A native of Southern Europe, lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) has naturalized throughout the world. It can be found in most of North America except through the central part of the continent. Cultivated for ornamental and medicinal purposes, in the wild it occupies open woods and waste places.
A member of the Mint Family (Lamiaceae), lemon balm has a strong lemon scent. It also is a prodigious nectar producer. The genus name, Melissa, is the Greek word for “honeybee, bee or honey” and refers to this trait.
The species designation, officinalis, is from the Latin and indicates that lemon balm is sold an herb – a term applied to plants that have real or supposed medicinal properties. The curative properties attributed to M officinalis are legion and include calming anxiety and depression, treating colds, soothing insect bites, acting as an antioxidant, relieving gastrointestinal complaints and aiding sleep, among many others.
Lemon balm essential oils are used in perfume and dried leaves are common in potpourri and sachets. Additionally this versatile plant is edible when added to salads, soups, vegetables or as a pot herb. Lemon balm also adds flavor to tea.
A bushy plant with hairy herbage, lemon balm leaves are wrinkled, ovate and dentate. The leaves occur as opposite pairs.
The flowers of this perennial arise in the leaf axils. The five white to pale yellow petals are fused into a recurved, ascending tube with two lips, the upper with two lobes and the lower with three lobes. There are 4 stamens.
Common balm and balm mint are alternate colloquial names for M officinalis.
These lemon balm specimens were photographed along the Rail Trail in Ankeny National Wildlife Area south of Salem OR (Marion County) in July.