Melissa, or lemon balm as it is commonly known, is growing rampant this time of year. The plant makes a mild-tasting tea that’s perfect to wile away a summer afternoon. There was a restaurant I used to visit in Southern California that would serve a delightful tea made from lemon balm leaves plucked fresh from the garden. That tea was my first encounter with Melissa (Melissa officinalis), but since then I have discovered its essential oil and the wonderful gifts it offers.
The lemony scent of Melissa essential oil is inviting while it works as a mild sedative to reduce anxiety and promote sleep. These calming effects also help with gastrointestinal disorders, muscle spasms, inflammation, and pain. Bronchitis and asthma can be eased with the essential oil as can hypertension and migraines.
Research with Melissa essential oil has been primarily as an antiviral agent against the herpes simplex virus. One study showed “higher concentrations of lemon balm oil abolished viral infectivity nearly completely.” This lead the researchers to conclude that “lemon balm oil is capable of exerting a direct antiviral effect on herpesviruses … (and that) Melissa officinalis oil might be suitable for topical treatment of herpetic infections.” This is good news because many pathogens are developing resistance to antiviral drugs.
Recently I ordered my first Melissa hydrosol (the by-product of the distillation of the plant) and I am excited to try it as an analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial that can help with skin irritations. Summertime means that my skin is exposed more often and subject to scratches and bites, so the hydrosol will become part of my fragrant first aid kit. I can soothe myself by applying it to my skin while I drink the herbal tea.