Tips for Growing Lemon Balm

COMMON NAMES:
Lemon Balm, Sweet Balm, Common Balm, Sweet Mary, Balm, Honey Plant, Melissa, Cure-all, Dropsy Plant, Bee Balm, Garden Balm.

LATIN NAME:
Melissa officinalis

HISTORY:
The species originates from southern Europe, Asia and some parts of North America. It has been extensively used in the Mediterranean regions of Turkey and Morocco as a popular digestive tea. Historically, lemon balm held multiple uses, including being a natural flavoring additive for foods, a cosmetic, an herbal tea and a highly-revered essential oil. The plant was also traditionally used as a memory-enhancing herb, a mild sedative, an anti-bacterial agent and a sleep aid. In fact, historical record shows its use goes back to the Middle Ages, where it was employed as a stress-reducer, sleep-aid and digestive promoter.

HERBAL PROPERTIES AND USES:
Even pre-Middle Ages, this member of the mint family was used to treat a variety of health conditions. Steeped in wine, lemon balm was used to treat wounds, insect bites and stings, as well as lift the mood. Current medical research is looking into the use of lemon balm as an anti-tumor, antimicrobial, antihistaminic, anti-bacterial, antispasmodic and antioxidant agent. Studies have found that it is an effective aid for herpes, and it holds potential applications for moderate Alzheimer's disease, mild mood disorders, the stimulation of the immune system, and overall improvements in cognitive function. Multiple studies show that a combination of lemon balm with valerian, hops, and chamomile is an effective remedy for insomnia and nervousness.

Lemon Balm Cultivation and Growing Methods

ANNUAL/PERRENIAL PLANT:
Perennial

PARTS USED:
Leaves

SOIL REQUIREMENTS:
Lemon balm can grow in most types of soil, but well-drained clay or sandy loam is best. Lemon balm can also handle acidic and very alkaline soil, but it prefers a pH range of 6.0 to 7.5.

SUN REQUIREMENTS:
Thrives best in full sun to partial shade.

HEIGHT:
12 to 18 inches (30 - 45cm).

SPACING:
Space seedlings around 12 to 15 inches (30 and 38 cm) apart.

GROWING ZONES:
Grows in Zones 4a through 9b, and best in U.S. Zone 7, where it can be harvested until the end of November. Lemon balm can grow well in most climates, although it prefers drier climates.

PLANTING TIME:
Plant seedlings indoors in early spring, (6-8 weeks before last frost), or sow seeds on the surface of soil after the last frost of spring. Does best in pots in summer.

POLLINATION:
Easy propagation vegetatively and by seed. Under ideal conditions, proliferation is rapid, and the plant can easily become a nuisance.

FLOWERING/SEEDING TIME:
Seed germination occurs within 12 to 21 days.

HARVESTING:
Leaves can be harvested in late spring, summer and even autumn. It takes about 10 weeks to go from seeds to full-leafed plants.

DRYING METHODS / YIELD:
Pick individual leaves, or bunches. If you have picked branches/bunches of them, tie them in bunches and hang them in a cool, dry location.

PLANT YIELD:
Dependent upon growing conditions

PRESERVATION / PACKAGING METHODS:
Dried leaves may be stored in an airtight glass container for up to one year.

ESSENTIAL OIL USE:
Extensive use as an essential oil for cleaning and medicinal purposes. Essential oils from this plant contain the chemicals terpene, tannins and eugenol, which contributes to the oils calming, anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-spasmodic effects.

PLANT CHEMICALS:
The main active chemicals constituents include trans-carveol, citronella, -3-carene, citronellal, geraniol, 1-octene-3-ol and spathulenol.

IS THIS AN EDIBLE PLANT:
Yes

CAUTIONS / CONTRAINDICATIONS:
Lemon balm is considered to be a non-toxic, non-irritant safe oil. Contraindications include not taking while operating machinery, because of its mild sedative effects. The balm also has possible effects on female hormones, and should not be used by pregnant and breast-feeding women.

DRUG INTERACTIONS:
This herb may affect the actions of pharmaceutical, or over-the-counter, tranquilizers and sedatives.

Clinical Research About Lemon Balm

  • llahverdiyev, A., N. Duran, M. Ozguven and S. Koltas, 2004. Antiviral activity of the volatile oils of Melissa officinalis L. against herpes simplex virus type-2., Phytomedicine, 11: 657-661. [PMID: 15636181]
  • Coleta, M., M.G. Campos, M.D. Cotrim and A. Proenca Cunha, 2001. Comparative evaluation of Melissa officinalis L., Tilia europaea L., Passiflora edulis Sims and Hypericum perforatum L. in the elevated plus maze anxiety test. Pharmacopsychiatry, 34: 20-21. [PMID: 11518069]
  • Kennedy, D.O., W. Little and A.B., 2004. Schley, Attenuation of laboratory-induced stress in humans after acute administration of Melissa officinalis (lemon balm). J. Pharm Pharmacol., 56: 677-681. [PMID: 15272110]
  • Kennedy DO, Little W, Haskell CF, Scholey AB. Anxiolytic effects of a combination of Melissa officinalis and Valeriana officinalis during laboratory induced stress. Phytother Res. 2006;20(2):96-102. [PMID: 16444660]
  • Dos Santos-Neto LL, de Vilhena Toledo MA, Medeiros-Souza P, de Souza GA. The use of herbal medicine in Alzheimer's disease-a systematic review. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2006 Dec;3(4):441-5. [PMID: 17173107]

 

References

  1. Gray, Linda. Grow Your Own Pharmacy. 1992. HYPERLINK "http://www.botanical.com"
  2. American Journal of Biochemistry and Biotechnology 4(3): 277-278, 2008. ISSN 1553-3468. Essential Oil Component in Flower of Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis L.)
  3. Lemon Balm. http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/lemon-balm-000261.htm
  4. Gaby AR. Natural remedies for Herpes simplex. Altern Med Rev. 2006;11(2):93-101.
  5. http://herbgardening.com/growingbalmlemon.htm

 

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