Lemon Balm Benefits, Uses & History

When it comes to herbology, it can be quite exciting and nerve-racking to learn about the benefits and uses of different herbs.

Exciting because it can be amazing to learn all the amazing properties nature has, and nerve-racking because there are so many herbs out there that give not-so-nice side effects. 

One of the herbs that we get asked about most often is lemon balm.

Lemon balm has long remained a really popular herb all over the world, but for herb newbies, it still presents something of a mystery. 

Lemon Balm Benefits, Uses & History

In this article we will be taking you through the history of lemon balm, telling you exactly what it is, what it does, what it is used for, and any benefits for your health that it might have. 

So, if you are curious about lemon balm, or just want to expand your herb knowledge even more, then this is the article for you. 

What is lemon balm? 

Lemon balm, also known by its Latin name Melissa officinalis is a herb that is derived from the same family as the popular herb, mint. It is a perennial herbaceous plant and is native to parts of Europe, central Asia, Iran, and the Mediterranean basin.

However, it is now grown in places all around the world! 

The name Melissa officinalis is derived from two different Greek and Latin words. Melissa is the Greek word for the honey bee, and Officinalis is a Latin word meaning “of the shop”.

This is likely in reference to the fact that the herb was often sold by apothecaries in their shop. 

The lemon balm plant can grow to heights of around 39 inches maximum. In terms of appearance, it is a bushy plant with thin stems and heart-shaped leaves.

The leaves are relatively small and very rarely exceed 3.15 inches. However, they are typically much smaller than this, starting from just over half an inch. 

The leaves are soft and hairy with a rough veiny surface. You can recognize the leaves of a lemon balm through these characteristics, and the fact that they have scalloped edges.

As well as this, we must also make note of the very distinct fragrance on the leaves of the lemon balm plant.

The mild lemon scent is what gives it its name, and the fragrance can be smelled from the leaves upon touching them or if the sun causes them to give off fragrance.  

The lemon balm plant also grows flowers in the summer months. These are small delicate flowers colored white or pink. These flowers attract honeybees and other pollinators as they are filled with nectar.

That being said, you should not confuse lemon balm with bee balm (also known as bergamot) as they are very different plants! 

It is thought that the lemon balm plant can live for up to 10 years, although the crop plant gets replaced after just 5 years to allow for the rejuvenation of the ground in which it grows.

It grows from a seed and enjoys having very rich and moist soil. 

In terms of temperatures, it needs at least 68 degrees Fahrenheit to germinate, and then when it is ready to grow it grows as a clump and then spreads. It spreads as a new plant, also known as vegetatively.

What this means is that the plant can grow out of a new plant. 

Cultivation is done by hand, usually during the summer months, between June and August, and on a dry day so the dampness doesn’t turn the leaves black.

At the moment, the main producers of lemon balm for commercial use are in Hungary, Italy, and Egypt. 

What is the history of lemon balm? 

Lemon balm has been used throughout history as a medicinal herb. Its usage can be traced back as far as over 2000 years ago, in the times of the ancient Greeks and ancient Romans.

It spread globally throughout history and is thought to have become available in Spain around the 7th century, Spain then became the base for its spread around the rest of Europe which occurred before the Middle Ages and through the Middle Ages. 

Its use in the Middle Ages was widespread, and it has been noted numerous times that it was used for its health and vitality restoring properties.

In fact, it was referred to as the “elixir of life” by a physicist, Paracelsus. 

The use of lemon balm grew even more popular during the Tudor rule in England. It is said that they would scatter dried lemon balm onto their floors for scent and the supposed health benefits.

It was also in this era that it was recognized as a favorite plant of the bees. It became a popular flower and herb to grow for those who wanted to produce honey. 

The first colonists from Europe that went to the Americas took over lemon balm plants, and thus the introduction of lemon balm to North America occurred.

It is said to have been grown by Thomas Jefferson in the Gardens of Monticello in Virginia. 

The widespread use of it has remained, and to this day, it is still used all around the world for a number of different products. It can be used as an ornamental plant, as an ingredient in alternative medicine, and as an ingredient for foods.

We will be exploring these uses in more detail in a later section of the article, but suffice to say, for now, lemon balm has a vibrant history and has been in use for thousands of years, and the use of it does not seem to be dwindling anytime soon. 

Lemon Balm in mythology 

Whilst there are no records of the use of Lemon balm in mythology so to speak, it is important to mention that the very name of lemon balm, the Latin Melissa Officinalis, is a direct reference to Greek mythology.

Melissa was the name of a nymph who played an important role in Greek mythology.

It was she that discovered honey, and as well as this, she nursed the infant Zeus, connecting her with the god of Greek mythology. 

Mellisa was a nymph that could, as the myths say, turn into a bee. Therefore, the name Melissa was given to mean honeybee.

As you will know from an earlier section of this article,m the lemon balm plant is very attractive to honeybees and other pollinators in the summer months when it has small pink and white flowers on there.

These are full of nectar. 

The symbolism of bees doesn’t just stop there. It is also thought to be representative of both Artemis and The Oracle at Delphi.

As such, any plants and flowers favored by bees were treated with utmost respect and importance. 

Even today, those who practice witchcraft or follow religions that honor the Greek pantheon regard lemon balm as a representation of these powerful female figures, and the plant itself is associated with both power and immortality, as well as feminine traits and bees. 

What is lemon balm used for? 

Lemon Balm

Lemon balm, as you may know from the rest of the article, has a number of uses. From medicine to culinary use, and even as an essential oil, the ways you can use it are endless.

Historically, lemon balm has been a medicinal plant. It is often featured in ointments, tinctures, and potions designed to help various ailments (more on these supposed benefits in the next section). 

Of course, the use of lemon balm for medicinal purposes was far more common before the age of modern medicine and it could be found in the homes of many apothecaries and everyday people.

It was often ingested or applied topically, depending on the ailment. 

We know this occurred from as early as the times of the ancient Greeks and Romans, right through the Middle Ages, the Tudor times, and even much later.

These days, it is still sued as alternative medicine and may be sued for its supposed benefits, but it also has other uses. 

In more modern times, the use of lemon balm for its benefits still occurs, but it is much more likely to be in the form of teas that can be brewed or as a topical ointment.

It is often included with other herbs to create herbal teas and products. It may also be sued for different types of cooking.

For example, there are some excellent recipes for dishes such as lemon balm pesto, roast chicken with lemon balm, lemon balm bread and cakes, and even lemon balm flavored salmon. 

It has also long been used for its aromatic purposes, and it is not uncommon to find it used as an essential oil in a diffuser, added to scented sachets of herbs, or even used in cosmetics as a fragrance. 

Of course, first and foremost it is a plant and a beautiful one at that. With this in mind, it is no surprise that it is also used as an ornamental plant in gardens all around the world, especially since it attracts pollinators! 

Can you cook with lemon balm? 

Yes! Cooking with lemon balm is easy and we recommend it wholeheartedly if you are a fan of fresh, slightly sweet flavors. 

As mentioned in the previous section, one of the main uses of lemon balm these days is as an ingredient with which you can cook. 

It is common to find it as an ingredient in pestos, roast meats, fish dishes, and even baked goods. 

As well as this, lemon balm tea is a very popular beverage, and there are many recipes out there telling you how you can make your own lemon balm tea at home. 

What are the benefits of using lemon balm? 

There are many supposed health benefits of lemon balm. As you know, it has been sued historically for its medicinal purposes, and to this day, remains a popular form of alternative medicines for a variety of ailments. 

First and foremost, it is thought that using lemon balm can help with anxiety and stress relief. It is thought that taking it orally is best for this, and as such, these days we recommend that you purchase lemon balm in capsule form for the best results.

Just 300 mg of lemon balm, when taken twice a day, can help improve stress. The same goes for anxiety. You can take up to 600mg twice a day for anxiety. 

Of course, if capsules are not your thing, you may want to try drinking some lemon balm tea or using it on your skin in a soothing balm with other ingredients to help reduce stress and anxiety levels.

You may even find that lemon balm essential oil is helpful if you sniff it when you are stressed or diffuse it at home.

Some people have even found that sprinkling some lemon balm leaves onto their food can help to relieve stress and anxiety.

Similarly, it has been said that lemon balm is an excellent herb to take if you are struggling to sleep. Drinking just one cup of lemon balm tea before bed can have very impressive results as it helps to calm your mind and stave off restlessness.

For extra reassurance, try a lemon balm and valerian tea as it is thought to be even more effective when taken together. 

Historically, it was also used for ailments such as nausea and indigestion. It is thought to calm the digestive system and help to relieve abdominal pain and discomfort caused by these issues.

Sp lemon balm tea, or use powdered lemon balm in juice to help these gastrointestinal issues. 

Please bear in mind that the studies done on the use of lemon balm for these reasons are few and far between.

As such it is always best to consult your doctor first before using them, especially if you plan to use them in conjunction with (or instead of) other medicine. 

Keep in mind that there are some potential side effects associated with the use of lemon balm, as with most herbs. These include but are not limited to: 

  • Nausea 
  • Issues with urination
  • Headaches
  • Sickness (vomiting)
  • Dizziness 
  • Allergic reaction
  • Allergies
  • Wheezing
  • High temperature 

If you get any of these side effects after taking lemon balm, please see a doctor immediately.