Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), also known as balm or balm mint and not to be confused with bee balm (which is genus Monarda), is a perennial herb in the mint family Lamiaceae, native to center-southern Europe and the Mediterranean region.
It grows to 70–150 cm tall. The leaves have a gentle lemon scent, related to mint. During summer, small white flowers full of nectar appear. These attract bees, hence the genus name Melissa (Greek for 'honey bee'). Its flavour comes from citronellal (24%), geranial (16%), linalyl acetate (12%) and caryophyllene (12%).
Lemon balm requires light and at least 20 degrees Celsius (70 degrees Fahrenheit) to germinate.
Lemon balm grows in clumps and spreads vegetatively as well as by seed. In mild temperate zones, the stems of the plant die off at the start of the winter, but shoot up again in spring. Lemon Balm grows vigorously and should not be planted where it will spread into other plantings.
Melissa officinalis may be the "honey-leaf" (μελισσόφυλλον) mentioned by Theophrastus. It was in the herbal garden of John Gerard, 1596. There are many cultivars of Melissa officinalis, such as:
- M. officinalis 'Citronella'
- M. officinalis 'Lemonella'
- M. officinalis 'Quedlinburger'
- M. officinalis 'Lime'
- M. officinalis ‘Variegata’
- M. officinalis ‘Aurea’
(M. officinalis ‘Quedlinburger Niederliegende’ is an Improved variety bred for high essential oil content.)
Lemon balm is often used as a flavouring in ice cream and herbal teas, both hot and iced, often in combination with other herbs such as spearmint. It is also frequently paired with fruit dishes or candies. It can be used in fish dishes and is the key ingredient in lemon balm pesto. It has been suggested that it might be a better, healthier preservative than beta hydroxy acid in sausages 
It is also used as an anxiolytic, mild sedative or calming agent. At least one study has found it to be effective at reducing stress, although the study's authors call for further research. Lemon balm extract was identified as a potent in vitro inhibitor of GABA transaminase, which explains anxiolytic effects. The major compound responsible for GABA transaminase inhibition activity in lemon balm was then found to be rosmarinic acid.
Lemon balm and preparations thereof also have been shown to improve mood and mental performance. These effects are believed to involve muscarinic and nicotinic acetylcholine receptors. Positive results have been achieved in a small clinical trial involving Alzheimer patients with mild to moderate symptoms. Essential oils obtained from Melissa officinalis leaf showed high acetylcholinesterase and butyrylcholinesterase co-inhibitory activities.
Its antibacterial properties have also been demonstrated scientifically, although they are markedly weaker than those from a number of other plants studied. The extract of lemon balm was also found to have exceptionally high antioxidant activity.
Lemon balm is mentioned in the scientific journal Endocrinology, where it is explained that Melissa officinalis exhibits antithyrotropic activity, inhibiting TSH from attaching to TSH receptors, hence making it of possible use in the treatment of Graves' disease or hyperthyroidism.
Ob-X, a mixture of three herbs, Morus alba, M. officinalis, and Artemisia capillaris, may help regulate obesity. Ob-X reduces body weight gain and visceral adipose tissue mass in genetically obese mice.
Recent research found a daily dose of the tea reduced oxidative stress status in radiology staff that were exposed to persistent low-dose radiation during work. After only 30 days of taking the tea daily researchers found Lemon balm tea resulted in a significant improvement in plasma levels of catalase, superoxide dismutase, and glutathione peroxidase and a marked reduction in plasma DNA damage, myeloperoxidase, and lipid peroxidation.
Lemon balm was found to be effective in the amelioration of laboratory-induced stress in human subjects, producing "significantly increased self-ratings of calmness and reduced self-ratings of alertness." The authors further report a "significant increase in the speed of mathematical processing, with no reduction in accuracy" following the administration of a 300 mg dose of extract.
Lemon balm contains eugenol, which kills bacteria and has been shown to calm muscles and numb tissues. It also contains tannins that contribute to its antiviral effects, as well as terpenes that add to its soothing effects.
Melissa officinalis also contains 1-octen-3-ol, 10-alpha-cadinol, 3-octanol, 3-octanone, alpha-cubebene, alpha-humulene, beta-bourbonene, caffeic acid, caryophyllene, caryophyllene oxide, catechinene, chlorogenic acid, cis-3-hexenol, cis-ocimene, citral A, citral B, citronellal, copaene, delta-cadinene, eugenyl acetate, gamma-cadinene, geranial, geraniol, geranyl acetate, germacrene D, isogeranial, linalool, luteolin-7-glucoside, methylheptenone, neral, nerol, octyl benzoate, oleanolic acid, pomolic acid, protocatechuic acid, rhamnazine, rosmarinic acid, rosmarinin acid, stachyose, succinic acid, thymol, trans-ocimene and ursolic acid.
- "Melissa officinalis information from NPGS/GRIN". www.ars-grin.gov. Retrieved 2008-03-04.
- Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Balm". Encyclopædia Britannica 3 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- United States Department of Agriculture, "PLANTS Profile for Melissa officinalis," http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=MEOF2. Retrieved July 2, 2010.
- Theophrastus, Enquiry into Plants, VI.1.4, identified as "M. officinalis" in the index of the Loeb Classical Library edition by Arthur F. Hort, 1916 etc.
- As "Melissa" (Common Blam) in both issues of Gerard's Catalogus, 1596, 1599: Benjamin Daydon Jackson, A catalogue of plants cultivated in the garden of John Gerard, in the years 1596-1599, 1876;
- de Ciriano M.G.-I., Rehecho S., Calvo M.I., Cavero R.Y., Navarro I., Astiasarán I., Ansorena D.,"Effect of lyophilized water extracts of Melissa officinalis on the stability of algae and linseed oil-in-water emulsion to be used as a functional ingredient in meat products", Meat Science 2010 85:2 (373-377)
- Jeong-Kyu KIM, Chang-Soo KANG, Jong-Kwon LEE, Young-Ran KIM, Hye-Yun HAN, Hwa Kyung YUN (2005). "Evaluation of Repellency Effect of Two Natural Aroma Mosquito Repellent Compounds, Citronella and Citronellal". Entomological Research 35 (2): 117–120. doi:10.1111/j.1748-5967.2005.tb00146.x.
- Kucera, Louis S.; Cohen, Ronald A.; Herrmann, Ernest C. (2006). "Antiviral Activities of Extracts of the Lemon Balm Plant". Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 130 (1): 474–82. doi:10.1111/j.1749-6632.1965.tb12584.x. PMID 4285591.
- Allahverdiyev, A; Duran, N; Ozguven, M; Koltas, S (2004). "Antiviral activity of the volatile oils of L. Against virus type-2". Phytomedicine 11 (7-8): 657–61. doi:10.1016/j.phymed.2003.07.014. PMID 15636181.
- Schnitzler, P; Schuhmacher, A; Astani, A; Reichling, J (2008). "Melissa officinalis oil affects infectivity of enveloped herpesviruses". Phytomedicine 15 (9): 734–40. doi:10.1016/j.phymed.2008.04.018. PMID 18693101.
- Kennedy, D. O.; Little, W; Scholey, AB (2004). "Attenuation of Laboratory-Induced Stress in Humans After Acute Administration of Melissa officinalis (Lemon Balm)". Psychosomatic Medicine 66 (4): 607–13. doi:10.1097/01.psy.0000132877.72833.71. PMID 15272110.
- Awad, Rosalie; Muhammad, Asim; Durst, Tony; Trudeau, Vance L.; Arnason, John T. (2009). "Bioassay-guided fractionation of lemon balm (Melissa officinalisL.) using anin vitromeasure of GABA transaminase activity". Phytotherapy Research 23 (8): 1075–81. doi:10.1002/ptr.2712. PMID 19165747.
- Kennedy, D O; Wake, G; Savelev, S; Tildesley, N T J; Perry, E K; Wesnes, K A; Scholey, A B (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 (10): 1871–81. doi:10.1038/sj.npp.1300230. PMID 12888775.
- Akhondzadeh, S (2003). "Melissa officinalis extract in the treatment of patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease: a double blind, randomised, placebo controlled trial". Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry 74: 863–6. doi:10.1136/jnnp.74.7.863. PMC 1738567. PMID 12810768.
- Chaiyana W., Okonogi S."Inhibition of cholinesterase by essential oil from food plant". Phytomedicine. 19 (8-9) (pp 836-839), 2012.
- Nascimento, Gislene G. F.; Locatelli, Juliana; Freitas, Paulo C.; Silva, Giuliana L. (2000). "Antibacterial activity of plant extracts and phytochemicals on antibiotic-resistant bacteria". Brazilian Journal of Microbiology 31: 247–56. doi:10.1590/S1517-83822000000400003.
- Dastmalchi, K; Damiendorman, H; Oinonen, P; Darwis, Y; Laakso, I; Hiltunen, R (2008). "Chemical composition and in vitro antioxidative activity of a lemon balm (Melissa officinalis L.) extract". LWT - Food Science and Technology 41: 391–400. doi:10.1016/j.lwt.2007.03.007.
- Auf'mkolk, M.; Ingbar, J. C.; Kubota, K.; Amir, S. M.; Ingbar, S. H. (1985). "Extracts and Auto-Oxidized Constituents of Certain Plants Inhibit the Receptor-Binding and the Biological Activity of Graves' Immunoglobulins". Endocrinology 116 (5): 1687–93. doi:10.1210/endo-116-5-1687. PMID 2985357.
- University of Maryland Medical Centre, "Lemon Balm"
- Yoon M; Kim MY (2011). "The anti-angiogenic herbal composition Ob-X from Morus alba, Melissa officinalis, and Artemisia capillaris regulates obesity in genetically obese ob/ob mice". Pharmaceutical Biology 49 (6): 614–619. doi:10.3109/13880209.2010.539617. PMID 21449830.
- Zeraatpishe A., Oryan S., Bagheri M.H., Pilevarian A.A., Malekirad A.A., Baeeri M., Abdollahi M."Effects of Melissa officinalis L. on oxidative status and DNA damage in subjects exposed to long-term low-dose ionizing radiation" Toxicology and Industrial Health 2011 27:3 (205-212)
- Kennedy DO, Little W, Scholey AB (2004). "Attenuation of laboratory-induced stress in humans after acute administration of Melissa officinalis (Lemon Balm)". Psychosom Med 66 (4): 607–13. doi:10.1097/01.psy.0000132877.72833.71. PMID 15272110.
- Hiller, Sabine (September 06, 2010). "FOOD Using lemon balm in the kitchen". The Mayo News. Retrieved May 02, 2012.
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