LEMON BALM / BEE BALM (Melissa officinalis)

Southern Europe to Central Asia

Lemon Balm


Lemon Balm is an ancient herb, an aromatic perennial in the Mint family.  Cultivated for over 2,000 years, tea brewed from the leaves of this plant is therapeutic, soothing away melancholy & reviving the tired brain.

Wrinkled leaves of Melissa Officinalis are heart-shaped or oval, & lemon-scented.  Small, fragrant flowers – SOFT YELLOW opening to WHITE – appear at intervals along the stems in summer.  Lemon Balm grows from one to two feet tall, preferring moist soil in sun or part shade.

“An extremely useful plant to colonize dry, dusty areas of the garden where nothing else will grow. The smell is an added bonus – crush a couple of leaves whenever you walk past to release the tangy lemon aroma”.

Grow Your Own Drugs, James Wong, Collins, 2009



Bees Favourite

A visually unassuming herb, Lemon Balm has quite a reputation as a bee plant. The nectar of the tiny flowers is irresistable to bees – read some of the historical comments below. Melissa Officinalis has long been planted as a herb for the benefit of humans as well as bees.




The qualities of Balm (Melissa Officinalis, Lemon Balm) have been known for thousands of years, by many countries and cultures.


The Romans brought Lemon Balm to Britain (43 AD – 410 AD) along with stinging nettles, cabbages, onions & garlic, rabbits & cats.

In permanent Roman military hospitals, rainwater containing Melissa Officinalis (Lemon Balm) and vinegar (acetum) was used by a detachment of soldiers daily to clean the entire hospital, especially the surgical suite…  Medical Anesthesia and Surgery in Ancient Rome, Brewminate, Dr Valentine J. Belfiglio, Professor of Political Science, Texas Women’s University, Mozilla Firefox

“Bees are delighted with this herbe above all others… when they are straid away, they do finde their way home againe by it.”    “It is of so great virtue that though it be but tied to his sword that hath given the wound it stauncheth the blood.”

Pliny the Elder     Roman     23 or 24 AD – 79 AD

“Balm, being leaves steeped in wine, and the wine drunk and the leaves applied externally, were considered to be a certain cure for the bites of venomous beasts and the stings of scorpions.”

Dioscorides       Greek     40 AD – 90 AD

Lemon balm was the main ingredient in Carmelite Water, crafted in 1379 by French nuns at the Abbey of St Just as a healing tincture for King Charles V (1338-1380). It was afterwards sold commercially as Eau de Carmes.

“...formerly a spirit of Balm, combined with lemon-peel, nutmeg and angelica root, enjoyed a great reputation under the name of Carmelite Water, being deemed highly useful against nervous headache and neuralgic affections.”       Maud Grieve, A Modern Herbal, 1931   

“Lemon balm is most popular as an ingredient of herb teas, having a pleasant flavour and calming effect.”  Paracelsus  (Swiss)  (1493-1541) called it “the elixir of life“..

Deni Bown, RHS Encyclopedia of Herbs & Their Uses

“It is profitably planted where bees are kept. The hives of bees being rubbed with the leaves of bawme, causeth the bees to keep together, and causeth others to come with them.”                   

John Gerard     English     1545 – 1612 

“It causeth the Mind and Heart to become merry, and reviveth the Heart fainting to foundlings, especially of such who are overtaken in their sleep, and driveth away all troublesome cares and thought..”

                                         Nicholas Culpeper       English      1616 – 1654

“Balm is sovereign for the brain, strengthening the memory and powerfully chasing away melancholy.”

John Evelyn     English     1620 – 1706

Maria Clementine Martin      Belgian      1775 – 1843

Creator of Klosterfrau Melissengeist, the German variation of Carmelite Water. She distilled and refined it herself in the 1800s, using Lemon Balm & essential oils of 13 medicinal plants such as gentian, cardamom, cinnamon & ginger. The water is still sold by the successor to the company she founded, the Klosterfrau Healthcare Group.            WIKIPEDIA

Thomas Jefferson


Melissa Officinalis was the miracle ingredient in a ‘miracle water’ dispensed by French Carmelite nuns up to the 17th century. ‘It was thought to improve memory and vision and reduce rheumatic pain,  fever, melancholy and congestion.

Today, Lemon Balm is found in both England and North America. It was brought by colonialists who had come to rely on it for teas and flavoring. The gardens of US President Thomas Jefferson (1743 – 1826) were filled with lemon balm. By this point it was a well-known herb important to culinary and herbal medicinal usage.

Lemon Balm History : Healing and Restorative Powers – Cloverleaf Farm, Herbal Apothecary, Mozilla Firefox

“It is now recognised as a scientific fact that the balsamic oils of aromatic plants make excellent surgical dressings: they give off ozone and thus exercise anti-putrescent effects. Being chemical hydrocarbons, they contain so little oxygen that in wounds dressed with the fixed balsamic herbal oils, the atomic germs of disease are starved out, and the resinous parts of these balsamic oils, as they dry upon the sore or wound, seal it up and effectually exclude all noxious air.”

Maud Grieve     British     1858 – 1948

The Power of Lemon Balm      Terri Conroy     Danu’s Irish Herb Garden



Terri Conroy makes a strong case for Lemon Balm on her website Danu’s Irish Herb Garden. We see it growing in the garden & being harvested in the polytunnel. Terri then takes the basket of Lemon Balm cuttings into her kitchen to make a herbal infusion. Nervine and anti-spasmodic, the tea infuses for 15 minutes & is both therapeutic and delicious.

Other names: Balm, Bee Balm, Blue Balm, Common Balm, Cure-All, Dropsy Plant, Dropsywort, English Balm, Garden Balm, Heart’s Delight, Honey Plant, Mountain Balm, Pimentary, Sweet Balm, Sweet Mary, Tea Balm. Estonian: Sidrunmeliss. Finnish: Sitruunamelissa. French: Baume, Citra, Citronnelle, Valverde boutons de fievre creme. German: Bienenfang, Frauenkraut, Honigblatt, Riechnessel. Hindi: Baadranjboyaa, Billilotan. Hungarian: Citromfu, Mehfu, Mezontofu, Orvosi Citromfu. Italian: Citronella, Cedronella, Erba Limona, Melissa Vera. Korean: Kyullhyangphul. Persian: Badranjboya, Taragarbha. Polish: Melissa Lekarska. Portuguese/Brazilian: Erva-cidreira, Melissa. Russian: Melissa Lekarstvennaja, Limonajamjata, Ptschel’nik, Papotschnaja Trawa. Slovak: Citra. Slovenian: Navadna Melisa. Spanish: Balsamita Mayor, Citraria, Meliza, Toronjil. Swedish: Citronmeliss, Hjartansfrojd, Honungsblomma, Melissort.

Lemon Balm in our Highbury Garden

We had Lemon Balm in front & back gardens years ago, but did not know of its medicinal qualities as a tea or infusion. We will grow it again, keeping some aside for humans & allowing the rest to flower for the bees.