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Melissa officinalis


Melissa officinalis  

[span class=alert]In regards to the Traditional Use and Therapeutic Action sections of Essential Oils, the oils are rated as is standard practice in the French school of aromatherapy and others. The ratings ranked from one (+) to four (++++) with four indicating the highest value, indicate the oil’s therapeutic value from a practicing clinician’s point of view. The French rating system mentioned are obtained from this book reference entitle ‘Les Cahiers Pratiques D'Aromatherapie Selon L'Ecole Francaise’ (Authors: Francine Baudry, Pascal Debauche & Dominique Baudoux). However, further clarification might be required and will be updated once additional information of the rating system is obtained.[/span]

Family Name


Genus Name


Vernacular Name

Lemon balm, melissa, balm, common balm

Original Habitat

The herbaceous lemon balm plant belongs to the mint family and has a strong aroma of grassy lemons.  Native to areas such as the Mediterranean, this plant can reproduce and spread quickly and now grows readily in many parts of the world including North America.[1] M. officinalis requires some sunlight in order to grow and while it can winter over in colder areas, it needs warm temperatures in order to germinate.  When grown in colder regions, it requires more direct sunlight.

Plant Part Used

Flowers, leaves


The essential oil is not known to be used in foods, beverages or fragrances.[2] In therapeutic Aromatherapy, it is used as both a single oil and in targeted formulations.


The essential oil of M. officinalis is thin in consistency and clear to pale yellow in colour. It has a sweet, herbaceous aroma. Note that this oil is consistently adulterated and therefore identification by physical properties is not consistent. Typically synthetic oil is used.[2]

This plant grows to about one mere tall and has large oval shaped leaves. It grows in clumps and produces small, white flowers.

Note: this plant is sometimes confused with Bee balm which is an incorrect identification


Chemical Constituents

Beta-caryophyllene-oxide [3][4]

Medicinal Uses


Antioxidant: M. officinalis oil exhibited strong free radical scavenging activity by reducing radical formation. This was shown to occur in a dose-dependent manner.4 Other studies have confirmed this antioxidant activity.[5][6]

Anticholinesterase: Lemon balm essential oil showed high AChE inhibition in an in vitro setting when tested among other plant extracts and oil.[6]

Antimicrobial: M. officinalis essential oil has been shown to be effective towards food-born pathogens.  These include Listeria strains and Staphylococcus aureus.[7] [8] In addition, the oil has shown antimicrobial activity against Shingella sonnei, a cause of dysentery.[4]

Antifungal: Using the disc diffusion method, M. officinalis essential oil demonstrated the highest antifungal activity against several strains of yeast of oils tested. The citral (neral with geranial) content was thought to be responsible for this action.[9]

Antiherpes: Since herpes simplex virus may become resistant to common antiviral drugs, researchers examined M. officinalis essential oil against both HSV 1 and HSV 2 in vitro on monkey kidney cells as an alternative antiviral. Plaque formation was greatly reduced at 98.8% for HSV 1 and 97.2% for HSV 2. Because this oil can penetrate skin, it may be considered for topical treatment of herpes.[10]

Antitumor: Using both animal and human cell lines, M. officinalis oil demonstrated anti-tumor properties.[5]

Traditional Use

Anxiety and stress++++
Anger and aggression++++
Digestive aid++ [5][11]

CNS depressant: A small study conducted in the UK examined the role of M. officinalis essential oil in agitation due to dementia. Participants received aromatherapy with M. officinalis essential oil or placebo in a topical application twice daily. Reduction of agitation scores were seen in 60% of the lemon balm group compared to 14% of the placebo group.[12]

In an animal setting, the combination of lemon balm and lavender essential oil showed depressant activity of the central nervous system thereby reducing agitation.[13]

Contraindications and Precautions

Due to the consistent adulteration of this oil, it is not recommended for use in Aromatherapy unless by a trained professional as potential for toxicity cannot be determined when the adulterants are not identified.[2]

Not to be used by pregnant or nursing women.

Those with sensitive skin should avoid this oil.

Not to be used with children.


[span class=alert]Keep out of reach of children as oils are highly concentrated.Essential oils are irritating to the eyes.  Avoid contact with eye area.Always dilute essential oils with carrier oil, lotion, cream or gel even when using in diffuser or bath.Essential oils are sometimes prescribed to be used internally, but should only be used internally under professional supervision.[/span]

Read More

  1) Medicinal Herbs

  2) South Central America Herbs


1.     Rose J. 375 essential oils and hydrosols. California: Frog, Ltd. Press; 1999.

2.     Lis Balchin M. Aromatherapy Science: A Guide for Healthcare Professionals. Pharmaceutical Press; 2006:227-228.

3.     Tittel G. Chemical composition of the essential oil from Melissa. [Article in German]. Planta Med. Oct 1982;46(10):91-98.

4.     Mimica-Dukic N. Antimicrobial and antioxidant activities of Melissa officinalis L. (Lamiaceae) essential oil. J Agric Food Chem. 5 May 2004;52(9):2485-2489.

5.     De Sousa AC. Melissa officinalis L. essential oil: antitumoral and antioxidant activities. J Pharm Pharmacol. May 2004;56(5):677-681.

6.     Ferreira A. The in vitro screening for acetylcholinesterase inhibition and antioxidant activity of medicinal plants from Portugal. J Ethnopharmacol. 3 Nov 2006;108(1):31-37.

7.     Gutierrez J. Antimicrobial activity of plant essential oils using food model media: efficacy, synergistic potential and interactions with food components. Food Microbiol. Apr 2009;26(2):142-150.

8.     Gutierrez J. Efficacy of plant essential oils against foodborne pathogens and spoilage bacteria associated with ready-to-eat vegetables: antimicrobial and sensory screening. J Food Prot. Sep 2008;71(9):1846-1854.

9.     Araújo C. Activity of essential oils from Mediterranean Lamiaceae species against food spoilage yeasts. J Food Prot. Apr 2003;66(4):625-632.

10.  Schnitzler P. Melissa officinalis oil affects infectivity of enveloped herpesviruses. Phytomedicine. Sep 2008;15(9):734-740.

11.  Raines T. Investigation of the anxiolytic effects of luteolin, a lemon balm flavonoid in the male Sprague-Dawley rat. AANA J. Feb 2009;77(1):33-36.

12.  Ballard CG. Aromatherapy as a safe and effective treatment for the management of agitation in severe dementia: the results of a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial with Melissa. J Clin Psychiatry. Jul 2002;63(7):553-558.

13.  Huang L. Pharmacological profile of essential oils derived from Lavandula angustifolia and Melissa officinalis with anti-agitation properties: focus on ligand-gated channels. J Pharm Pharmacol. Nov 2008;60(11):1515-1522.


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