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12 Interesting Facts About Lemon Balm

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What is Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)?

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is an herbaceous plant in the mint family that is native to southern Europe and the Mediterranean region1. It has been used medicinally for over 2000 years, with historical records showing it was valued by Greek, Roman, and medieval herbalists for its calming and soothing properties.

Lemon balm gets its name from its lemon-scented leaves, which when crushed release a lemon aroma. The leaves contain chemicals like citral and citronellal which give it a lemon flavor and scent. In addition to being used to flavor foods and drinks, lemon balm has also been used traditionally to treat anxiety, insomnia, indigestion, cold sores, and other conditions.

Modern research has shown some evidence that lemon balm supplements may help reduce symptoms of stress, anxiety, and poor sleep, as well as have antiviral effects that could help treat cold sores caused by the herpes virus. However, many uses of lemon balm still lack strong clinical evidence. The herb is generally considered safe when used orally in moderation but can cause mild side effects like nausea and wheezing in some people.

Keep reading to learn 12 fascinating facts about this versatile herb!

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)

Interesting Facts About Lemon Balm

1. Lemon balm has been used since ancient times

Lemon balm can be traced back over 2,000 years to the Mediterranean region where it grew wild. Ancient Greek and Roman civilizations used it for everything from treating insect bites to seasoning meats and seafood to making perfumes. Monks in Medieval Europe later cultivated lemon balm in monastery gardens for its medicinal properties.

2. It was traditionally believed to lift mood and spirit

In the Middle Ages, lemon balm earned the nickname “the gladdening herb” because people believed that its fresh, lemony aroma could lift mood, banish melancholy, and improve mental clarity and focus. Modern research suggests it may have mild sedative and antidepressant effects.

3. The leaves can be used in cooking

The fresh or dried leaves of lemon balm can add flavor to a variety of dishes and beverages. Add them to fruit salads, vegetable dishes, poultry or fish recipes, herbal teas, and even cocktails for a subtle lemon flavor. The leaves also make a flavorful addition to marinades, stuffings, and sauces.

4. Lemon balm may help relieve stress

Several studies indicate that lemon balm has anti-stress effects and may help improve mood in stressful situations. One study found that participants who took lemon balm extract before a stressful math task reported increased calmness and reduced alertness. More research is needed, but the preliminary results are promising.

5. It has antioxidant properties

Lemon balm contains several antioxidant compounds, including rosmarinic acid and flavonoids, that can help neutralize cell-damaging free radicals in the body. Antioxidants are an important part of an overall healthy diet and may offer protective effects against certain diseases.

6. The Essential oil has antimicrobial effects

Lemon balm essential oil has shown antimicrobial activity against certain bacteria and fungi in test tube studies. One study found it to be effective against two common causes of foodborne illness – Listeria and Staphylococcus aureus. However, more studies are needed to determine if these results translate to real-world applications.

7. Lemon balm may support brain health

Some early research suggests that lemon balm may help protect brain cells and support cognitive function, especially in neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s disease. One small study found improved cognitive function and reduced agitation in Alzheimer’s patients who took lemon balm extract. More research is underway to investigate lemon balm’s potential brain benefits.

8. It could help ease insomnia

lemon balm
lemon balm by loveberry is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 .

Drinking lemon balm tea may help promote sleep, thanks to the herb’s natural sedative effects. One study found that people with mild sleep disorders reported sleeping better after taking a lemon balm and valerian extract, with no morning grogginess. Lemon balm may help calm nervous tension that can lead to insomnia.

9. Lemon balm may soothe digestive issues

Traditionally used to treat digestive problems, lemon balm continues to be investigated for gastrointestinal benefits like relaxing stomach and intestinal muscles. Some preliminary research suggests it may help ease indigestion, gas, and cramping – but more studies are needed to confirm effectiveness and optimal doses.

10. The plant attracts pollinators

With its small but plentiful nectar-producing flowers, lemon balm naturally attracts bees, butterflies, and other beneficial pollinating insects to gardens. Its sweet floral scent also helps lure in pollinators. By planting some lemon balm, gardeners can support local pollinator populations which are vital for natural ecosystems and agriculture.

11. It’s easy to grow at home

Lemon balm thrives in a wide range of climates and soil types, making it a great option for home gardens. It grows rapidly and spreads quickly, so gardeners should contain lemon balm to prevent overgrowth. It can be planted in full sun but appreciates afternoon shade in hotter zones. Remember to prune flowering stems to encourage leaf growth for harvesting.

12. You can get creative with lemon balm recipes

Beyond making tea, there are endless ways to use lemon balm like making refreshing ice pops, flavorful compound butter, fruit-infused vodka, soothing bath salts, uplifting room spray, facial toner for glowing skin, and so much more! Get creative with lemon balm in your DIY recipes.


With its bright citrusy aroma and variety of potential health benefits, it’s easy to see why lemon balm has been treasured for over two millennia! Next time you’re looking to add new flavors to your recipes or want to naturally boost your mood, memory, or sleep, consider the powerful little lemon balm plant.

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