flowering tops (Medicines Complete, 2015).
Dosage: M. officinalis can be used topically and internally. (Blumenthal et al., 2000).
In his book, Dr. James Duke described Melissa’s safety rating as “safer than coffee”, his highest safety rating for herbs (Duke, 2002).
Melissa can be taken in the form of an infusion, capsules, as an essential oil, a fluid extract, a tincture or as a poultice (Morrison, 2015).

Medicinal Uses

Traditional use
Culpeper wrote that Melissa “causeth the heart to become merry” (Bellamy, 1993). Cultures in the past have recorded similar experiences; an Arabian proverb states “Balm makes the heart merry and joyful” (Payne, 2006), and Avicenna advocated the use of Melissa in the treatment of depression and melancholy in 11th century Persia (Dobelis, 1986). John Gerard agreed with the use of Melissa as a remedy for melancholy in the 17th century, as well as writing about the use of Melissa for treatment of the “bitings of venomous beasts”(Gerard, 1975), which was something that the 1st century Greek physician Dioscordes had recommended Melissa for also (the stings of scorpions and dog bites in particular) (Gunther, 1959).

Antiviral effects
Melissa has been found to be effective at inhibiting a variety of viruses (ESCOP, 1999). These viruses have included the Semliki Forest Virus, Newcastle Disease Virus, Vaccinia and Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) (Cohen et al., 1964). In the treatment of HSV-1 and HSV-2, an in vitro test showed that Melissa is capable of exerting a direct virucidal effect on the herpes virus, and was suggested as a possible topical treatment for herpetic infections (Schnitzler et al., 2008). The same study showed that there was a positive correlation with dosage and efficacy, with higher doses abolishing viral activity almost entirely. Another in vitro study on the efficacy of Melissa’s inhibition of HSV-2 supported the use of Melissa topically on skin lesions and advocated further clinical trials (Mazzanti et al., 2008).
There have also been a number of studies into the anti-viral effects of Melissa on HSV when applied topically conducted on human volunteers, with a positive result in the treatment of recurrent outbreaks, however it is unknown if Melissa promotes protection against further outbreaks (Brendler et al., 2005)
Melissa has been found to have promising effects on the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (Yamasaki et al., 1998). The in vitro study involved cells taken from a patient with HIV-1, and an aqueous extract of Melissa demonstrated potent inhibitory activity against the replication of HIV-1.

Antifungal and Antibacterial effects
Melissa exhibited antimicrobial effects on the yeasts Candida albicans and Saccharomyces cerevisiae, and antimicrobial activity against Pseudomonas putida, Staphylococcus aureus, Micrococcus luteus, Mycobacterium smegmatis, Proteus vulgaris, Shigella sonnei and E. coli. (Larrondo et al., 1995).
The most effective antimicrobial activity was the efficacy of Melissa on a multi-resistant strain of Shigella sonei (Simin et al., 2008). Antifungal activity was also exhibited by Melissa officinalis on the Trichophyton species (Simin et al., 2008).

Mood and Cognitive effects
One study on human volunteers showed that a 600mg dose of Melissa officinalis extract helped to improve mood and alertness, as well as having a calming effect (Kennedy et al., 2004). The same study showed that a 300mg dose increased mathematical processing speed. Another study showed that whilst an extract of Melissa did not improve word recall, spatial or numeric memory, it improved attention (Kennedy et al., 2002).
A conflicting study using a 1600mg dose of dried leaf showed that Melissa did improve memory, as well as calmness (Kennedy et al., 2003). A study specifically on the calming effect showed that a combination of Valerian and Melissa decreased anxiety in subjects at a dose of 600mg, but increased anxiety symptoms at a higher dose of 1800mg (Kennedy et al., 2006). In light of the former study using Melissa at a higher dose improving calmness, it may be that it was the Valerian extract or the combination of Valerian and Melissa that caused an increase in anxiety at 1800mg.

Alzheimer’s Disease
Due to the cognitive effects of Melissa officinalis, it has been suggested as a potential route of investigation in regards to being useful as part of treatment in Alzheimer’s disease. (Kennedy et al., 2003) Studies have found that the essential oil of Melissa has antioxidant effects, as well as an ability to inhibit acetylcholinesterase, which could be effective in the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease.

Other effects
Lemon balm is approved by the German Commission E for nervous sleep disorders and functional gastrointestinal complaints, and the European Scientific Cooperative on Phytotherapy recommends internal use of Melissa for ‘tenseness, restlessness, irritability, digestive disorders and minor spasms’ (Blumenthal et al., 2000).


None are known. Some sources contraindicate the use of Melissa to treat individuals with hypothyroidism due to the implications of potential thyroid disruption seen in in vitro studies on animal cells ((Santini et al., 2003) This is debatable; Dr. James Duke stated that Melissa seemed to have the ability to normalise thyroid function, whether there was too much or too little (Duke, 2008).


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Blumenthal, M., Goldberg, A. and Brinckmann, J. (2000) Herbal medicine: expanded Commission E monographs. Newton, MA, Integrative Medicine Communications.
Brendler, T. et al. (2005) Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis L.): an evidence-based systematic review by the Natural Standard Research Collaboration. Journal of herbal pharmacotherapy, 5(4) pp. 71-114.
Carnat, A.P. et al. (1998) The aromatic and polyphenolic composition of lemon balm (Melissa officinalis L. subsp. officinalis) tea, Pharm Acta Helv, (72), pp. 301–305.
Cohen, R.A., Kucera, L.S. and Herrmann, E.C. (1964) Antiviral Activity of Melissa officinalis (Lemon Balm) Extract. Proc Soc Exp Biol Med, (117), pp. 431-4.
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Gunther, R.T. (1959) The Greek herbal of Dioscorides, New York, Hafner Publishing.
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Kennedy, D.O. et al. (2002) Modulation of mood and cognitive performance following acute administration of Melissa officinalis (lemon balm), Pharmacology, biochemistry and behaviour, (72), pp. 953-964.
Kennedy, D.O. et al. (2006) Anxiolytic effects of a combination of Melissa officinalis and Valeriana officinalis during laboratory induced stress, Phytotherapy research, (20), pp. 96-102.
Kennedy, D.O. et al.(2003) Modulation of mood and cognitive performance following acute administration of single doses of Melissa officinalis (lemon balm) with human CNS nicotinic and muscarinic receptor-binding properties, Neuropsychopharmacology, (28), pp. 1871-1881.
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Mazzanti, G., Battinelli, L., Pompeo, C., Serrilli, A.M., Rossi, R., Sauzullo, I., Mengoni, F. and Vullo, V. (2008) Inhibitory activity of Melissa officinalis L. extract on Herpes simplex virus type 2 replication. Natural Product Research, (22)16, pp. 1433-1440.
Medicines Complete (2015) Melissa [on line] Available from https://www.medicinescomplete.com/mc/herbals/current/HBL1000735231.htm [Accessed 27 Nov 2015].
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Payne, B. (2006) Modest melissa, Herbs, 31(1) pp. 10-11.

Santini, F., Vitti, P., Ceccarini, G., Mammoli, C., Rosellini, V., Pelosini, C., Marsili, A., Tonacchera, M., Agretti, P., Santoni, T., Chiovato, L. and Pinchera, A. (2003) In vitro assay of thyroid disruptors affecting TSH-stimulated adenylate cyclase activity. J Endocrinol Invest., 26(10), pp. 950-5.
Schnitzler, P., Schuhmacher, A., Astani, A. and Reichling, J. (2008) Melissa officinalis oil affects infectivity of enveloped herpesviruses, Phytomedicine, (15)9, pp. 734-74.
Simin, N., Mimica-Dukic, N., Bozin, B., and Sokovic, M. (2004) Antimicrobial and Antioxidant Activities of Melissa officinalis L. (Lamiaceae) Essential Oil. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 52(9), pp. 2485-2489.
Yamasaki, K. et al. (1998) Anti-HIV-1 activity of herbs in Labiatae. Biol Pharm Bull, (21) pp. 829–833.