LEMON BALM (MELISSA OFFICINALIS L.) AN HERBAL MEDICINAL PLANT WITH BROAD
THERAPEUTIC USES AND CULTIVATION PRACTICES: A REVIEW
1, *Prawal Pratap Singh Verma, 2Anand Singh, 3Laiq-ur-Rahaman and 4Bahl, J. R.
1, 2CSIR-Central Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (CIMAP), Research Centre Purara,
Post Gagrigole Bageshwar-263641 (Uttrakhand), India
3, 4CSIR-Central Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (CIMAP), Post cimap, Kukrail Picnic Spot,
Lucknow-226015 (Uttar Pradesh), India
ARTICLE INFO ABSTRACT
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis L.) is an important medicinal plant in herbal medicine. The main
constituent of the essential oil of the plant is citral (geranial and neral), citronellal and geraniol.
Lemon balm has been traditionally used for different medical purposes as tonic, antispasmodic,
carmiative, diaphoretic, surgical dressing for wounds, sedative-hypnotic strengthening the memory
and headache. Lemon balm is also used as flavouring in ice cream and herbal teas, often in
combination with other herbs such as spearmint. It is also frequently paired with fruit dishes or
candies. Lemon balm is also known as a hormonal herb due to its antithyroid activity. The present
review is an effort to give the detailed survey of literature on its medicinal properties and cultivation
practices of the plant under study.
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis L.) belongs to the mint family
and it is indigenous of Southern Europe, Mediterranean region,
Western Asia, and North Africa. Lemon balm is now cultivated
worldwide. Currently in India lemon balm is cultivated in
Kashmir, Uttrakhand and some part of South India. There are
two subspecies, Melissa officinalis subspecies Melissa
officinalis, the common cultivated lemon balm; and Melissa
officinalis sub species altissima, naturalized in New Zealand
and known as bush balm. Although Melissa officinalis sub
species officinalis is known for its lemon fragrance (Tucker,
2000). Melissa refers to honey or the honeybee because the
plant is so attractive to bees, and officinalis means a plant that
is officially used in medicine.
The Greeks called it “melisophyllon” with “meliso” meaning
“bee” and “phyllon”, denoting “leaf.” The Romans referred to
the plant as “apiastrum” from “apias”, to mean simply “bee”.
Sixteenth-century gardeners rubbed the leaves on beehives in
order to promote the production of honey. Lemon balm is a
perennial bushy plant and is upright, reaching a height of about
1 m. The soft, hairy leaves are 2 to 8 cm long and either heart-
shaped (Zargari, 1991). Melissa officinalis is used in herbal
medicine (Meftahizade et al., 2010). Dried or fresh leaves and
top aerial section of the plant which are consumed as a
medicine, perfume, cosmetic and herbal tea industries.
*Corresponding author: Prawal Pratap Singh Verma,
CSIR-Central Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants, Research
Centre Purara, Bageshwar-263641 (Uttrakhand), India
Lemon balm is a versatile culinary herb which can be used to
flavor for different types of dishes, from beverages, to
appetizers, desserts. It can be added to salads, sandwiches,
soups, stews, butters, cheeses, fish, stuffings for poultry, egg
dishes, vegetables, fruit cups, jams, jellies, sauces, herb
vinegar, wine, fruits punch, cakes, custards, ice cream, cookies,
and cheesecakes (Janina, 2003). Lemon balm has medicinal
properties like carminative, digestive, diaphoretic antioxidant,
antiviral, antidepressant and stimulant activity. (Belsinger,
2007) Externally, it is used to treat herpes, sores, gout, insect
bites and other skin disease. Lemon balm is also used as an
insect repellent (Belsinger, 2002). It is a prominent
antimicrobial agent against food-borne pathogens and spoilage
bacteria. In vitro testing has identified its anti-HIV activity
against HIV-1 reverse transcriptase and antitumor activity
Lemon balm is also used for treatment depression and sleeping
disorder. Lemon balm has been used to treat irritability and
nervousness in young girls and women, boost a lack of interest
and energy. Typically, 20–50 g of the dried leaves are infused
in 1.0 L of boiled water for 5–15 minutes, and three to four
cups of this tea are taken daily (Araujo, 2003). Essential oil of
lemon balm which is used in aromatherapy, oil of lemon balm
is considered the therapeutic principle mainly responsible for
most of the activities mentioned, but plant phenolics, especially
rosmarinic acid, are also considered to contribute to the
therapeutic potential of M. officinalis. The essential oil content
in lemon balm ranged from 0.02% to 0.30%, which is quite
low compared with other members of the Lamiaceae family.
Received 27th, August 2015
Received in revised form
15th, September 2015
Accepted 24th, October 2015
Published online 30th, November 2015
International Journal of Recent Advances in Multidisciplinary Research
Vol. 02, Issue 11, pp.0928-0933, November, 2015
Lemon Balm, Cultivation,
Because of this, the production cost and price of the essential
oil is very high in the market (Brickell, 1997). Lemon balm oil
has contain potentially active components primarily include
monoterpenoids and sesquiterpenes, in particular geranial,
neral, citronellal, geranyl acetate, β-caryophyllene,
caryophyllene oxide and 1, 8-cineole (Davis, 1997).
Lemon balm is an erect herbaceous perennial plant with
opposite pairs of toothed, ovate leaves growing on square,
branching stems. Plant has a bushy appearance, its height can
range from just under 8 inches to nearly 5 feet, and plant has a
width of 12 to 24 inches (Small, 1997). Leaves may be
smoothing hairy and plant’s fruit is a tiny nutlet (Turhan,
2006). Lemon balm’s small flowers are 2-lipped, grow in
whorled clusters, and may be pale yellow, white, pinkish and
infrequently purplish or bluish and non glandular hairs
(Brickell, 1997). The plant is taxonomically classified as.
Species M. officinalis
Binominal name Melissa officinalis
Fig. 1. Leaves of Melissa officinalis
English name Balm, lemon Balm
Lemon balm is a spreading herb with short roots. The top of the
plant dies down in winter, but the root is perennial in nature.
Lemon balm has pairs of broadly ovate or heart shaped toothed
leaves at each node. The leaves are 30 to 50 mm long, shiny on
top, wrinkled and deeply veined.
Lemon balm has small, white or yellowish to pale blue flowers
in loose, small bunches emerging from the axils of the leaves
that appear in late spring to mid summer.
Lemon balm essential oil, obtained from fresh or dried flower,
leaf, and branches of this plant by water steam distillation or
chemical extraction, is characteristic with fresh lemon odor,
and light yellow colored. Its viscosity is lighter than that of
water. The main components of the essential oil are 39%
citronellal, 33% citral (citronellol, linalool) and 2% geranial. In
addition, this oil contains three terpinene, phenol carbon-acid
(rosmarinic acid), and flavonglychoside acids in low ratio.
There are also caffeic acid, several flavonoids (luteolin-7-O-
glucoside, isoquercitrin, apigenin-7-Oglucoside and
rhamnocitrin), rosmarinic acid, ferulic acid, methyl carnosoate,
hydroxycinnamic acid, and 2- (3', 4'-dihydroxyphenyl)- 1,3-
benzodioxole-5-aldehyde and some other aldehydes: beta-
caryophyllene, neral, and geranyl acetate. Shalaby (1995)
reported that the highest essential oil’s ratio (0.14%) was
obtained from the plants, cut in the beginning of blooming.
Lemon balm has anti viral activity against herpes simplex virus
type 2, influenza virus A2, influenza viruses and myxoviruses
in vitro and vaccinia virus 1. In a study where tannin isolated
from aqueous extract of the lemon balm leaves inhibited
haemagglutination induced by newcastle disease virus or
mumps virus. Aqueous extracts of the leaves have been
reported to have activity against semliki forest virus (Burgett,
Antispasmodic activity has been found in lemon balm is due to
presence of ethanol extract of leaves and essential oil. Lemon
balm oil is very useful for mussels and joint pain. Lemon balm
oil is also used for curing arthritis (Brendler, 2005).
Lemon balm has Psychoneurological activity. Treatment with
lemon balm had shown to improve cognitive performance and
mood reduces induced stress and anxiolytic effects in humans
Traditionally lemon balm has been used for gastrointestinal
tract disorders, to promote digestion. According to the German
commission E monograph Melissa is indicated in functional
gastrointestinal complaints especially for spasm in the
digestive tract and flatulent dyspepsia and carminative
properties (De Sousa, 2004.)
Essential oil of lemon balm has been shown to have
antioxidant properties which are due to the presence of mono
and sesquiterpenes components, caffeic acid and flavonoids
(Dobelis, 1986). Rosmarinic acid had an activity to protect the
liver from damage with its antioxidant action. In some recent
studies on lemon balm has shown that, it is useful in treating
hyperthyroidism and Graves disease.
International Journal of Recent Advances in Multidisciplinary Research 0929
Climate and soil
Lemon balm is require sunny days for best growth and
development. Plant performs well in moderate temperature.
Lemon balm should be cultivated in temperate and subtropical
region, it can survive moderate frost. It is required 300 to 1300
mm per annum range of rainfall for survival. Lemon balm
grows well in fertile sandy loamy soil with rich organic matter.
It is required well-drained soil with a pH of 5 to 7.5 for best
performance of crop.
Lemon balm can be propagated from soft wood cutting and
seed. However, in commercial propagation, only soft wood
cutting is used in practice. When raising sapling, cuttings are
treated with IBA for 15 to 20 minuts. Cutting should be planted
in mixture of soil, FYM and vermicompost in bed. These are
kept in 60% shade. Cuttings are watered regularly. Saplings are
ready for transplanting in 4-5 weeks. Study has shown that the
combination of soil+ FYM+ vermicompost (1:1:1) is good for
sapling preparation. It has been observed that the combination
of soil+ FYM + vermicompost (1:1:1) is helpful for improving
survival of cutting (85 %), number of branches (6), plant height
(36 cm), number of leaves/plant (38), fresh weight/plant (1.95
g), dry weight/plant ( 0.98 g), number of root/plant (6) and root
length (11.2 cm).
Fig. 2. Transplanting of lemon balm
Fig. 3. After one month of transplanting
The ideal time for planting of lemon balm is February to March
in temperate region of India. Transplanting of Cuttings in the
field with the spacing of 20-30 cm apart in the row, and 50-60
cm between the plants. In some study it has been observed that
the Closer spacing will allow plants to cover the area sooner
and will result in the highest yields with fewer weed problems.
In another experiment conducted by C. Saglam et al. (2004) in
Turkey, they found that the 40 cm distance between plant to
plant and 20 cm distance between line to line are best for
plantation. Lemon balm is perennial nature crop so it has about
10 years of life, but is usually replaced every 5 years with crop
rotation with a legume crop to rejuvenate the soil.
Although, recommendations are not available for fertilization
of lemon balm in India. In some study yield and oil content
may be increased with nitrogen application several times
during the growing season. Lemon balm responds well to
additional applications of nitrogen during the growing season,
usually applied after harvest to promote new shoot growth.
Abbaszadeh, B et al. (2009) in Iran, the found that the nitrogen
fertilizer had significant effect on biological yield, essential oil
percentage, essential oil content, plant height and tiller number.
Highest biological yield (6788 kg /ha) and plant height (61.63
cm) were produced by application of 90 kg N /ha and highest
tiller number (32.6 tiller/plant), essential oil percentage
(0.2577%) and essential oil content (16.05 kg/ ha) were
obtained under application of 60 kg N/ha.
Weekly irrigation should be done for successfully growing of
crop because of the water requirement of crop is very high.
Always avoid water stagnation in the field and if possible the
crop is irrigated with sprinkler system of irrigation.
Effective weed control is essential for getting good yield. 5 to 6
weeding and hoeing are required for keeping the crop free from
weeds. Some weed species are more harmful and can reduce
the quality of the crop. Amaranthus spp. and Datura spp. can
contaminate the crop severely.
The major pest of this crop is whitefly, spider mite and thrips
are observed. White fly suck the sap from the leaves of plant
and excrete large quantity of honey dew which serves as a
growth medium for sooty mould. Spider mites feed
preferentially on the lower stem, and then move on to the upper
section of the plant and on leaves. Leaves may later turn yellow
and drop. Silk webbing may be present when the infestation is
severe. Thrips also suck the sap of leaves, causing browning
and dropping of leaves. They can also be performing as vectors
of viral diseases. All above pest are controlled by spraying of
Malathion 50 EC or Indosulphon 35 EC @ 1.50 liter per 1000
liter of water.
Fig. 4. Intercultural operation for weed management
International Journal of Recent Advances in Multidisciplinary Research 0930
Lemon balm is susceptible to powdery mildew, which appears
as a dusty-white to grey coating over leaf surfaces or other
plant parts. It can be reduce by applying of wettable Sulphur or
Dinocap (Kerathan or Thiowet) can also be used to control the
disease @ 20-25 g per 10 liter of water at the initial stage of
this disease. If needed two more sprays should be given at an
interval of 15 days after first spray.
The aerial parts of plant are harvested after 6 month of
transplanting. Best time for harvesting just before the flowers
open when the concentration of volatile oil is at its highest.
Harvesting is done by hand on a clear and warm day. Quality
will be reduced if the leaves turn brown. In commercial
cultivation foliage can also be cut with a mechanical cutter.
Fig. 5. Manual harvesting of plants
Fig. 6. Data collection after harvesting
Postharvest and handling
Drying and distillation
Ghasemi et al. (2013), they found that the the maximum
essential oil content (0.43%) obtained in 48 hrs oven-drying
while minimum content (0.03%) obtained from drying under
microwave with the power of 500 W. Citral and Citronellal
content percentage in shade-drying with an air flow fan were
more than other drying methods, Finally they suggested that
oven-drying method has better results compared to the other
Generally lemon balm dry herb is dried in the shade to preserve
the chemical composition of the plant. Too much direct
sunlight will cause volatile oils to disappear. The volatile oil is
obtained by steam distillation of the dried herb. The chemical
properties of the dried plant material are also extracted by
different methods. The crop can be steam distilled immediately
Dry leaves of lemon balm are stored in bags that allow air
flow. Plastic bags can cause fungous growth if too much
moisture is present. Essential oils can be packaged in bulk or
smaller quantities. Smaller quantities are usually more
expensive as extra handling and packaging materials are
needed. Ceramic, dark-colored glass, fluorinated plastic and
epoxy-coated aluminum containers are used. Essential oils are
volatile and as such have to be handled with care.
The oil is subject to oxidation, and as a result, it should be
stored in filled, sealed containers, out of light and kept cool.
Keep it air tight and do not expose it to heat or heavy metals.
Fig. 7. Washing of plant with fresh water before drying
Fig. 8. Drying of leaves in shade
This plant is mostly marketed for medicinal purposes and
herbal tea as a dried product. The end producer will market it
as medicinal extracts or as herbal tea. Fresh lemon balm is
marketed as culinary herb.
Lemon balm is one of the most expensive of the essential oils;
Essential oils are sold in bulk to wholesalers, where it is
packaged in smaller quantities, which are marketed to the
aromatherapy, perfume and cosmetic industries. Uses of
essential oil and dry herb are given below.
The herb is used for skin and body care. Lemon balm hydrosol
is added to clay masks for skin healing.
International Journal of Recent Advances in Multidisciplinary Research 0931
Fresh leaves of lemon balm add a magical flavour to many
dishes, oils, vinegars and herbal liqueurs. Fresh or dried leaves
make a refreshing tea, either cold or hot. The fresh leaves and
flowers are used for stuffing of vegetable, fruit salads, bean
dishes, meat and fish.
Lemon balm is used as an herbal tea other tea blends. Oil is
used in perfume, leaves and flowers are also used in wine-
making. Lemon balm is a traditional ingredient in Herbal
Fig. 9. Fresh lemon balm tea
Fig. 10. Dry leaves of lemon balm
Lemon balm attracts bees, and if it is rubbed on inside of
empty beehives it will attract new bee swarms.
It also attracts beneficial insects such as parasitic wasps and
tachinid flies that prey on many common garden insect
Medicinal plant is the most exclusive source of life saving
drugs for majority of the world’s population. They continue to
be an important therapeutic aid for alleviating the ailments of
human kinds. Lemon balm has been traditionally used for
different medical purposes as tonic, antispasmodic,
carminative, diaphoretic, surgical dressing for wounds,
sedative-hypnotic, strengthening the memory, relief of stress
and reduce headache, but in modern pharmacology is value in
the management of mild to moderate Alzheimer’s, against
migraine and rheumatism, antitumor and antioxidant activities.
Very little work has been done on the biological activity and
plausible medicinal applications of the compounds and hence
extensive investigation is needed to exploit their therapeutic
utility to combat diseases. Although crude extracts of Melissa
officinalis have good medicinal properties. Modern drugs can
be developed only after extensive investigation of their
bioactivity, mechanism of action, pharmacotherapeutics,
toxicity, proper standardization and clinical trials.
The author is also thankful to Director CSIR-Central Institute
of Medicinal an Aromatic Plants (CIMAP), Lucknow, for their
kind support. More over The authors are also grateful to the
authors/editors of all those articles, journals and books from
where the matter for this article has been reviewed and
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International Journal of Recent Advances in Multidisciplinary Research 0933