What is Lemon Balm?

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

An herb is a plant whose leaves, seeds, or flowers are used for flavoring food or in medicine. Other uses of herbs include cosmetics, dyes, and perfumes. The name derives from the Latin word herba, meaning “green crops.”

Lemon balm is often used an herbal remedy.
Lemon balm is often used an herbal remedy.

Lemon balm – carrying the botanical name Melissa officinalis and commonly known as balm, sweet balm, heart’s delight, and Melissa – is a perennial in the mint family. It is said to be native to the Near East and the Mediterranean, but cultivated far more widely. Although lemon balm is sometimes called “bee balm,” it is useful to reserve the name bee balm for Monarda didyma in order to be able to distinguish between these two plants. The confusion may arise because Melissa means “bee” in Greek.

Lemon balm may be added as a garnish for salads.
Lemon balm may be added as a garnish for salads.

History. Praised in many traditions – by the Muslim herbalist Avicenna and the Swiss-German physician Paracelsus, for example, and used in Tibetan medicine for thousands of years – lemon balm was recognized as a useful remedy from late medieval times. Lemon balm was an ingredient of the famous “Carmelite water,” prepared by the Carmelite order as a restorative beginning in the 12th century. King Charles V of France (ruled 1364-1380) reportedly drank lemon balm tisane daily.

Description. A perennial, lemon balm is a bushy plant that grows to a height of about three feet (90 cm) and produces flowers ranging in color from yellow to white during the period from May to August.

Gardening. Lemon balm thrives in fertile, moist soil in full sun or partial shade. Since it depletes the soil, it needs to be fertilized annually. It can be grown from seed or propagated by dividing the root clump at the beginning or end of the growing season. It doesn’t spread well itself. Lemon balm can both be used fresh, or air dried by hanging the stems and then putting them in a sealed container to preserve flavor. In either case, harvest the leaves when they are young.

Food and Other Uses. Lemon balm is made into tisane, substituted for fresh lemon grass and/or lemon zest or lemon thyme. It can added as a garnish for fish, salads, and vegetable dishes, or stirred into rice or other grain dishes. In the area of beverages, lemon balm can be made into a liqueur or a syrup to flavor carbonated water, added to fruit drinks, and used to flavor teas.

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Mary Elizabeth is passionate about reading, writing, and research, and has a penchant for correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to contributing articles to wiseGEEK about art, literature, and music, Mary Elizabeth is a teacher, composer, and author. She has a B.A. from the University of Chicago’s writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont, and she has written books, study guides, and teacher materials on language and literature, as well as music composition content for Sibelius Software.

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Discussion Comments


@sputnik, @simrin, @alisha-- It's great that you guys are finding different lemon balm uses. But we should note that not everyone can use lemon balm. It's a no-no for pregnant women. It can also cause unwanted side effects when taken with medications.

So before taking lemon balm supplements or having the tea on a regular basis, it's a good idea to check with a physician that it's okay to do so.

I've been avoiding lemon balm because I have a thyroid dysfunction and take synthetic thyroid hormones. Some sources say that lemon balm helps with this condition, others say that it should be avoided, especially when taking hormones. I'm not sure if it's safe or not, so I'm staying away from it even though I believe that it's a really beneficial herb.


@simrin-- Really?! I didn't know that lemon balm was so beneficial for the mood. I only have lemon balm tea when I have the flu or when I catch a cold. I like to mix it with fresh mint to soothe my stomach. I think it has antibacterial properties and helps kill infections too.

You can grow lemon balm in a pot in your home. You can grow it in your yard too, it grows easily and likes to multiply like mint does. Just make sure to cover it during cold weather if you want to keep them through the winter.

Fresh lemon balm leaf easily replaces lemongrass in the kitchen like the article said. I think it's best paired with fish and chicken. It gives such a nice lemony aroma. You should try it!


@sputnik-- Where could one get fresh lemon balm? I suppose the only way would be to grow some yourself.

I buy loose dry lemon balm tea. You're right, it's really good for the stomach and lifts the spirit. In my home, when someone has a bad day, my mom will prepare some lemon balm tea with honey. It's so good at calming the nerves and relaxing the body. I call it the "depression tea" because it helped me get out of depression last year.

I also like the flavor. Maybe the fresh kind really smells like lemons, but the dry kind I use for tea just slightly smells like citrus. It's nice.


Medicinally, lemon balm leaves help reduce fever, calm stomachs and heal wounds. Lemon balm is known to alleviate sadness and despair. As with all herbs, fresh lemon balm is best.

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