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Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) is a fairly typical example of plants in the Mint family. Its foliage usually has a mild lemon fragrance, otherwise this plant is rather similar to several other species in the Mint family with small whitish flowers. Unlike some of these species, such as Nepeta cataria (Catnip) and Ocimum basilicum (Basil), Lemon Balm lacks terminal clusters of flowers. Unlike Chaiturus marrubiastrum and most Lycopus spp. (Bugleweeds), it also has broad-based leaves that are less than 3 times as long as they are across. Lemon Balm can be distinguished from the similar Marrubium vulgare (Common Horehound) by the presence of 5 teeth on its calyces, while the latter species has calyces with 10 teeth. According to Wikipedia, Lemon Balm has been used traditionally to calm nervous tension, insomnia, and other conditions; apparently there is some scientific evidence that it really does have some anti-anxiety and sedative effects. In addition, Lemon Balm has been investigated in the medical community as a possible treatment for Alzheimer's disease and for cold sores of the herpes simplex virus. The leaves are used as an ingredient in herbal teas and salads, where they may have beneficial anti-oxidant effects. Many different cultivars of Lemon Balm are now available that vary in the fragrance of their foliage and other characteristics.

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© John Hilty

Source: Illinois Wildflowers

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