Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) has been cultivated for over 2000 years and has a long history as a bee plant – the Romans placed sprigs in their hives to attract swarms and the name ‘melissa’ is from the Greek word for ‘bee’. The name ‘balm’ is an abbreviation of ‘balsam’ which denotes sweet-smelling oils.
Its therapeutic uses were promoted by Arab physicians of the 10th and 11th centuries and many writers praise its ability to reduce swelling and close wounds. However, historically, greatest praise is reserved for its supposed ability to revivify or renew and was a favourite ingredient in medieval elixirs of youth.
A relaxing restorative for the nervous system, this herb is also credited with strengthening memory and relieving melancholy. Nowadays and infusion made from the fresh leaves might be taken for depression or nervous exhaustion, as well as indigestion and nausea, and a pad soaked in the infusion is still used to relieve painful swellings. The leaves are used externally to treat bites and stings – and the ointment will also repel insects.
The herb induces a mild perspiration, and makes a cooling tea for feverish patients in catarrh or influenza.
An aromatic, cooling, sedative herb with carminative, diaphoretic and febrifuge properties. Cold and dry in character. Cut the plants as flowering begins.
PLEASE NOTE: These notes on the history and use of herbs have been compiled for general interest and are not intended as medical advice, for which you should consult a professional herbalist.
'A Modern Herbal' Mrs M. Grieve FRHS ed. Mrs C. F. Leyel (1973)
'The Herb Society's Complete Medicinal Herbal' Penelope Ody MNIMH (1993)
'RHS Encyclopedia of Herbs and Their Uses' Deni Brown (2002)