Lemon balm

Melissa officinalis
Category: Brain Tincture
Part used: Aerial parts

There is nothing showy about Lemon balm – its light green leaves and inconspicuous white flowers are easily overlooked in a garden or the wild. Rub some leaves between your fingers though, and the ‘lemon’ in its name becomes clear, as the aromatic lemon-scented constituents are released. These volatile compounds – especially citral and citronellal, have a calming, tranquilising effect on the central nervous system, helping the mind and body to de-stress and relax.

Traditionally, the herb is understood as a tonic for the heart, especially for palpitations and the ‘emotional’ heart, and for the brain and mild depression. John Gerard, the 16th century English herbalist, writes that “Balm is sovereign for the brain, strengthening the memory and powerfully chasing away melancholy”1.

A current understanding of the herb suggests that these are not fanciful ideas. Research shows that over and above the calming effect produced by the essential oil, Lemon balm acts to prevent the breakdown of the neurotransmitter, acetylcholine, within the brain and at a relatively high dose to improve cognition, especially the speed of memory and recall2.

As low levels of acetylcholine are associated with dementia, Lemon balm is thought to be one of several herbs that might help to support healthy mental function with ageing, and to slow the onset of dementia.

  1. Woodward M. Gerard’s herbal: The history of plants. London: Studio Editions, Ltd. 1994.
  2. Kennedy DO et al Modulation of mood and cognitive performance following acute administration of single doses of Melissa officinalis (Lemon balm) with human CNS nicotinic and muscarinic receptor-binding properties. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2003 Oct;28(10):1871-81.