LEMON BALM & LEMON VERBENA

LEMON BALM & LEMON VERBENA

By Jeanne Rose ~ 4-20-22

photo from the garden of Lemon vebena and Lemon Balm
Lemon Verbena and Lemon Balm

Lemon Balm and Lemon Verbena are from two different genera and family.  They are not the same and yet I am writing about them together because they often have the same properties, in both essential oil and herbal use.

                                                                          COMMON NAME/LATIN BINOMIAL/FAMILY

Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) and Family Lamiaceae

Lemon Verbena (Aloysia triphylla) and Family Verbenaceae

                                                        OTHER COMMON NAME/NAMING INFORMATION ~
Lemon Balm is often called  Balm, Balm Mint, Bálsamo de Limón, Common Balm, Cure-All, Dropsy Plant, Honey Plant, Melisa, Melissa, Melissa officinalis, Melissae Folium, Mélisse, Mélisse Citronnelle, Mélisse Officinale, Melissenblatt, Monarde, Sweet Balm, Sweet Mary, Toronjil.

AND

Lemon Verbena has many names and confusing scientific names including Aloysia citrodora, Aloysia triphylla, Lippia citrodora, Lippia triphylla, Zappania citrodora and common names such as Cedrón, Herb Louisa, Hierba Luisa, Lemon-Scented Verbena, Louisa, Verbena Citrodora, Verbena triphylla, Verveine Citronnée, Verveine Citronnelle, Verveine des Indes, Verveine du Chili, Verveine du Pérou, Verveine Odorante.

            So, know these two plants by their physiology and anatomy – look and them and memorize their looks, smell, taste, and touch.

                                                                  COUNTRIES OF ORIGINS & Harvest Locations

Lemon Balm grows easily in many places and is distilled in Bulgaria, France, and Italy.

Lemon Verbena is distilled in Chile, Argentina, and Morocco. I have seen a Lemon Verbena tree here in San Francisco that had grown up to the 2nd story window and the one in the backyard that I grew from a 2-inch baby in 1969, grew to about 12 feet in height with a trunk measurement of 18 inches, even though I distilled the top third of it yearly. A great wind broke one of the main branches – then I duct-taped the broken ends together and it lasted until the duct tape rotted away. I think my tree finally aged out as it fell in another windstorm and now the fallen trunk is a host for various types of mushrooms.

HISTORICAL USES and INTERESTING INFORMATION ~

Melissa was called the ‘elixir of life’ by Avicenna, the ancient Roman physician. The herb was associated particularly with nervous disorders, the heart, and emotions. Melissa was used for anxiety, melancholy, and to strengthen and revive the vital spirit.


Lemon verbena or Verveine is the French word for the plant known as Lemon Verbena. The correct Latin binomial for Lemon Verbena is Aloysia triphylla and not anything else. Verbena is a genus of the plant named from the Latin meaning ‘sacred bough of olive etc.’. Vervain is the French word for the same from medieval Latin. It is the Verbena officinalis used by herbalists and they refer to the old spice Vervain.

         Latin is favored in gardening terminology since Carl Linnaeus, the Swedish botanist introduced the plant naming system in use today – a plant family is divided into various genus names and then sub-divided into species and then cultivar.

ENDANGERED OR NOT ~ Neither Lemon balm nor Lemon verbena are endangered or threatened.  Both grow easily in a natural environment or from cuttings.

GENERAL DESCRIPTION OF PLANT HABITAT AND GROWTH of Lemon balm & Lemon verbena

Melissa/Lemon Balm … this plant naturalizes easily, reproduces by underground stems, and will grow up to 18 inches in height, spreading easily. Melissa grows best in ‘alluvial soil; excess water is harmful, while yields diminish in light and dry soils’ (Guenther). Melissa produces more of the chemical citral (anti-viral) prior to flowering. After flowering, it contains more citronellal.

photo of spring growing Lemon Balm. San Francisco, April 20, 2022
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) April 2022

Lemon Balm

Lemon verbena (Aloysia citriodora) is a woody shrub, and its narrow glossy leaves grow quickly in hot summer weather, replenishing as you harvest throughout the growing season. Pick it before it flowers.

Lemon verbena about 5 feet tall growing in the garden with one trunk,.
Lemon verbena

PORTION OF PLANT USED IN DISTILLATION, HOW DISTILLED, EXTRACTION METHODS & Yield

Melissa -The percentage of citral depends on the seed source and when distilled. Citral has been found to range between 8.8 and 75.0%, with citronellal between 1.0 and 52.0%, citronellol dominating after flowering. The percentage of citral is highest in young leaves and just before flowering, but favorable growing conditions are very important. After a 6 months period of storage, the citral content decreases from 84 to 50%. As the plants become older, the percentage of citral decreases from 37 to 12%, and citronellal increases from 1 to 32%.

            A great deal of the oil sold as Melissa or Lemon Verbena is actually a blend of lemongrass and citronella or May Chang oils – ‘true’ Melissa or Lemon Verbena oil have their own unique aromas and properties.

The high cost of these oils is a result of needing 3.5 to 7.5 tons of plant material to produce 1 pound of essential oil.

Yield – Yields of Melissa are as low as 0.014% for distillation of the fresh herb to 0.112% for dried herb, increasing to 0.13% using cohobation. True oil is extremely expensive.


The yield of Lemon Verbena
is also very low, with 0.1 to 0.7% yield, on average, 20 kilograms of oil, the equivalent of 18 pounds of oil per acre. “Because the oil yields are very low, the leaves are steam-distilled as soon as possible after harvest to minimize vaporization.” – IPlantz.com

Name Latin NameChemo-typeComponent Distilled for & YieldWhen to DistillWhyTherapeutic Use
Lemon Verbena Aloysia triphyllaCitral but there are several including thujones, citronella, carvone, and citralCitral   Yield is low less than 0.3 to 0.5%— Distill before it flowers.  The leaves and flower buds are taken, and steam-distilled, the heavier stems discarded, It produces about 2-3cups of hydrosol per pound of fresh leaf distilled. The proportion of essential oil produced is very small about 0.02% or less by weight.Lemon verbena produces more citral before it flowers and more citronellal after it flowers.Citral is an anti-viral. [See also Melissa], as a beverage (1 t. /glass of carbonated, sweetened water)
Melissa Melissa officinalisCitralCitral –also citronellal (23.44%), geranial (16.22%), linalyl acetate (11.65%) and caryophyllene (11.77%).  The yield is low less than 0.05%  — Distill Melissa before it flowers.  The entire above-ground plant is taken, the heavier stems discarded, and steam distilled. It produces about 1 quart of hydrosol per pound of the fresh plant distilled. The proportion of essential oil produced is very small about 0.02% by weight.Melissa produces more citral before it flowers and more citronellal after it flowersCitral is an anti-viral. The essential oil can be applied directly to herpes on the lips and nose. The herb tea is relaxing and helps one to concentrate. The hydrosol is excellent as a wash on wounds, or as a beverage.

ODOR DESCRIPTION/ AROMA ASSESSMENT

ORGANOLEPTIC CHARACTERISTICS ~

Essential OilLemon BalmLemon Verbena
ColorPale yellowPale yellow
Clarityclearclear
ViscosityNon-viscousNon-viscous
Intensity Of Odor (This scale is from 1-10 with 1 being of the least intensity of odor and 10 being very intense)4-54-5

ODOR ASSESSMENT

Melissa essential oil has a citrus, herbaceous and somewhat vegetative odor with a bit of fresh fern or green note and back note of wood. If it does not have the vegetative subsidiary note it probably is not true Melissa oil. Melissa oil does not smell like Lemon or May Chang oil.

Lemon Verbena essential oil Scent — Green, vegetative, herbaceous, and floral with a strong citrus character.  Lemon verbena is different from either Melissa or Lemon peel. This scent is strongly citrus with a floral note and a woody finish.  It is expensive and often other oils are substituted for it. It is a powerful anti-inflammatory. 

Lemon verbena picked and fresh photo
Lemon Verbena fresh-picked and still on the tree

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GENERAL PROPERTIES of Lemon Balm and Lemon Verbena

PROPERTIES AND USES of the oils ~

Melissa oilThe properties are hypotensive, a calming sedative, and anti-inflammatory. Melissa oil is used for insomnia, hysteria, and irritability by inhalation and will relieve a lip or nose cold sore if applied externally.  

Lemon Verbena – This essential oil is a powerful anti-inflammatory, fever reducer, and sedative. It is generally inhaled for stress, insomnia, depression, nervous fatigue and to help during an asthmatic crisis. Strongly anti-viral, it can be applied directly to a lip or nose cold sore to reduce pain and symptoms.

APPLICATION/ SKINCARELemon Verbena And Melissa Essential Oils are very expensive because not much is produced.  I would suggest that you not use it in skincare as it can be irritating.  Use the herb instead as a tea, compress, hydrosol spray, etc.

EMOTIONAL/ENERGETIC USE – Eden Botanicals suggest Lemon verbena as a vibrant oil and a favorite ally to brighten low moods – perfect to diffuse or include in hand and foot balms, body mists, and massage oils.

DIFFUSE/DIFFUSION – It is wasteful to use these two essential oils in a diffuser. They are expensive and can be irritating.  Use other oils and use these herbs as in a tea blend or bath.

Lemon verbena and Lemon Balm blend best with other lemon-scented herbs but are best used in their original herbal form.

HYDROSOL: These herbs must be picked early in the day; too late in the day and distilled too late in the day and both of these factors change the chemistry of the resulting hydrosol. As the plant ages, citral is reduced and citronella increases. And both decrease as the day wears on. This plant needs to be harvested and distilled in the early morning (about 9 a.m. and in the still by about 10 a.m.) in San Francisco. Maybe even with the dew on it.

            Use of the Hydrosol — MELISSA or Lemon Balm, is one of the most expensive of the essential oils but the hydrosol is affordable. The herb has potent uses in the skin and body care.  The essential oil costs as much as $1 per drop but along with the essential oil is produced a wonderful hydrosol. The hydrosol is available for all your skin needs. This watery distillate, the hydrosol, which is the first 25% of the distillation, contains all the potency of the essential oil as well as the powerful therapeutic effects of the herbal extract. The pH is often a bit higher than other hydrosols because the herb is so light and it is very difficult to pack the still enough to get a good weight and thus a good pH, about 5 or so. Hydrosol has powerful and positive uses for any skincare product.  It is antifungal, relieves skin infection and breakouts, and can cure herpes. This hydrosol is considered useful in tonic drinks for ‘attention deficit disorder’ and dietary uses.  Has a wonderful lemony scent that is attractive to men and women as well as the teenage market.

            Other Uses for Melissa hydrosol – This is a good spray for the face and body for emotional calmness, soothing anger, and relieving insomnia. One teaspoon added to the clay mask for skin healing; add to regular tea for a delicious new taste treat. This hydrosol has powerful and positive uses for any skincare product. 

            More Uses for Melissa hydrosol: Drink the hydrosol by itself, diluted with water or soda, over ice for a wonderful, refreshing tonic drink.

a tin can of picked Lemon verbena stems
a can of picked Lemon Verbena

Lemon verbena (Aloysia triphylla) and Melissa (Melissa officinalis) hydrosol – are mental relaxants when ingested or applied, and a physical relaxant when ingested. Make a warm compress using 3-5 tablespoons of hydrosol per quart of water and apply or sip throughout the day to balance the endocrine system and relax mind and body. Or simply fill a spray bottle and mist away.

Lemon Verbena hydrosol can be applied to relieve PMS or dysmenorrhea.

PLEASE NOTE ~ a true hydrosol should be specifically distilled for the hydrosol, not as a co-product or even a by-product of essential oil distillation. The plant’s cellular water has many components most are lost under pressurized short steam runs for essential oil, or by using dried material. We recommend that the producers specifically distill for a product by using plant material that is fresh.

HERBAL USES OF LEMON VERBENA & MELISSA

The herb tea or hydrosol of Lemon verbena is very useful as a tonic beverage to be taken before bed for sleeping. It is a delicious tea and can be drunk anytime as it is relaxing and soothing. It has found use in the treatment of Crohn’s disease which is an anti-inflammatory disease that affects the gastrointestinal tract. If drinking the hydrosol, use 1 T/cup of water or sparkling water. The tea is helpful for sleeping, the hydrosol as a facial spray has the opposite effect and can help to keep you awake on a long drive.

The herb tea of Lemon Balm is a delicious drink or can be used therapeutically for soothing stomach cramps, indigestion, and nausea. It is also lightly stimulating and a good tea to drink when studying. I especially enjoy using a goodly quantity of this herb, as one of my favorite bath herbs. The crushed leaves, when rubbed on the skin, are used as a repellant for mosquitos.

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KEY USE ~ Direct application of Melissa EO for herpes around mouth and nose. Hydrosol to calm stomach and nerves. Inhale scent to wake up and be aware.

Lemon verbena tea for soothing the gastrointestinal tract.

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CHEMICAL COMPONENTS & PHYSIOCHEMICAL PROPERTIES ~

            Collections of Lemon Verbena in Argentina evidenced four different chemotypes, named after the dominant component as follows: thujones, citronellal, carvone, and citral(neral + geranial). In the populations of Salta and Catamarca, linalool appeared as a new different chemotype. … https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0305197817300996

            Chemical components were identified by B. Lawrence as  35-40% citral (a combination of neral and geranial); 13% limonene, 6% citronellol, 6% geraniol, nerol 5%; many other components depending on when harvested. —Essential Oils 1976-1992 by Brian Lawrence.

            A powerful anti-viral. Melissa has many chemotypes and many chemical varieties. Most interesting is that this scent, which is citrus, also has back notes of sweet wood. This is a very expensive oil and not the least like other citrus scents. 

This work is sponsored and supported by Prima Fleur Botanicals.

SAFETY PRECAUTIONS:

lists of safety precautions
Safety Precautions

References:

Mabberley, D. J. Mabberley’s Plant-Book, 3rd edition, 2014 printing, Cambridge University Press.

Rose, Jeanne.  375 Essential Oils and Hydrosols.  Berkeley, California: Frog, Ltd., 1999

Rose, Jeanne.  The Aromatherapy Book: Applications & Inhalations.  San Francisco, California:

Herbal Studies Course/ Jeanne Rose & Berkeley, California: North Atlantic Books, 1992

DISCLAIMER:  This work is intended for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for accurate diagnosis and treatment by a qualified health care professional. Dosages are often not given, as that is a matter between you and your health care provider. The author is neither a chemist nor a medical doctor.  The content herein is the product of research and personal and practical experience. Institute of Aromatic & Herbal Studies  – Jeanne Rose©

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6 thoughts on “LEMON BALM & LEMON VERBENA

  1. Thanks for sharing your knowledge, I have found info for lemon verbena lacking. I remember your huge tree that w distilled every time I see the tiny twigs of my lemon verbena.

  2. Thank you for sharing! I have used both of these marvelous oils throughout this spring for heart centered mindfulness and they do uplift the spirit too. I grow the herbs in my Moroccan garden and I use them in tea, so refreshing and soothing! I have been a bit confused for all the different names for Lemon verbena, thanks for the clarification!

  3. I studied with Jeanie Rose in the late 90’s in Chicago, Iowa and her aroma therapy home study course. I was so happy to see this on FB.

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