Melissa officinalis L.

Last updated: 12 March 2015

Scientific Name

Melissa officinalis L.


Faucibarba officinalis (L.) Dulac, Melissa altissima Sm., Melissa bicornis Klokov, Melissa cordifolia Pers., Melissa corsica Benth., Melissa foliosa Opiz ex Rchb., Melissa graveolens Host, Melissa hirsuta Hornem., Melissa occidentalis Raf. ex Benth., Melissa romana Mill., Melissa taurica Benth., Mutelia officinalis (L.) Gren. ex Mutel, Thymus melissa E.H.L.Krause [1].

Vernacular Name

English Lemon balm, balm, bee balm, lemon mint, Melissa [2][3]
China Xiang feng hua [3]
Korea Kyuhhyangphul [3]
Netherlands Mellise, melissa citroen [3]
France Mellise, melisse officinale, citronelle, herbe au citron [3]
Germany Citronelle, melisse, zitronenmelisse, bienenkraut, herzkraut, honingblatt [3]
Italy Cerdonella, erba limona [3]
Portugal Erba cidreira [3]
Russia Melissa, mellissa lekarstvennaja, limonajamata, matotschnik, roewnik, ptschel’nik, papotschnaja trawa [3]
Spain Balsamita major,citraria, melisa,toronjil [3].

Geographical Distributions

Melissa officinalis is native to the eastern Mediterranean, through the Crinmea, the Caucasus and northern Iran to Central Asia [2]. This plant is distributed in the tropics and subtropics areas [4]. It grows and naturalised in Europe and America and cultivated in North Africa and Asia. M. officinalis can be found in wasteland and derelict land near human habitations [5].

Botanical Description

M. officinalis is the plant originated from the family of Labiatae. It is a perennial herb, 60-90 cm in height and the stem is in a subterranean form. The stem is hairy, obtusely quadrangular and furrowed [2].

The leaves are arrange decussately opposite, petiole up to 3.5 cm long, the shape of the leaves is ovate to elliptical measures 2-8 cm x 1-5 cm, acute apex, cuneate-truncate or cordate base, margin crenate-serrate, the leaves are hairy on both of the surfaces [2].

The inflorescence is in the form of axillary verticillaster, 2-12 flowers, bracteoles present in the shape of ovate-oblong, 1.5 mm long, hairy. The sepals (pl: calyx) campanulate, 5-9 mm long, hairy and bilabiate, 3-dentate at the upper lip, 13-veined, bifid at the lower of the lip. The corolla is much longer than the calyx, 8-12 mm tube long, funnel-shaped, bilabiate limb, upper lip erect, emarginated and the lower lip expanded. The stamens 4, inserted deep in the corolla tube, didynamous, anthers 2-celled with disk equal-sided [2].

The fruit composed of 4 obovoid and glabrous nutlets [2].



The leaves of M. officinalis are often used as a flavour of salads, vinegar, liqueurs and also as a flavour to make a tea [2].

This plant is also contains essential oil. The important content in the essential oil of M. officinalis are neral, geraniol, geranial, citronellal and citronellol. The content may be differing in different cultivar of these plants. The oil is very expensive as the content is usually low; 0.02-0.05% in the leaves, and rarely up to 1% concentration content. This oil is usually adulterated [2]. The essential oil is colourless, sweet aroma and dry. As this oil is often been adulterated, the pure essential oil is rarely encountered. Most of the people prefer synthetic mixture of this oil [6].

Chemical Constituent

Essential oil of M. officinalis has been reported to contain monoterpenaldehydes (e.g. citral a, citral b and citronellal), sesquiterpenes (e.g. caryophyllene oxide, methylheptenone, caryophyllene, and β-cubebene) and monoterpenes (e.g. ocimene). [7]

Aqueous ethanol extract of M. officinalis air-dried leaves has been reported to contain flavanone (e.g. naringin, naringenin, hesperidin, hesperetin, and eriodictyol-7-O-glucoside) [8]. M. officinalis leaves also have been reported to contain luteolin 3′-O-β-d-glucuronide [9].

Methanol: water (80:20) extract of M. officinalis has been reported to contain phenolic acids (e.g. 3-(3,4-dihydroxyphenyl)-lactic acid, caffeic acid A, rosmarinic acid, lithospermic acid A, salvianolic acid F, salvianolic acid A, salvianolic acid C, salvianolic acid B (lithospermic acid B), sagerinic acid, yunnaneic acid F, gallic acid, chlorogenic acid, syringic acid, and ferulic acid). [10][11]

Other constituents reported are such as geranial, neral, 6-methyl-5-hepten-2-one, geranyl-acetate, and β-caryophyllene-oxide. [12][13]

Plant Part Used

Leaves, aerial parts, and whole plant. [5][14]

Traditional Use

M. officinalis has a superior history in medicinal and culinary field back in ancient Roman, Arabic and British era. Brewed as a tea, they are famous for being a relaxing tonic, mild sedative for anxiety and nervous illnesses, to catalyse longevity. [14]

The Greek physicians would prescribe it to lift mood and reduce fever [15]. It was said that students during Ancient Greece wore sprigs of M. officinalis in their hair as they studied to strengthen the mind [16]. Meanwhile during the Middle Ages, community has been using the herb to reduce stress and anxiety, promote restful sleep, improve appetite, relief fever and ease the pain or discomfort from indigestion [15].

During Shakespeare’s day, the whole lemon balm was dried, cut up and strewn on the floor for a sweet-smelling home [17]. A weak infusion of the whole herb is excellent for children’s nervous stomach upset [18]. M. officinalis taken orally as tea or tincture can eases tension, calms the mind, stimulates digestion, and reduces fever [19]. The famous Carmelite water in French community was made from a mixture of lemon balm, lemon peel, nutmeg and angelica root which was traditionally used as a remedy for nervousness, agitation, depression causes heart pain, palpitations, and an irregular heartbeat, hysterics [18].

M. officinalis has diaphoretic action. When taken as a hot infusion, it can helps to reduce fever and makes a good treatment for childhood infections, cold, flu and catarrh. In a diluted form of the solution, it is best to be massaged onto the lower part of the abdomen to aid in period pain and ease any muscle pain. In addition to that, it can be used as eardrops or as a component of mouthwash to prevent infections. [18]

According to two Andrean communities of Bolivar Province, Peru, as well as Central Serbia community, the infusion of the plant aerial part has been used for various uses namely for nerves, head ache, anger, heart, colic and diarrhoea. [20][21]

The fresh leaves can be crushed and gently rubbed on bee or wasp stings that eventually give some soothing and healing properties towards the wounds [22]. The equal parts of brewed lemon balm leaves together with chamomile flower, peppermint leaves, licorice root and elder flower are used as a tea beverage for child with fever by decreases chills and promote perspiration. M. officinalis leaves also have antidepressant effects and are taken as it is as a tea or combination with other herbs to eases tension and calms the mind. The capsule formula of the herbs also can be used [23]. Meanwhile in another part of Peru, the infusion of the leaves is used as a sedative and hypotensive drink [24].

M. officinalis strong infusion in a warm bath or essential oil taken by inhalation at night can help excitable children. If it is being inhaled in steams, the volatile oil will support and protect respiratory tract with its antiviral properties, and the pleasant fragrance elevates mood and both calms and energizes the mind. [25]

Preclinical Data


Antimicrobial activity


Aqueous extract of M. officinalis dried leaves showed strong antiviral activity against human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) in concentration-dependent inhibition relative to solvent-treated control. The HIV-1 replication was inhibited against the infection in several cell line with the lowest 50% inhibitory concentration (IC50) was C8166Entry cell (IC50: 0.004 ± 0.002%, 50% cytotoxic concentration (CC50): > 1%, Selectivity indices (SI): > 1834 ± 930%) followed by SupT1 cell (IC50: 0.020 ± 0.012%, CC50: 0.38 ± 0.086%, SI: 103 ± 66%), C8166 cell (IC50: 0.033 ± 0.020%, CC50: > 1%, SI: > 63 ± 19%), and human lymphoid aggregate culture (HLAC) from tonsil (IC50: 0.054 ± 0.016%, CC50: 9.433 ± 0.463%, SI: 210 ± 42%). [26]

Aqueous extract of M. officinalis has been reported to have strong anti-HIV-1 activity (ED of16 µg/mL) in vitro and could inhibit HIV-1 reverse transcriptase. [27]

Essential oil of M. officinalis showed antiviral effect against both herpes simplex virus HSV 1 and HSV 2 in vitro on monolayers of RC-37 cells (monkey kidney cells) using plaque reduction assays. Plaque formation was greatly reduced by 98.8% for HSV 1 and 97.2% for HSV 2 at 0.002% of oil concentration with higher infectivity by higher concentration. The inhibition of free herpes simplex occurred prior to infection of the cells but because M. officinalis oil can penetrate skin, it may be considered for topical treatment of the virus. [7]

M. officinalis extracts has been reported to have virucidal and antiviral effects with respect to Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) effectively within 3 and 6 hours of treatment. [28]


Essential oil of M. officinalis aerial parts (500 μg/mL) demonstrated the highest antifungal activity of oils tested when completely inhibited the growth of five food spoilage yeasts (Torulaspora delbrueckii, Zygosaccharomyces bailii, Pichia membranifaciens, Dekkera anomala, and Yarrowia lipolytica) using the disc diffusion method. The citral (neral with geranial) constituent of M. officinalis was expected to be responsible for this action. [29]

Essential oil of M. officinalis aerial parts showed notable antifungal activity against Trichophyton species (Minimal inhitory concentration (MIC): 15 µL, Minimal fungicidal concentration (MFC): 15 µL) compared to antimycotic Bifonazole (MIC: 10 µL, MFC: 10 µL) using microdillution technique. [21]


Combination of M. officinalis and Thymus vulgaris (thyme) essential oil showed effective antimicrobial activity against food-born pathogens Listeria strains in lettuce leaf model media. It has additive effect against Listeria innocua with fractional inhibitory concentration (FIC) index of essential oil combinations 0.750 and FIC 1.25 against L. monocytogenes [30]. Essential oil of M. officinalis also had adequate antibacterial activity towards pathogens Staphylococcus aureus [31].

Essential oil of M. officinalis aerial parts showed antibacterial activity against 13 test organism using hole-plate agar diffusion method with the greatest inhibition were multiresistant strain of Shingella sonnei (inhibition zone = 37.4±1.95 mm and 38.4±1.67 mm for 20% and 50% essential oil solution, respectively), E. coli (inhibition zone = 30.2±0.44 mm and 39.8±1.09 mm), compared to antibiotic penicillin (S. sonei: no inhibition, E. coli: 12.6±0.89 mm and 13.4±0.55 mm for 500 µg/cm3 and 1000µg/cm3, respectively). [13]

Antioxidant activity

Essential oil of M. officinalis aerial parts showed antioxidant activity with strong free radical scavenging capacity (RSC) of 2,2-diphenyl-1-picrylhydrazyl (DPPH) (IC50 of 7.58 µg/mL) and OH radicals (IC50 of 1.74 µg/mL) in a dose-dependent manner [13]. Other research also claimed the antioxidant activity of M. officinalis essential oil as evidenced by DPPH reduction [32]. Decoction of M. officinalis (0.1 mg/mL dry plant in water) showed high DPPH scavenging activity (96%) [33]. Hydroalcohol extract of M. officinalis showed significant free radical scavenging activity on DPPH. The activity most likely based on flavonoid content (rosmarinic acid) [34].

Aqueous methanolic extract of M. officinalis showed antioxidant activity with lipid peroxidation inhibition when investigated in enzyme-dependent and enzyme-independent lipid peroxidation systems in a considerable concentration-dependent manner. [35]

Analgesics activity

Lyophilised hydroalcoholic extract of M. officinalis administered to acetic acid-induced pain in mice reduced the writhing and aids in decreasing stress along with improving sleep. [36]

Antiacetylcholinesterase activity

Ethanol extract of M. officinalis showed high acetylcholinesterase (AChE) inhibition in a dose dependent manner (0.5 mg/mL: 6.5±2 %, 0.6 mg/mL: 9.5±5.3%, 0.7 mg/mL: 22.9±2.7%, 0.8 mg/mL: 31.5±7.1%, 1 mg/mL: 65.3±4.9%). [33]

Antitumor activity

Essential oil of M. officinalis showed antitumour activity against a series of human cancer cell lines which are A549 (lung cancer), MCF-7 (breast cancer), Caco-2 (colon epithelial cancer), HL-60 (promyelocytic leukemia cells), K562 (myelogenous leukemia cell) and a mouse cell line B16F10 (melanoma cells) in in vitro cytotoxicity assay using MTT test. [32]

Antithyrotropic activity

M. officinalis may support normal function of the thyroid gland. The thyroid-stimulating immunoglobulin G (IgG) found in the blood of patients with Graves’ disease (Graves’-IgG) resembles thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) in their ability to bind to the thyroid plasma membrane. The active principles in freeze-dried extract of M. officinalis and its oxidized constituents with antithyrotropic activity may interact with the pathogenically important components of Graves’-IgG to inhibit the disease ability to bind to the TSH receptor and activate the thyroid. [37]


No documentation.

Clinical Data

Clinical findings

A double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized trial has been carried out to 66 patients with a history of recurrent herpes labialis (cold sores) to test a cream preparation of M. officinalis for the treatment. Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus. In addition to the shortening of the healing period of cold sores, M. officinalis may aid in the prevention of spreading the infection. Studies suggest that it may also have a soothing effect on typical symptoms of cold sores like itching, tingling, burning, swelling, tautness and erythema. The different mechanism of action of the balm mint extracts rules out the development of resistance of the herpes virus. Some indication exists that the intervals between the periods with herpes might be prolonged with balm mint cream treatment. [38]

Aqueous extracts of M. officinalis leaves were investigated for Herpes simplex virus (HSV) infection in 115 patients. A proprietary preparation of lemon balm extract in a lip balm showed efficacy in treating lip sores associated with the HSV. [6]

In comparison with other plant extracts and controls, a crossover study involving 12 healthy volunteers showed virtually no effect when M. officinalis extracts have been given orally to test for their acute sedative effects in a randomised, double-blind and placebo-controlled. The sedative effects of oral combination preparations containing extracts of lemon balm and valerian (Valeriana officinalis), were more successful, showing a very slight but non-significant improvement in sleep quality. [6]

A study found that M. officinalis supplements can improve the mood and memory of 20 healthy young participants. [6]

M. officinalis has also seen much use in Europe as supportive therapy for the nervous system, possibly helping to decrease stress and improve sleep. Instead of its memory-improving properties, studies in patients with Alzheimer’s syndrome and other forms of dementia have shown some benefits of aromatherapy, particularly using lemon balm and lavender oil; bright light therapy also eases restlessness and sleeping and behavioural problems. [6]


Essential oils are sometimes prescribed to be used internally, but should only be used internally under professional supervision, while the dietary supplement is considered safe when used in accordance with proper dosing guidelines. Hence, the pharmaceutical form should be described by the European Pharmacopoeia full standard term. For tinctures and liquid extracts containing ethanol, the appropriate labelling for ethanol, taken from the ‘Guideline on excipients in the label and package leaflet of medicinal products for human use’, must be included. [39]

Side effects

No documentation.

Pregnancy/Breast Feeding

Not to be used by pregnant or nursing women without supervision of a healthcare professional. In the absence of sufficient data, the use during pregnancy and lactation is not recommended [39]. The medical literature has not reported any adverse effects related to foetal development during pregnancy or to infants who are breast-fed. However, due to the gross adulteration of M. officinalis oil, it has developed some consequences such as oestrogenic effect and deleterious effect on the uterus [6].

Age limitation

The use in children under 12 years of age is not recommended because data are not sufficient and medical advice should be sought. [39]

Adverse reaction

Adverse effect such as irritation or burning sensations were shown when the antiviral effects of aqueous extracts of M. officinalis leaves were investigated in patients with Herpes simplex virus (HSV) infection. [6]

Interaction & Depletion

Interaction with drug

Anticholinergic/cholinergic medications

A study to evaluate human CNS cholinergic receptor binding activity in extracts of those European medicinal plants reputed to enhance or restore mental functions including memory reported that M. officinalis may act and alter the effects of some medications and shows considerable variation in cholinoreceptor interactions [40]. These drugs include atropine, belladonna, benztropine mesylate, buclizine, cyclizine, trimethobenzamide, diphenhydramine, dimenhydrinate, L- hyoscyamine, ipratropium, scopolamine, meclizine, methscopolamine, clindium bromide, glycopyrrolate, mepenzolate bromide, propantheline bromide, trihexyphenidyl, procyclidine, guanidine, neostigmine, pyridostogmine, edrophonium and ambenonium.

Thyroid medications

A laboratory study reported that lemon balm/M. officinalis can affect the thyroid, which may alter the effects of these medications and possibly the dose needed for treatment. [37] These drugs include thyroid desiccated, levothyroxine sodium, liothyronine sodium, liotrix, and iodine products.

Interaction with other Herbs

No documentation.


M. officinalis is hypersensitivity to the active substance [39]. Due to the consistent adulteration of this plant oil, it is not recommended for use in Aromatherapy unless by a trained professional as potential for toxicity cannot be determined when the adulterants are not identified. It has possible deleterious effect on the uterus, possible oestrogenic effect, lack of toxicity data and possible sensitisation [6].

Case Report

No documentation.


No documentation.


No documentation.

Line drawing

No documentation


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