Lemon balm is a well-known medicinal plant of the mint family (Lamiaceae) since the earliest times of western herbal traditions of Greece and Rome and featured prominently in Persian medicine. The medicinal uses of the leaves and whole plant have been recorded since at least the first century CE. The leaves were predominantly used for the treatment of mental and nervous system diseases and digestive disorders, though the entire plant was used as well. Other reported uses included cardiovascular and respiratory problems, various cancers, as a memory enhancer, and as an antidote against venomous bites and stings (Cogan 1636; Dastmalchi et al. 2008; Evelyn 1699; Ibn Sina [Avicenna] 1025; Osbaldeston and Wood 2000). The herb was also used for preparing fomentations and enemas and as an inhalant. In the Middle East, the leaves were cooked and added as a flavoring to foods (Shakeri et al. 2016).
The medicinal pedigree of lemon balm based on the historical and modern use of Melissa officinalis is well established. However, its use is compromised somewhat due to nomenclatural challenges, in that Crete balm (aka lime balm) (formerly M. altissima) and another species native to Turkey, M. inodora (ogul otu), are subsumed as subspecies of M. officinalis. Specifically, M. officinalis subsp. officinalis, M. officinalis subsp. altissima, and M. officinalis subsp. inodora. Because of this, each may be regarded taxonomically by some as M. officinalis without differentiation (see Botanical Identification and Nomenclatural History). While the organoleptic, constituent, and pharmacological profiles of each of the three species have some overlap, there are distinct differences that both limit their interchangeable use and challenges these taxonomic assignations.