Lemon balm (Melissa) is an herb known since the ancient times for its relaxing and anti-stress qualities. It is cited by Dioksourides and Theofrastos. There are seven species in Greece.
The Latin name of the herb is Melissa officinalis (pharmaceutical Melissa). Other names are: wild-bee, melissa-grass, Melissa-herb, citronelle, citrus balm. Parakelsos called it "an elixir of life," and in 1679 Evelin wrote that melissa is a diamond for the brain, strengthens memory and drastically relieves the melancholy.
The main varieties of Malissa are: M. officinalis «Citronella», M. officinalis «Lemonella», M. officinalis «Quedlinburger», M. officinalis «Lime», M. officinalis «Variegata», M. officinalis "Aurea"
Melissa is a perennial plant belonging to the Lamiaceae family. Its height varies from 70 to 150 centimeters. The stems grow upright, they are branched and hairy. Leaves are up to 9 cm, slightly hairy, oval in shape, jagged, with blunt or heart shaped base. There are vertebrae with jagged flowers with short stem, one flower facing the other; the stems are covered with glandular hair, yellowish, turned into white or pink when ripe. The roots of the plant are fibrous, filamentous and round. The leaves have a mild lemon peel scent associated with peppermint. The white flowers attract the bees, hence the name of the genus "Melissa" (bee).
Melissa blossoms from June to August. For therapeutic purposes, the leaves are carefully harvested before flowering. The harvesting takes place from the end of May to the beginning of June and from the end of July until the beginning of December.
Melissa officinalis is Dioskourides’ Melittis. It may be the "Melissa-leaf” referred by Theophrastos. In the ancient times it was considered as the elixir of youth and was used by priests for similar preparations. It was dedicated to the goddess Artemis. Its aromatic and medicinal properties have been known since the ancient times, as Theophrastos and Dioskourides inform us, who used it as a medicine for scorpion bites and as a menopause medicine.
For more than 2000 years, Melissa was a precious ingredient of many elixirs of life, and was particularly used by Avicenna, an Arab doctor of the 11th century. For centuries it has been popular as an effective remedy for melancholy, lethargy, memory, but also as an aid to restoring youthful vitality.
The most well-known and scientifically established pharmacological property of Lemon Balm is its anti-stress action.
Lemon balm leaves extract acts on the central nervous system diminishing anxiety, insomnia and several sleep disorders. The mechanism of action is the inhibition of the GABA-T (Gamma Amino Butyric Acid Transaminase), an enzyme target in the therapy of anxiety, epilepsy and related neurological disorders. GABA-T hydrolyses glutamic acid an amino acid (neurotransmitter) responsible for the normal operation of the brain. The active compounds in the lemon balm extracts are rosmarinic acid and the triterpenoids, ursolic acid and oleanolic acid.
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