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Summary Article: BALM, LEMON
From Leung's Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients: Used in Food, Drugs and Cosmetics

Source: Melissa officinalis L. (Family Lamiaceae).

Common/vernacular names: Balm, bee balm, common balm, lemon balm, melissa, and melissa balm.


An aromatic perennial herb with yellowish or white flowers, up to approximately 1 m in height, growing in the Mediterranean region, western Asia, southwestern Siberia, and northern Africa; widely cultivated. Parts used are the dried leaves often with flowering tops; an essential oil is obtained from these by steam distillation. Bees are attracted to the plant and bruising the leaves releases a lemony odor.


Contains about 0.1-0.2% volatile oil composed mainly of oxygenated compounds such as citral (a mixture of neral and geranial), caryophyllene oxide, citronellal, eugenol acetate, and geraniol, plus smaller amounts of terpenes, including trans- and (−)-β-ocimene, caryophyllene, α-cubebene, copaene, and β-bourbonene.1–5 Other constituents of lemon balm include polyphenols (caffeic acid, protocatechuic acid, etc.); a tannin composed of caffeic acid units;6–9 flavonoids (rhamnazin,10 luteolin, luteolin 7-O-beta-D-glucopyranoside and other luteolin glycosides; apigenin 7-O-beta-D-glucopyranoside);11 rosmarinic acid;10 triterpenoids (ursolitc acid, etc.); and glucosides of geraniol, nerol, eugenol, benzyl alcohol, β-phenylethyl alcohol, neric acid, and geranic acid, among others (KARRER).6,9,12,13 The main constituents of the essential oil are geranial, neral, citronellal, geranyl acetate, citronellol, and β-caryophyllene.14


Extracts of balm have shown in vitro antiviral activity against HIV-1,15 herpes simplex,16 Newcastle disease virus, paramyxovirus (mumps virus), vaccinia, and other viruses. The active constituents include polyphenols (other than caffeic acid) and tannin.7,8 Extracts of balm have also shown in vitro antioxidant activity against lipid peroxidation17; in vitro antithyrotropic activity;18,19 and antiulcerogenic activity in rats against indomethicininduced ulcer formation.20

Balm oil has shown in vitro antitrypano-somal21 and antibacterial activity against Mycobacterium phlei and Streptococcus hemolytica,5 as well as antifungal activity,22 including activity against food spoilage yeasts.23 In vitro antihistaminic and antispas-modic activities from the oil have also been reported. Antispasmodic activity is attributed to the presence of eugenol acetate5,24 and to citral. Both the essential oil and citral inhibited acetylcholine- and serotonin-induced contractions of rat ileum.14 In vitro CNS receptor binding studies of lemon balm extracts have found nicotinic25 and muscarinic receptor activities.26

A randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial of the essential oil as an aromatherapy in the treatment of patients with severe dementia found significant improvements in quality of life and agitation scores from the oil compared to placebo.27 Another placebo-controlled, randomized double-blind trial examined the benefits of a liquid extract preparation of lemon balm (60 drops/day) in patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease. Patients in the active treatment groups showed significantly less agitation and improved cognitive function compared to place-bo.28 An acute 600 mg dose of an encapsulated extract of lemon balm in healthy young adults in a placebo-controlled, double-blind study found significant improvement in their accuracy of attention and memory functions and increased calmness.29 In a similar study, an acute 1600 mg dose increased calmness and improved memory scores.26 Placebo-controlled, double-blind randomized clinical trials of topical lemon balm cream preparations (1% dried extract of the leaves) showed significant benefits in the treatment of herpes simplex.30,31


Medicinal, Pharmaceutical, and Cosmetic. Used in numerous European pharmaceutical preparations as a carminative and mild tranquilizer; also used in cough drops oil more often used as a component in perfumes; commonly used in lip balms.

Food. The monoterpene derivative citral, composed of neral and geranial, is widely used in cosmetics and foods to lend a lemonlike aroma and flavor.1 Balm extract and oil are used in major categories of food products such as alcoholic (bitters, vermouths, etc.) and nonalcoholic beverages, frozen dairy desserts, candy, baked goods, and gelatins and puddings. Highest average maximum use level reported is 0.5% of extract in baked goods.

Dietary Supplements/Health Foods. Cut and sifted herb, powdered herb, liquid and dried extracts, infusions, tinctures, and so on, used as mild sleep aid as well as a stomachic; dried leaves used for tea in doses of 1.5-4.5 g of the herb in infusion; often used in combination with other herbs (BLUMENTHAL 1).

Traditional Medicine. Regarded in European folklore for the treatment of melancholy and for enhancing the memory; Greek physicians used the plant to treat wounds (GRIEVE) and in Iranian folk medicine lemon balm is used in treating gastrointestinal disorders and for analgesic, asntispasmodic, sedative, diuretic, digestive, and carminitive effects.14


Crude; extracts, and oil; oil is seldom unadulterated, (ARCTANDER). Crude formerly official in U.S.P.

Regulatory Status. Regulated in the United States as a dietary supplement; both lemon balm (§182.10) and the essential oil, extractive, and solvent-free oleoresin are GRAS for use in foods (§182.20). Formerly official in the U.S.P. from 1840 to 1890. The leaves and preparations thereof are the subject of a positive German therapeutic monograph, indicated for difficulty in falling asleep caused by nervous conditions, and functional gastrointestinal symptoms (BLUMENTHAL 1).



  • 1. Enjalbert, F. et al., Fitoterapia, 54, 59 (1983).
  • 2. Stankeviciene, N. et al., Polez. Rast. Priblat. Respub. Beloruss., Mater. Nauch. Konf., 2 (1973), 264 (1973).
  • 3. Kapetanovic, S. and Dugumovic, S., Acta Pharm. Jugosl., 18(304), 127 (1968).
  • 4. Hefendehl, F. W., Arch. Pharm. (Weinheim), 303, 345 (1970).
  • 5. Wagner, H. and Sprinkmeyer, L., Dtsch. Apoth. Ztg., 113, 1159 (1973).
  • 6. Thieme, H. and Kitze, C., Pharmazie, 28, 69 (1973).
  • 7. Kucera, L. S. and Herrmann, E. C. Jr., Proc. Soc. Exp. Biol. Med., 124, 865 (1967).
  • 8. Herrmann, E. C. Jr. and Kucera, L. S., Proc. Soc. Exp. Biol. Med., 124, 869 (1967).
  • 9. Morelli, I., Boll. Chini. Farm., 116, 334 (1977).
  • 10. Gerhardt, U. and Schroeter, A., Fleischwirtschaft, 63, 1628 (1983).
  • 11. Patora, J. et al., Acta Pol. Pharm., 59, 139 (2002).
  • 12. Mulkens, A. et al., Pharm. Acta Helv., 60 (9-10), 276 (1985).
  • 13. Burgett, M., Bee World, 61(2), 44 (1980).
  • 14. Sadraei, H. et al., Fitoterapia, 74, 445 (2003).
  • 15. Yamasaki, K. et al., Biol. Pharm. Bull., 21, 829 (1998).
  • 16. Dimitrova, Z. et al., Acta Microbiol. Bulg., 29, 65 (1993).
  • 17. Hohmann, J. et al., Planta Med., 65, 576 (1999).
  • 18. Auf'mkolk, M. et al., Endocrinology (Baltimore), 115, 527 (1984).
  • 19. Santini, F. et al., J. Endocrinol. Invest., 26, 950 (2003).
  • 20. Khayyal, M. T. et al., Arzneim.-Forsch., 51, 545 (2001).
  • 21. Mikus, J. et al., Planta Med., 66, 366 (2000).
  • 22. Araujo, C. et al., J. Food Prot., 66, 625 (2003).
  • 23. Debelmas, A. M. and Rochat, J., Plant Med. Phytother., 1, 23 (1967).
  • 24. Wake, G. et al., J. Ethnopharmacol., 69, 105 (2000).
  • 25. Kennedy, D. O. et al., Neuropsychopharmacology, 28, 1871 (2003).
  • 26. Ballard, C. G. et al., J. Clin. Psychiatry, 63, 553 (2002).
  • 27. Akhondzadeh, S. et al., J. Neurol. Neurosurg. Psychiatry, 74, 863 (2003).
  • 28. Kennedy, D. O. et al., Pharmacol. Biochem. Behav., 72, 953 (2002).
  • 29. Koytchev, R. et al., Phytomedicine, 6, 225 (1999).
  • 30. Wolbling, R. H. and Leonhardt, K., Phytomedicine, 1, 25 (1994).
  • 31. Carnat, A. P. et al., Pharm. Acta Helv., 72, 301 (1998).
Copyright © 2010 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.

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