Melissa officinalis (lemon balm), also known as balm or balm mint and not to be confused with bee balm (which is genus Monarda), is a perennial herb in the mint family Lamiaceae, native to center-southern Europe and the Mediterranean region. It is a herb found during spring time in the mountains of the Zagori region and the National Parks of Vikos-Aoos and Pindus.
It grows to 70–150 cm tall. The leaves have a gentle lemon scent, related to mint. During summer, small white flowers full of nectar appear. These attract bees, hence the genus name Melissa (Greek for ‘honey bee’). Its flavour comes from citronellal (24%), geranial (16%), linalyl acetate (12%) and caryophyllene (12%).
Lemon balm is often used as a flavouring in ice cream and herbal teas, both hot and iced, often in combination with other herbs such as spearmint.
In the traditional medicine Melissa officinalis leaves have been prescribed for internal (as tea) or external (essential oil) application for the treatment of disorders of the gastrointestinal tract, nervous system, liver and bile.
Lemon balm essential oil is very popular in aromatherapy. The essential oil is commonly co-distilled with lemon oil, citronella oil, or other oils.