Lemon balm, known scientifically as Melissa officinalis, is an herb that belongs in the mint family. As its leaves are touched, they release a lemony fragrance, and although it does produce small yellow flowers, the primary reason gardeners grow lemon balm is for its leaves. The leaves are not only aromatic, but they have many uses.
Lemon balm is found in herb gardens for good reason. Lemon balm leaves can be used in recipes in place of lemon peel. According to Floridata.com, an online plant encyclopedia, lemon balm leaves are also used to flavor iced tea, hot tea or to make a pure lemon tea. They can also be used to flavor ice cream and fruit salads, and they make a great addition to green salads as well.
While you enjoy the culinary benefit of lemon balm tea, you might like to know that not only is it pleasing to the palate, it is full of health benefits as well. Lemon balm is often used as a tea by those who need to relax. A study in the July-August 2004 issue of Psychosomatic Medicine reports that the effects of lemon balm extract were tested on mood, calmness and brain function, and it was found to improve mood, increase relaxation level and increase brain function. It is also reported by the University of Maryland Medical Center to heal cold sores that are associated with herpes simplex-1. Patients with cold sores who applied a balm made from the lemon balm onto the sores found they had a reduction in the redness and swelling of the sores. Other noted medicinal uses of lemon balm include the treatment of depression, stomach upset, headache, cold and fever.
Lemon balm contains essential oils of citral and citronella. When leaves or the leaf stems are crushed, and then applied to the skin, they can act as an insect repellent. The Plants For A Future online plant database states that lemon balm retains its scent long after the leaves have been dried and harvested. This makes it an excellent addition to home potpourris and air fresheners. Lemon balm is often used for its scent in cosmetics, also. Another benefit of adding it to cosmetic ingredients is that it contains antibacterial properties, which can inhibit bacterial or fungal growth within the cosmetic, as well as on the skin where it is applied. A study in the March 2008 issue of the Journal of Medicinal Food tested the effectiveness of lemon balm when mixed with other bases, such as alcohol and petroleum, and found it to still have high antioxidant and antibacterial activity.