Lemon Balm, also known as Melissa or Balm, is a wonderful lush green herb that has many uses in natural herbal skincare. This herb has been used for thousands of years for all sorts of ailments, not least to combat the stings of scorpions or the bite of a mad dog.

Lemon Balm – the Elixir of Life

Herb Hedgerow Lemon Balm SkincareLemon balm was used by the Ancient Greeks and Romans and was found throughout most of Europe by the Middle Ages. It is often also called ‘Melissa’, which is its genus name – Melissa officinalis. The word ‘melissa’ is Greek for honeybee and it is very likely that the plant was named for its ability to attract bees.

Over the last two thousand years, it has been used for its medicinal, aromatic and uplifting qualities as is demonstrated by an old Arabian proverb that says “Balm makes the heart merry and joyful“. In past centuries this beautifully scented herb was frequently strewn across floors or amongst church pews to freshen up rooms and lemon balm oil was even used to polish furniture.

Its medicinal uses are also extensive. It has been attributed by herbalists dating back thousands of years as being able to treat or cure a huge number of ailments, including fainting, digestion, boils, sword wounds and baldness. In the 17th century, the nuns of the Carmelite religious order created and sold Carmelite water to promote a long life, in which lemon balm was the main ingredient. Going one step further, Swiss physician and alchemist Paracelsus (1493-1541) believed that lemon balm was an “elixir of life” and would increase strength and lengthen life.

An exquisite drop of essential oil

Herb Hedgerow Essential Oil BottleNowadays, lemon balm essential oil is one of the most expensive oils you can buy. 10ml will easily set you back over £30, while a litre can cost you well over £1,500! That means that each drop of this exquisite essential oil is very precious. The essential oil is steam distilled from the flowering tops of the plant as well as the leaves and stems although the upper parts of the plant yield the most oil. The main reason for the high cost is down to the fact that the production costs are high because the yields are low – around 0.5ml of essential oil per kilo of lemon balm distilled (!). This is why you will often find lemon balm essential oil  mixed together with other citrus fragrances, lemongrass or citronella being prime examples. In other words, beware of cheap copies.

This essential oil smells beautiful, very clean and fresh with veggie undertones. The scent is thought to be deeply calming, almost sedative, which makes it good for use before bedtime. However, the herb itself has been described as being able to ‘revivify a man completely, effective for treating nervous disorders, strengthening the brain and relieving languishing nature’ (Mrs. M. Grieve’s A Modern Herbal, 1971).

Lemon Balm Natural Skincare

Herb-Hedgerow-Lemon-Balm-MelissaLemon balm has long been known for its use in treating various skin conditions, particularly the herpes virus. For that reason, it is sometimes used in creams for cold sores. However, its uses in skincare go wider than that given the plant’s strong anti-inflammatory and antibacterial action. Lemon balm is classified as being calming, soothing, healing and tightening on the skin, whilst also stimulating circulation. It is thought to be great for acne and sunburned skin.

So what is it that makes this herb so great for skincare? Research has found that one of the advantages of skincare application of lemon balm is the ability of two of its compounds, caffeic acid and ferulic acid, to penetrate through the top layers into the deeper cutaneous layers of the skin and provide protection against UV radiation-induced skin damage (Saija et al., 1999). Much like some of the other herbs covered here in the HerbBlurb (see previous blog posts on cornflower or strawberry seeds), lemon balm is also high in flavonoids, which have an antioxidant effect. Other skin benefits can be attributed to the herb’s tannins, which are astringent and contribute to the lemon balm’s antiviral effects.

In other words, lemon balm not only smells fabulous but is also great for your skin. This fragrant herb is definitely worth growing in your herb garden – even if you don’t use it, the bees certainly will!

Want to try some lemon balm essential oil?

If the HerbBlurb has managed to convince you that this is a wonderful skincare herb and you’d like to sniff it for yourself, why not try some essential oil? Just be aware that many essential oils for sale are often cheap copies containing synthetic ingredients rather than the actual plant extract. If you want to buy some essential oils for use at home, we recommend that you try this reputable firm:

Just one word of caution – always check the safe usage recommendations for any essential oil that you buy. Some essential oils should be avoided in certain stages of pregnancy or whilst breastfeeding. Essential oils should always be diluted before applying to the skin.

References and Further Reading

Mrs. M. Grieve, 1971. A Modern Herbal

Michalun, N. & Michalun, M.V. 2010. Milady’s Skin Care and Cosmetic Ingredients Dictionary

Saija, A., Tomaino, A., Lo Cascio, R., Trombetta, D., Proteggente, A., De Pasquale, A., Uccella, N., Bonina, F. 1999. Ferulic and caffeic acids as potential protective agents against photooxidative skin damage. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture Special Issue: Proceedings from Ferulate ’98. Volume 79, Issue 3, pages 476–480, 1 March 1999

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