Melissa officinalis (PROSEA)

From PlantUse English
Jump to: navigation, search
Logo PROSEA.png
Plant Resources of South-East Asia
List of species

Melissa officinalis L.

Family: Labiatae


  • Melissa altissima J.E. Smith,
  • M. inodora Bornm., non Hassk.

Vernacular names

  • Lemon balm, balm, bee balm (En)
  • Mélisse, citronelle (Fr)


M. officinalis is native from the eastern Mediterranean, through the Crimea, the Caucasus and northern Iran to Central Asia. It has been introduced and naturalized in Europe (up to 60°N) and America and is also cultivated in temperate climates of North Africa and Asia. In South-East Asia M. officinalis is occasionally cultivated in the mountains of Java and on several farms in Cavite province, the Philippines.


M. officinalis is grown as a culinary herb, medicinal plant, essential-oil plant and bee-feeding plant. The leaves are used to flavour salads, soups, vinegars and liqueurs and to make a tea. Lemon balm is in demand by international hotels in the Philippines. An essential oil is obtained from the leaves and used in the medicine and perfume industries. In the United States the regulatory status "generally recognized as safe” has been accorded to lemon balm (GRAS 2111), lemon balm oleoresin (GRAS 2112) and lemon balm oil (GRAS 2113). It is also used medicinally, mainly to stimulate digestion, calm the nerves, promote menstruation, and relieve headache and toothache.


  • Several-stemmed perennial herb, 60-90 cm tall, lemon-scented when bruised, with a subterranean rhizome. Stem obtusely quadrangular, furrowed, hairy.
  • Leaves decussately opposite; petiole up to 3.5 cm long; blade ovate to elliptical, 2-8 cm × 1-5 cm, base cuneate-truncate or cordate, margin crenate-serrate, apex rather acute, hairy on both sides.
  • Inflorescence an axillary verticillaster, 2-12-flowered; bracteoles ovate-oblong, about 1.5 mm long, hairy.
  • Calyx campanulate, funnel-shaped, 5-9 mm long, hairy, 13-veined, bilabiate, upper lip 3-dentate, lower lip bifid; corolla white or pale violet, much longer than the calyx, tube 8-12 mm, infundibuliform, limb bilabiate, upper lip erect, emarginate, lower lip expanded, 3-fid; stamens 4, didynamous, inserted deeply in tube; anthers 2-celled; disk equal-sided.
  • Fruit composed of 4 obovoid, glabrous nutlets.

Propagation is possible by seed and by cuttings. Important compounds in the essential oil of M. officinalis are neral, geranial, geraniol, citronellal and citronellol, but the compounds may differ per cultivar. The essential-oil concentration in the leaves is usually very low, 0.02-0.05%; rarely, up to 1% occurs. The oil is very expensive and is often adulterated.

Selected sources

  • Backer, C.A. & Bakhuizen van den Brink Jr, R.C., 1963-1968. Flora of Java. 3 volumes. Wolters‑Noordhoff, Groningen, the Netherlands. Vol. 1 (1963), 647 pp., Vol. 2 (1965), 641 pp., Vol. 3 (1968), 761 pp.
  • Bruneton, J., 1995. Pharmacognosy, phytochemistry, medicinal plants. Lavoisier Publishing, Paris, France. 915 pp.
  • Dawson, B.S.W., Franich, R.A. & Meder, R., 1988. Essential oil of Melissa officinalis L. subsp. altissima (Sibthr. et Smith) Arcang. Flavour and Fragrance Journal 3(4): 167-170.
  • Flora Malesiana (various editors), 1950- . Series 1. Vol. 1, 4- . Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, the Netherlands.
  • Guenther, E., 1948-1952. The essential oils. 6 volumes. Van Nostrand, Toronto, Canada. (Allured Publishing Corporation, Carol Stream, Illinois, United States).
  • Huxley, A., Griffiths, M. & Levy, M. (Editors), 1992. The new Royal Horticultural Society dictionary of gardening. 4 volumes. The Macmillan Press, London, United Kingdom.
  • Lawrence, B.M., 1996. Progress in essential oils. Perfumer and Flavorist 21(4): 57-67.
  • Mansfeld, R., 1986. Verzeichnis landwirtschaftlicher und gärtnerischer Kulturpflanzen (ohne Zierpflanzen) [Register of agricultural and horticultural plants in cultivation (without ornamentals)]. Schultze‑Motel, J. et al., editors 2nd edition, 4 volumes. Springer Verlag, Berlin, Germany. 1998 pp.
  • Morton, J.F., 1981. Atlas of medicinal plants of Middle America (Bahamas to Yucatan). C.C. Thomas Publisher, Springfield, Illinois, United States. 1420 pp.
  • Pruthi, J.S., 1980. Spices and condiments: chemistry, microbiology and technology. Academic Press, New York, United States. 449 pp.
  • Rehm, S., 1994. Multilingual dictionary of agronomic plants. Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, the Netherlands. 286 pp.
  • Rehm, S. & Espig, G., 1991. The cultivated plants of the tropics and subtropics. Cultivation, economic value, utilization. Technical Centre for Agriculture and Rural Co-operation (CTA), Ede, the Netherlands & Verlag Josef Margraf, Weikersheim, Germany. 552 pp.
  • Schultze, W., Hose, S., Abou-Mandour, A. & Czygan, F.C., 1993. Melissa officinalis L. (lemon balm): in vitro culture and the production and analysis of volatile compounds. In: Bajaj, Y.P.S. (Editor): Biotechnology in agriculture and forestry. Vol. 24. Medicinal and aromatic plants V. Springer Verlag, Berlin, Germany. pp. 242-268.
  • Small, E., 1997. Culinary herbs. National Research Council of Canada. NRC Research Press, Ottawa, Canada. 710 pp.


P.C.M. Jansen, M. Brink