OMÜ Zir. Fak. Dergisi, 2006,21(1):116-121
J. of Fac. of Agric., OMU, 2006,21(1):116-121
THE ESSENTIAL OIL OF LEMON BALM (Melissa officinalis L.), ITS COMPONENTS
AND USING FIELDS
Reyhan BAHTİYARCA BAĞDAT
Tarla Bitkileri Merkez Araştırma Enstitüsü 06042, Ankara
25 Mart Mah. SSK Blk. 4/12 06200 Lalegül, Ankara
Geliş Tarihi: 02.01.2005
ABSTRACT: Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis L.), member of Lamiaceae (formerly Labiatae) family, is one of the
important medicinal plant species. Today, it is used in different branches of industry (such as medicine, perfume, cosmetic,
and food etc.) in many countries of the world. The main components of lemon balm essential oil, ranged from 0.01 to
0.25%, are 39% citronellal, 33% citral (citronellol, linalool) and geraniol. It is traditionally used as a mild sedative,
spasmolytic and antibacterial agent. In addition, results of a lot of clinical researches have showed that essential oil of lemon
balm can be used in treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, as antioxidant against negative effects of free radicals and an
antitumoral agent and it has positive effect on immune system and stress. By means of its antimicrobial activity it was found
to be effective in inhibiting the spoilage yeast growth in food industry. As to, another popular usage field of this plant is in
perfume and cosmetic industry, due to hydrosol in its essential oil.
Key Words: Lemon balm, essential oil rate, essential oil components, antioxidant, medicinal usage.
OĞULOTU (Melissa officinalis L.)’ NUN UÇUCU YAĞI, BİLEŞENLERİ VE KULLANIM ALANLARI
ÖZET: Lamiacea failyasından olan oğulotu (Melissa officinalis L.) önemli tıbbi bitki türlerinden birisidir. Günümüzde
dünyanın birçok ülkesinde çeşitli sanayi dallarında (tıp, parfümeri, kozmetik ve gıda vb) kullanılmaktadır. Oğulotunda %
0.01 ile 0.25 arasında uçucu yağ bulunur. Bu uçucu yağın ana bileşenleri %39 citronellal, 33% citral (citronellol, linalool) ve
geraniol’dür. Geleneksel olarak yaygın bir şekilde sakinleştirici, spazm giderici ve antibakteriyel olarak kullanılmaktadır.
Bir çok klinik araştırma sonuçları, oğulotu uçucu yağının Alzheimer hastalığının tedavisinde, serbest radikallerinin olumsuz
etkilerine karşı antioksidan ve tümör oluşumunu engelleyen ajan olarak kullanılabileceğini, ayrıca bağışıklık sistemi ve stres
üzerine de olumlu etkilerinin olduğunu göstermiştir. Antimikrobiyel etkisi sayesinde, gıda sanayinde gıdaların bozulmasına
neden olan mayaların gelişimini önleyici etkisi bulunmuştur. Diğer güncel kullanım alanı ise uçucu yağındaki hidrosol
nedeniyle parfümeri ve kozmetik sanayidir.
Anahtar Kelimeler: Oğulotu, uçucu yağ oranı, uçucu yağ bileşenleri, antioksidan, tıpta kullanımı.
Herbal remedies have been used for thousands of
years. Early in human history, people practiced herbal
medicine as a magical or religious healing art (Baker,
1965). Today, a lot of people use herbal medicine or
rely on them. There are many various drug plants. One
of them is lemon balm (Melissa officinalis L.), in other
words bee herb or sweet balm.
Lemon balm, member of the family Lamiaceae
(formerly Labiatae) in scientific classification is a
perennial herb that is, one that lives at least three
years. It is bushy and upright, reaching a height of
about 1 m. The soft, hairy leaves are 2 to 8 cm long
and either heart-shaped. The leaf surface is coarse and
deeply veined, and the leaf edge is scalloped or
toothed. White or pale pink flowers which consist of
small clusters of 4 to 12 blossom in the summer. It is
commonly referred to as Lemon Balm because of its
lemon-like flavor and fragrance (İlisulu, 1992;
Lemon balm, one of the important medicinal plant
species mainly grown in natural flora -especially in
Mediterranian region- of Turkey, is native to southern
Europe and northern Africa, and east as far as the
Caucasus and northern Iran. Its wild types are in all
Mediterranean countries and South part of the Alps.
There are exist on other three subspecies which are
naturally expended in our wild flora; subsp. officinalis,
subsp. altissima and subsp. inodora (Davis, 1982;
İlisulu, 1992; Anonymous, 2003). It is recorded that
the plant is mainly grown in Germany, France, Italy,
Romania, Bulgaria, and North America (Ceylan,
1987, Tansı ve Özgüven 1995). Özhatay et al. (1997)
reported that the subspecies of M. officinalis’ are
evaluated in domestic markets and they are also on the
list of the exported medicinal and aromatic plants.
It is used in traditional medicine from ancient
times. French monks and nuns, and Paracelsus (1493-
1541), Swiss physician and chemist, prepared tonics,
called as “life elixir”, contain lemon balm, and used.
English writer John Evelyn (1620-1706), described
this plant as “ruler of brain, strengthening to mental,
and removing from melancholia”. Its essential oil was
named “bal-smin” or “leader of the oils” in Hebrew.
Avicenna recommends that lemon balm strengthened
heart (Asımgil, 2001; Anonymous, 2003).
Today, lemon balm is used in various branches of
industry (such as medicine, perfume and cosmetic,
and food etc.) in a lot of countries of the world.
2. THE ESSENTIAL OIL OF LEMON BALM
AND ITS COMPONENTS
Lemon balm essential oil, obtained from fresh or
dried flower, leaf, and branches of this plant by water
R. Bahtiyarca Bağdat, B. Coşge
steam distillation or chemical extraction, is
characteristic with fresh lemon odor, and light yellow
colored. Its viscosity is lighter than that of water
(Anonymous, 2003). It was desired that this value
should not be lower than 0.05 % (Baytop, 1984).
The main components of the essential oil are 39%
citronellal, 33% citral (citronellol, linalool) and 2%
geranial. In addition, this oil contains such as
threeterpinene, phenol carbon-acid (rosmarinic acid),
and flavonglychoside acids in low ratio. There are also
caffeic acid (a kind of tannin), several flavonoids
(luteolin-7-O-glucoside, isoquercitrin, apigenin-7-O-
glucoside, and rhamnocitrin), rosmarinic acid, ferulic
acid, methyl carnosoate, hydroxycinnamic acid, and 2-
and some other aldehydes: beta-caryophyllene, neral,
and geranyl acetate. (Kucera and Herrmann, 1967;
Baytop, 1984; Zeybek, 1985; Mulkens and
Kapetanidis, 1987; Peake et al., 1991; Dimitrova et al.,
1993; Vaverkova et al., 1995; Chevallier, 1996;
Ceylan, 1997; Tagashira and Ohtake, 1998; Hohmann
et al., 1999).
Variability in both the content and quality of
essential oil has been observed in herb and leaf drugs
depending on the harvest cut height of plant
(Mrlianova et al., 2001 b), time and number of cut
Results from selected studies currently undertaken
on lemon balm essential oil and its compenent are as
That the essential oil content in the leaves at the
stage just prior to blooming, or at the onset of
blooming, ranged from 0.06 to 0.16 % (V/m), and the
maximal essential oil content (0.09 to 0.45%) was in
the plants from the second harvest in lemonbalm from
17 European regions; the essential oil content in
cultivar Citra from Bratislav was 0.13% and 0.23-
0.27%, in 1st harvest and 2nd harvest, respectively were
determined by Mrlianova et al. (2001 a).
Mrlianova et al. (2001 b) were recorded that three
different cuts were carried out on cv. Citra and the oil
content in the herb was highest in the top third (0.13%
V/m), satisfactory in the herb including both and
middle thirds (0.08% V/m) and lowest in the whole
herb (0.06% V/m). The essential oil content in the
leaves of respective herbs was in the range 0.39%-
0.14% V/m (top third part-whole aerial part). Citrals
(A and B) were 55.79, 48.46, and 59.74 and 56.87% in
the top third part of the herb, the whole herb, and the
leaves from those parts, respectively. Likewise, beta-
caryophyllene was 5.01, 3.87, and 6.97 and 5.13%;
beta-caryophyllene oxide was 17.19, 24.07, and 15.64
and 17.82%; citronellal was 2.73, 5.51, and 2.82 and
Sarı and Ceylan (2002) reported that the essential
oil ranged from 0.03 to 0.067% besides, the main
component in essential oil was geraniol (33.13 to
53.68 %), and the others were neral, citronellal, and β-
pinen in the study, carried out with 11 Melissa
populations in Menemen and Bozdağ.
Tınmaz et al (2001) was reported that the highest
essential oil’s ratio (0.14%) was obtained from the
plants, cut in the beginning of blooming, grown in
Çanakkale ecological conditions.
Essential oil obtained from a few different
populations of Melissa officinalis L. cultivated in
Poland had been investigated by Patora et al. (2003).
In their study, the content of essential oil in the leaves
and herb were recorded as 0.08-0.25 ml/100g and
0.06-0.167 ml/100g, respectively. In addition,
essential oil was in the plant material from
experimental patch then that from commercial
cultivations, and essential oil of the fresh material was
slightly higher than one of the dried one. Also, it was
observed that the contents of citral, citronellal,
linalool, nerol, geraniol beta-caryophyllene and beta-
caryophyllene oxide among the populations were
Patora and Klimek (2002) have isolated six
flavonoids from the leaves of lemon balm. These
flavonoids have been luteolin, luteolin 7-O-beta-D-
glucuronopyranoside, apigenin 7-O-beta-D-
glucopyranoside, luteolin 7-O-beta-D-
glucuronopyranoside, luteolin 3′-O-beta-D-
glucuronopyranoside and luteolin 7-O-beta-D-
The last three glycosides have been found in lemon
balm for the first time and luteolin 7-O-beta-D-
a new compound in plants.
3. USING FIELD OF LEMON BALM ESSENTIAL OIL
a- In Medicine:
The World Health Organization reported that there
are approximately four millions people on the world
(which are constituing 80% of the total population)
trying to cure their health problems with herbal drogs.
In addition, in the developed countries, 25% of the
medicines -sold with rescription- were obtained from
herbal origined (vimblastin, reserpine, quinine, aspirin
etc.) plants (Farnsworth, 1990; Principe, 1991). There
are made numerous clinical and epidemiological
studies on herbs all over the world, with using several
enzymatic systems for exposing the bioactive material
in them and maintaining the research studies for
producing the high productive material. Almost huge
İnternational Medicine Companies have, well or
medium equipped, an “herbal products research unit”
in their constitution (Başer, 2004).
There are numerous herbs which have traditionally
been used in folk medicine. Including lemonbalm
(Melissa officinalis L.), marijuana (Cannabis sativa),
ginger (Zingiber officinale), ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba)
and Peppermint oil topically was found to be as
effective as oral paracetamol for headache control and
now being investigated as possible migraine
prophylactics (Baldwin, 1987; Gobel, 1996).
Lemon balm has traditionally been used due to its
memory enhancing properties, but using of which is
currently more widely used as sedative or calm,
The Essential Oil of Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis L.), Its Components and Using Fields
spasmolytic and antibacterial agent and sleep aid has
been more popular recently (Coleta et al., 2001;
Kennedy et al., 2002; Kennedy et al., 2003; Sadraei et
al., 2003; Kennedy et al., 2004; de Sousa et al., 2004).
In addition these properties that are very important to
human healthy, today researches about essential oil of
lemon balm have been continued intensively.
Khayyal et al. (2001) have prepared the extracts
from the plants Iberis amara, Melissa officinalis,
Matricaria recutita, Carum carvi, Mentha piperita,
Glycyrrhiza glabra, Angelica archangelica, Silybum
marianum and Chelidonium majus, singly and
combined in the form of a commercial preparation,
STW 5 (Iberogast) and a modified formulation, STW
5-II, lacking the last 3 constituents. These extracts
were tested for their potential anti-ulcerogenic activity
against indometacin induced gastric ulcers of the rat as
well as for their antisecretory and cytoprotective
activities. All extracts produced a dose dependent anti-
ulcerogenic activity associated with a reduced acid
output and an increased mucin secretion. According to
this study results, the anti-ulcerogenic activity of the
extracts was also confirmed histologically. On the
other hand, the cytoprotective effect of the extracts
could be partly due to their flavonoid content and to
their free radical scavenging properties. Free radicals
occur in body chemistry, in processes such as the
destruction of invading organism by white blood cells.
Free radicals might play a role in various maladies,
such as arthritis, heart disease, and Alzheimer's
disease. When natural enzyme controls fail, free
radicals in the body attack lipids, proteins, and nucleic
acids. Especially, the beta glucan in essential oil,
protects the body from free radicals destroying effects
taking the role of antioxidant.
Akhondzadeh et al. (2003) carried out the
investigation to asses the efficacy and safety of lemon
balm extract using a fixed dose (60 drops/day) in
patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease.
Patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease
aged between 65 and 80 years were treated for four
months, and divided two groups randomly to placebo
or fixed dose of lemon balm extracts. At four months,
Melissa extract produced a significantly better
outcome on cognitive function than placebo. Besides,
there were no significant differences in the two groups
in terms of observed side effects except agitation,
which was more common in the placebo group. With
respect to conclusions, Melissa officinalis extract is
value in the management of mild to moderate
Alzheimer’s disease and has a positive effect on
agitation in such patients.
Drozd and Anuszewska (2003) reported that the
effect of water extracts from leaves of Melissa
influenced on the immune system, in both humoral
and cellular response.
Kennedy et al. (2004) have suggested that the
potential for lemon balm to mitigate the effects of
De Sousa et al. (2004) performed the study on
antitumoral and antioxidant activities of lemon balm
essential oil. The chemical composition and the
biological activities of lemon balm essential oil
obtained under controlled harvesting and drying
conditions. Obtained findings showed that this oil was
very effective against a series of human cancer cell
lines (A549, MCF-7, Caco-2, HL-60, and K562) and
mouse cell line (B16F10). Also, this oil possessed
antioxidant activity, as evidence by reduction of 1, 1-
diphenyl-2-picryl-hydrazyl (DPPH). These results
pointed out to the potential use of lemon balm
essential oil as an antitumoral agent.
Savino et al., (2005) invastigated that the colic in
breastfed infant. The result of their studies shows that
the colic in breastfed infant improves within 1 week
of treatment with an extract based on Matricariae
recutita, Foeniculum vulgare and Melissa officinalis.
Bolkent et al., (2005) reported that the
administration of Melissa officinalis L. extract
reduced total cholesterol, total lipid, ALT, AST and
ALP levels in serum, and LPO levels in liver tissue,
moreover increased glutathione levels in the tissue. As
a result, it was suggested that Melissa officinalis L.
extract exerted an hypolipidemic effect and showed a
protective effect on the liver of hyperlipidemic rats.
b- In Food:
The lemon-scented leaves add flavor to jellies,
liqueurs, fruit salads, and cold drinks (İlisulu, 1992;
Anonymous, 2003). In addition, results of a lot of
researches have showed that essential oil of lemon
balm and extracts (Melissa officinalis subsp.
officinalis and of Melissa officinalis subsp. inodora)
can be used as antioxidant (Marangui et al., 2004).
As known, antioxidant, type a molecule that
neutralizes harmful compounds is called as free
radicals (Anonymous, 2003).
The essential oils from aerial parts of Melissa
officinalis, Lavandula angustifolia, Salvia officinalis,
and Mentha piperita were analyzed using gas
chromatography and gas chromatography-mass
spectrometry by Araujo et al. (2003). Their
antimicrobial activities were evaluated against five
food spoilage yeasts, Torulaspora delbrueckii,
Zygosaccharomyces bailii, Pichia membrainifaciens,
Dekkera anomala, and Yarrowia lipolytica.
Saccharomyces cerevisiae was also used as a
reference. According to results of this research, the
essential oil of M. officinalis at 500 microg/ml
completely inhibited the growth of all yeast species.
The main component of the oil of lemon balm was
citral (neral plus geranial) (58.3%), which showed a
marked fungi toxic effect, contributing to its high
Mimica et al. (2003) have described antimicrobial
and free radical scavenging capacity (RSC) together
with the effects on lipid preoxidation (LP) of lemon
balm essential oil in their study. The antimicrobial
activity was tested against 13 bacterial strains and six
R. Bahtiyarca Bağdat, B. Coşge
fungi. The examined essential oil exhibited very
strong RSC; the most powerful scavenging
compounds were monoterpene aldehydes and ketons
(neral/geranial, citronellal, isomenthone, and
menthone) and mono- and sesquiterpene hydrocarbons
(E-caryophyllene). The most effective antibacterial
activity was expressed on a multiresistant strain of
Shigella sonei. A significant rate of antifungal activity
was exhibited on Trichophyton species.
Uzun et al., (2004) studied the traditional medicine
in North-West of Turkey (Sakarya province) by
interviewing local informants from several villages.
Plant species used to treat infections were tested for
antimicrobial activity. Information was collected for
46 plant species from 30 families and for 5 animal
species. Twenty four of the plant species were
cultivated. Most used families were Asteraceae,
Cucurbitaceae, Lamiaceae and Rosaceae and the most
used plants were Artemisia absinthium, Equisetum
telmateia, Lavandula stoechas, Melissa officinalis,
Tussilago farfara and Urtica dioica. A total of 139
medicinal uses were obtained. Plants are used mainly
for infectious diseases (18%), for neurological and
psychological disorders (13.7%), cardiovascular
disorders (13%), skin disorders (12.2%) and
respiratory disorders (10.1%). Extracts were tested in
vitro for antimicrobial activity against Staphylococcus
aureus ATCC 65538, Staphylococcus epidermidis
ATCC 12228, Escherichia coli ATCC 8739,
Klebsiella pneumonia ATCC 4352, Pseudomonas
aeruginosa ATCC 1539, Salmonella typhi, Shigella
flexneri, Proteus mirabilis and Candida albicans
ATCC 10231, using microbroth dilution technique
according to National Committee for Clinical
Laboratory Standards (NCCLS). This research showed
that Arum maculatum, Datura stramonium, Geranium
asphodeloides and Equisetum telmateia petroleum
either extracts had MIC values of 39.1 microg/ml, 78.1
microg/ml, 78.1 microg/ml and 39.1 microg/ml,
respectively against Staphylococcus epidermidis.
Datura stramonium petroleum either extract had a
MIC value of 39.1 microg/ml against Escherichia coli
and Trachystemon orientalis ethanol extract had a
MIC value of 39.1 microg/ml against Escherichia coli.
The antimicrobial activity of Arum maculatum,
Equisetum telmateia, Geranium asphodeloides,
Plantago intermedia, Senecio vulgaris and
Trachystemon orientalis has been reported here for the
Yadav et al. (2005) assessed various leaf structural
and chemical features as possible predictors of the size
of the phyllosphere bacterial population in the
Mediterranean environment. They examined eight
perennial species, naturally occurring and coexisting
in the same area, in Halkidiki (northern Greece). They
are Arbutus unedo, Quercus coccifera, Pistacia
lentiscus, and Myrtus communis (evergreen
sclerophyllous species), Lavandula stoechas and
Cistus incanus (drought semideciduous species), and
Calamintha nepeta and Melissa officinalis (nonwoody
perennial species). M. communis, L. stoechas, C.
nepeta and M. officinalis produce essential oil in
substantial quantities. It is fond that, the aromatic
plants are on average more highly colonized than the
other species, whereas the nonwoody perennials are
more highly colonized than the woody species. Leaves
with water content >73% are the bacteria most highly
c- In Perfume and Cosmetic Industry:
Due to hydrosol its essential oil and the strongly
scented leaves are also used in perfumes and natural
cosmetics. Hydrosol is the watery solution of the
distillation that contains both the water-soluble plant
components and micro-drops of essential oil. Because
of they acidify the water or the product which is
beneficial to the skin or in the body. Thus the
hydrosol acts as a healing anti-inflammatory and mild
but therapeutic antiseptic. Bacteria do not live well an
in acidic environment which is why acids such as
vinegar make good preservatives for such food items
as pickles Chilé peppers and Olives. Acidic
environments are astringent and so the hydrosols are
useful in skin care products as astringents that
constrict and contract the tissues.
The hydrosols can be used externally in skin care
products as a douche or internally diluted and taken as
a tonic drink (Rose, 2000).
Lemon balm is a potential medicinal and aromatic
plant grown commonly most of our wild areas. Its
essential oil is currently used in medicine and
pharmacology (anti-tumor, anti-bacterial, anti-
microbial, antihistaminic, antispasmodic and
antioxidant, by means of its antiviral effect curing of
the herpes (Allahverdiyev et al., 2004), anti-
ulcerogenic, moderate Alzheimer’s disease,
modulation of mood and cognitive performance,
stimulating the immune system (against anti HIV-1)
(Yamasaki et al., 1998) and the heart, insect bites,
painful menstruation, colds, headaches, mumps,
insomnia, mild sedative and anti-depressant), (Foster
and Duke , 1990), in food industry (using it’s essential
oil for food spoilage yeasts to extending the storage
periods, in soft drinks industry because its fresh lemon
tastes and herbal tea industry) and in cosmetic
industry (containing hydrosol for curing dermatogical
Valuable essential oil which the plant contains a
very less amount has already been imported although
it’s large extension in our flora unfortunately, this
condition causes a loss of foreign currency
approximately one million $ every year, according to
data of Under Secretariat of The Prime Ministry for
Foreign Trade. There are some studies about lemon
balm just recently in our country. In order to meet
industry’s demand and export, new lines and cultivars
containing acceptable volatile oil should be improved.
With connect this, The Central Research Instituted for
The Essential Oil of Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis L.), Its Components and Using Fields
Field Crops and Field Crops Department of Ankara
University started the project in order to provide high
quality raw material for industry without depending on
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