In 1699, English herbalist John Evelyn described Melissa—or lemon balm—as “sovereign for the brain, strengthening the memory, and powerfully chasing away melancholy.” Robyn Simon, of Pure Oils International in Katoomba, says this three hundred year old quote is still the most accurate description she has ever read of Melissa Officinalis—but what is it, and what has it got to do with our busy modern lifestyles?
Melissa oil—the essential oil distilled from the Melissa Officinalis plant—is one of the most expensive oils, but one that offers a powerful and natural way to manage a problem all of us suffer at one time or another—stress. Running a small business or being a sole trader can be as stressful as it is rewarding, and stress can reduce our ability to concentrate, stymie our creativity and make us sick—and that’s not good when business relies on your performance.
In fact, 2008 research by Medicare Private found that stress costs Australian businesses over $10 billion a year. The research also noted that individuals are best placed to notice the ‘early warning’ signs of stress—which can include difficulty sleeping, lack of concentration, low motivation, irritability and an upset stomach.
It is very easy to miss these signs, particularly as we can lose touch with ourselves quite often while we are wearing our working ‘hats’. “Our offices are busy places, separating us from the ebb and flow of daily life,” says Robyn. “The workplace has the intention of allowing us to direct our energies towards getting the job done. Combine this with the pressure for instantaneous results—increased by new technology—and it becomes easy to neglect our physical and mental well-being.”
Melissa can help. “It is the essential oil that best acts to soothe the brain, and the body, when stressed by the chaotic demands of long hours in a busy workplace,” says Robyn, and it works in a number of ways.
Melissa has a calming, slightly sedative effect that reduces anxiety and allows us to pace ourselves better and cope with deadlines or the demands for multitasking. It increases concentration and focus—and has been shown to improve memory. It lifts the mood and can help with feelings of depression, frustration or anger.
Melissa soothes symptoms that are associated with nerves and stress, working as an anti-spasmodic to reduce stomach upsets, helping us relax and reconnect with our physical selves.
Melissa gets its botanical name from the Greek word mellisón (µελισσών) meaning ‘honey bee’. In its native Mediterranean and Southern European countries, it was traditionally planted near beehives to flavour the honey.
It has a long history of medicinal use, and its restorative properties are recorded in Greek and Roman Herbals as early as 2000BC. Later, it became an essential plant in the monastic gardens of the early Christian monks as they spread throughout Europe, and it became part of the ‘materia medica’—the books of Medieval Europe that detailed knowledge of all substances used for healing.
“Melissa is still a favourite of modern herbalists because of its effectiveness,” Robyn says, “and it is currently being investigated by more mainstream medical research as a treatment for agitation and memory deterioration in patients with Alzheimer’s and dementia.”
The good news is that the Melissa plant is a member of the mint family, and will easily grow in most temperate Australian gardens. But before you decide to try your hand at distilling your own Melissa oil, it is worth knowing that, unlike mint, Melissa yields relatively little oil for its weight—it takes between 3.5 and 7.5 tons to produce just 500g of oil.
Melissa fresh or dried leaves, however, can be made into a refreshing tea, and can be added to your bathwater to make a truly relaxing soak. The crushed leaves also make a great insect repellent when rubbed directly on the skin.
Here are five ways that Melissa can help you stay cool, calm and collected.
1. Office Angel
Use Melissa in a diffuser to lower stress and improve concentration while you are at your desk. It will uplift and focus your mind, actively reduce worry and frustration, and improve your memory.
Melissa can be made into a tea using the green herb (fresh or dried), or the oil can be sprinkled onto herbal tea leaves. It makes a delicious, lemony drink that settles the stomach, soothes the nerves and aids restful sleep.
3. Rapid Rescue
Inhaling the scent of the oil directly from the bottle is a wonderful pick-me-up, and massaging some oil onto the back of the neck and temples—diluted in a carrier such as almond oil or a neutral moisturiser—can quickly restore calm.
4. Cold Sore Killer
If you tend to get cold sores when you become stressed, Melissa is one of the rare natural remedies with powerful anti-viral properties. Dabbing the undiluted oil directly onto the lesion can banish it within a few days—but be careful not to get it on the skin around the sore as it can cause irritation.
5. Restful Sleep
As well as adding Melissa to other sleep-enhancing herbs—such as Chamomile or Valerian to take as a tea before bed—a few drops of Melissa on your pillow can promote a more restful sleep.
The treasure that is Melissa
Melissa oil itself is potent, which means it can be used sparingly. This is great news for regular users, given that a 5ml bottle of 100% pure Melissa oil costs over $100—and it’s well worth it!
Robyn comments, “I have clients that have seen incredible relief from anxiety and depression, restlessness and stress, simply by inhaling Melissa oil for a few seconds at night after a trying day at work or in their business.” She adds, “if you are buying Melissa oil, it is important to choose a reputable source. Beware cheaper versions of the product—they are likely to be a blend of lemongrass and citronella, or adulterated with a carrier oil.”
So this Spring, why not plant some lemon balm—like mint, it will be equally happy in a pot or in the ground—or enjoy a lemon balm tea. And, no matter how busy or difficult life gets, Melissa essential oil ‘sovereign for the brain’ will help you remain calm, clear and relaxed, and relieve those late night feelings of anxiety and worry.
When buying essential oils, it’s important to buy well and follow a few simple rules to keep them in the best condition.
CHECK THE LABEL
Always check the label to make sure that it is pure oil, and not a blend or one diluted with a carrier oil.
LOOK FOR THE DARK BOTTLE
Good quality essential oils are sold in cobalt blue, amber or sometimes dark green bottles. Sunlight causes essential oils to degrade, and coloured bottles protect them.
TIP AND DRIP
Buy bottles with ‘tip and drip’ stoppers rather than the old dropper variety. Droppers can introduce contamination into the oil and ‘tip and drip’ stoppers have the added advantage of controlling how much oil you use.
KEEP IT COOL AND CLOSED
Keep your oils in a cool, dark place and always close your bottle once you’ve released the amount of oil you require. This retains the aromatic efficacy of your oil and avoids contamination.
Products mentioned in this article are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Always consult a medical or healthcare professional prior to using essential oils if you have any specific health concerns or if you are pregnant.