Lemon melissa – a calming herb in Summer

During the hot June week, I was sitting in my garden enjoying my lunch pondering on which herb to feature in this month’s blog. Starring me in the face was and still is the beautiful Lemon Melissa, a calming herb commonly known as Lemon Balm, or by Melissa officinalis, its Latin name. “Melissa” comes from the Greek for bee and refers to the great attraction the plant holds for bees during its short flowering season.

Apparently, whether history or myth, there was once a king name Melisseus on the island of Crete. His daughter Melissa came to nurse the infant Zeus on pure honey and so lent her name to a long lineage of Grecian priestesses, the Melissae. These wise women not only honoured the temples of Demeter and Artemis, but were also beekeepers, linking the name Melissa to bees and beekeeping. This is the earliest time that we know of this sacred task.

It is not entirely clear why Lemon Balm is particularly attractive to bees. Research reveals one possibility: honeybees are known to have fifteen pheromone glands and secretions from these play a crucial role in organisation of many aspects of hive behaviour. In establishing a new home for the colony, bees excrete aromatic chemicals from their Nasanov gland, including the molecules citral and geraniol. These two chemicals, now used in synthetic pheromones to attract bees are also found naturally in Lemon Balm.


Lemon balm offers not only the nectar to the bees, but also an aromatic scent that is for them associated with home. Hence why in old beekeeping custom rubbing Lemon Balm leaves on the hive is understood to attract and keep the swarm in the hive.

“Bright flight
Distilling nectar’s essence
Of joy, of home
Seat of our fragrant soul”


Melissa is a member of the Lamiaceae family which includes many of the aromatic herbs including Peppermint, Spearmint, Thyme and Rosemary. A perennial herb native to the Mediterranean region that is steeped in Mediterranean history was first introduced into Britain by the Romans who valued it to improve memory and the spirits. It later became known that these characteristics are due to the rosmarinic acid, also found in Rosemary. In the 16th and 17th centuries, in summer people in England drank it as a refreshing summer drink. Melissa was also highly valued in the Arab world in the Middle Ages to promote longevity.


A Very Useful Household Herb

Today we value this beautiful herb for its calming properties. The calming effects of this herb come from the volatile oils in particular, citral and citronellal which both calm the central nervous system, making it an excellent herb to add to summer drinks and into a calming tea before bedtime. As it works on the central nervous system it is a relaxing tonic for anxiety, mild depression, restlessness and irritability. It can also be useful for digestive problems, such as bloating, indigestion, acidity and nausea, when the main cause of these issues is anxiety or nervousness.

The aerial parts of the plant are used, especially the leaves. The essential oils of Lemon Melissa are one of the most expensive essential oils, due to the difficulty of extracting these oils and very low yield. Added to a carrier oil such as olive, coconut and jojoba the oil can be massaged into the body for treating pain associated with shingles. Tea can alleviate headaches and is easily made by picking the leaves and adding boiled water, but not boiling water, allowing it to brew for 6-8 minutes before drinking. For quicker treatment simply rubbing the leaf between your fingers and then inhale the scent to alleviate lingering headaches and lighten your spirit with its sweet freshness.

The leaves can also be macerated and placed on cuts, insect bites and stings, as well as for allergic skin conditions to help healing. As an antimicrobial, it is also safe for the treatment of ear infections when placed in a carrier oil and warm drops put in the ear. An herbal infusion, made as for tea and cooled, can also be used as a mouthwash for gum infections. The favour is sweet and warming which makes it useful for treating children as they generally love the flavour.

For a relaxing and calming bath soak, place several stems with leaves into a muslin bag and allow the hot water to pass over the bag as you run your bath.

The main actions of Lemon melissa include:

  • Relaxant and sedative
  • Antispasmodic (muscles)
  • Carminative, digestive and stomachic
  • Nerve tonic
  • Antiviral and antimicrobial both systemically and topically especially for treatment of the herpes simplex virus (cold sores) when used in a salve.


Recipe for Lemon Balm Pesto

1 cup Lemon Balm leaves – tightly packed
½ cup pine nuts
¾ cup Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons lemon or lime juice
1 dessertspoon fresh chives
Seasoning to taste

Place all ingredients except seasoning in a food processor and blend until reaching the texture you like for Pesto. Season to taste. Store in a glass jar in the refrigerator for up to 3 months. Alternatively freeze in ice trays and use as needed for pizza, pasta, on chicken, sandwiches and in salad dressing.


There are some substances in which this quintessence is contained in greater quantities than others, and from which it may more easily be extracted. Such substances are especially the herb called Melissa, and the human blood.”

The Life and Doctrines of Paracelsus, Franz Hartmann (1891)


Caution: If taking thyroid medication as Lemon Melissa can affect TSH levels.




Smit JO. Attraction of reproductive honeuy bee swarms to artificial nests by Nasonov pheromone. J Chem Ecol. 1994 May; (5):1053-6

Hughes Nathaniel and Owen Fiona, Weeds in the Heart,71-85

Boudin Michelle, McIntyre Anne, Dispensing with Tradition, 2012, 85  

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