Melissa officinalis is a member of the mint family and native to the Mediterranean region and central Europe. Commonly known as lemon balm because of its lemon scent and flavor, the perennial attracts bees. It also inherited bees' Latin name, Melissa.
Melissa was used by the Greeks and Romans for medicine as far back as 2,000 years ago. Later uses included treatment for wounds, influenza, anxiety, toothache and pregnancy sickness.
Lemon balm has small, indistinct white to yellow flowers that bloom from early summer through early fall. Medium green, golden or variegated foliage grows into a mounded form 2 to 4 feet high by 2 feet wide.
Lemon balm propagates easily from seed and self-sows. It also spreads through its roots. Golden and variegated varieties only grow from cuttings.
Lemon balm requires full sun to partial shade. Once established, it tolerates almost any soil but performs best in soil that is fertile, moist and well-drained. Lemon balm grows in zones 3 to 7.
A popular culinary herb, Melissa added to tea, cheese, vinegar, olive oil and fish imparts a subtle lemon flavor and aroma. The essential oil, used in aromatherapy, treats insomnia, depression and nervous conditions. According to the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center at Harvard, scientific studies show its effectiveness in treating herpes and as a potential sedative.