Food foundation

Melissa's healing power

If you spent your childhood somewhere in Italy you may remember your Nonna giving you a cup of “Melissa” tea to calm your upset stomach.

I never understood if it was a placebo effect, but I remember tea bringing a smile to my face and making me feel better.This garden herb, commonly called lemon balm and whose botanical (or scientific) name is Melissa Officinalis, has been used for more than 2000 years for all sorts of ailments from flatulence to mood disorders and fever.The name has a Greek etymology and means honeybee.

In fact, the Romans knew that if you rub the plant on the bee hives, the bees, attracted to its scent, return home to the hive rather than swarm away.Pliny the Elder in Ancient Rome would recommend it for “cor et

Pliny the Elder in Ancient Rome would recommend it for “cor et aninum ad gaudium inclinare” (inclining mind and heart to cheer). Arab Doctors in the XI century would suggest Melissa for nervous syndrome and anxiety.  Later, Carlo Magno ordered that the plant of Melissa should be cultivated in all official vegetable gardens of his kingdom because of its sedating effect.  It is widely used to ease stress, mood disorders and sleep disturbances, often in synergy with other herbs such as valerian and chamomile.

The latest research justifies its reputation in folklore as a calming agent but also indicates neurocognitive properties.  This enhancing cognition element was unexpected.

Andrew Scholey from the Swinburne University of Melbourne has been leading a vast number of studies on the human bio-behavioural effect of natural products and food including Melissa, and on the mechanics of the cognitive processes. He conducted several tests on Melissa, discovering a consistent boost in the mood of the participants at doses of 600 mg of dried herb after ingestion. Interestingly enough, at half of that dose, the alertness of the participant increased and as a result they performed better at their tests. At doses higher than 600 mg, they felt much calmer and almost sedated but their alertness dropped significantly.

Through brain imaging tests, the brain of the participants exposed to higher doses of dried leaves of Melissa showed an increase in GABA activity, the messenger responsible for calmness. Unexpectedly, they also showed an increase in acetylcholine, the neuro messenger in charge of the ability to learn, store and retrieve information.

In another test, twenty healthy young adults were administered with single doses of 600, 1000 and 1600 mg of encapsulated dried leafs or a placebo at seven day intervals. Memory and mood were tested one, three and six hours before and after ingesting the capsules. The best memory performance and calmness was reported with the highest dose. Melissa appears to be a natural way to optimise healthy brains, however, there are not enough tests yet to confirm if it could assist with neurological disorders. Perhaps this will be a focus area for the future.

go up