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Verbena and Lemon Balm, Melissa and Lemon Verbena
Hydrosols and Essential Oils
Jeanne Rose

Melissa and Lemon Verbena are two plants that produce fine hydrosol. They generally can be interchanged for the other in teas and treatment.

Introduction — Hydrosols are the water from the distillation process which contain both the water-soluble parts of the plant as well as the herbal extracts and tiny drops of the powerful essential oil as well. All three of these components give the delicious lemon scent and essential oil and herbal therapy.

Melissa officinalis - Lemon Balm

Name — Lemon Balm is the common name of Melissa officinalis. Melissa refers to honey or the honey-bee because the plant is so attractive to bees; and officinalis means a plant that is officially used in medicine.

Botany — This plant naturalizes easily, reproduces by underground stems and will grow up to 18 inches in height, spreading easily.

Use of the Herb — The herb tea is a delicious drink or can be used therapeutically for soothing stomach cramps, indigestion and nausea. It is also lightly stimulating and a good tea to drink when studying.

When to Distill — Melissa should be distilled before it flowers. The entire above ground plant is taken, the heavier stems discarded and steam-distilled. It produces about 1 quart of hydrosol per pound of fresh plant distilled. The proportion of essential oil produced is very small about 0.02% by weight.

Use of the Hydrosol — MELISSA, or Lemon Balm, is one of the most expensive of the essential oils but the hydrosol is affordable. The herb has potent uses in skin and body care. The essential oil costs as much as $1 per drop but along with the essential oil is produced a wonderful hydrosol. The hydrosol is available now for all your skin needs. This watery distillate, the hydrosol which is the first 25% of the distillation, contains all the potency of the essential oil as well as the powerful therapeutic effects of the herbal extract. The pH is often a bit higher than other hydrosols because the herb is so light and it is very difficult to pack the still enough to get a good weight and thus a good pH, about 5 or so.

The hydrosol has powerful and positive uses for any skin care product. It is antifungal, relieves skin infection and breakouts and can cure herpes. The hydrosol is considered useful in tonic drinks for 'attention deficit disorder' and dietary uses. Has a wonderful lemony scent that is attractive to men and women as well as the teenage market.

Other Uses for Melissa hydrosol: Spritzer for face and body for emotional calmness, soothing anger, and relieving insomnia. One teaspoon added to clay mask for skin healing; add to regular tea for a new delicious taste treat.

Use of the Essential Oil — The properties are hypotensive, a calming sedative and anti-inflammatory. Melissa oil is used for insomnia, hysteria and irritability by inhalation and will relieve a cold sore if applied externally.

Scent of the Essential Oil — Melissa essential oil has a citrus, herbaceous and somewhat vegetative odor with a bit of fresh fern note. If it doesn't have the vegetative subsidiary note it probably is not a true Melissa oil. Melissa oil does not smell like Lemon or May Chang oil.

Chemistry of the Essential Oil — Components include 22-36% citronellal; 11-26% citral or 36% in the top leaves alone; 10-15% b-caryophyllene; 10-20% germacrene D.

A powerful anti-viral. Has many chemotypes and many chemical varieties. Most interesting is that this scent which is very citrus, also has back notes of a sweet wood. This is a very expensive oil and not the least like other citrus scents.

Melissa - Melissa officinalis L. Research Findings. In Melissa, a reasonable minimum yield of oil is 0.05 - 0.1%, and in Mediterranean countries it reaches 0.2 - 0.3%. The percentage of citral depends on the seed source, and was found to range between 8.8 and 75.0%, with citronellal between 1.0 and 52.0%. The Bavarian Research Institute for Soil and Plant Production (Germany), examined a collection of 101 provenance/cultivars of Melissa and evaluated the best types. The percentage of citral is highest in young leaves and just before flowering, but favorable growing conditions are very important. After a 6 months period of storage, the citral content decreases from 84 to 50%. As the plants become older, the percentage of citral decreases from 37 to 12%, and citronellal increases from 1 to 32%. In new plantations in Africa, the oil is extracted directly from fresh plants using an advanced method of extraction with 1,1,1,2-tetrafluoroethane. The very low oil yield of Melissa, and comparative difficulties connected with the distillation of fresh material together with quick oil decomposition, initiated a quest for other plants with high percentages of lemon-scented monoterpenes. Nepeta cataria ssp. citriodora and Dracocephalum moldavica were investigated for their volatile oil content and quality.

EATWELL FARM is a 65-acre organic farm and orchard located in Dixon, CA. 40-50 crops are produced organically including Lemon Verbena and many types of Lavender. They produced their own culinary salts, hydrosols and some essential oils, oils, sugar scrubs and sachets. 800/

Lemon Verbena
VERBENA ALOYSIA TRIPHYLLA (Lippia citriodora Kunth. syn. Verbena triphylla L'Herit.)

General Information. This scent is strongly citrus with a floral note and a woody finish. It is expensive and often other oils are substituted for it. It is a powerful anti-inflammatory and anti-viral. The tea is helpful for sleeping, the hydrosol has the opposite effect and when sprayed on the face, it can help to keep you awake on a long drive.

Name — Verbena means sacred boughs and plants used medicinally; Aloysia is after Maria Louise, the Princess of Parma who died in 1819 and triphylla means leaves in whorls of threes.

Use of the Herb — The herb tea is very useful as a tonic beverage to be taken before bed for sleeping. It is a delicious tea and can be drunk anytime as it is relaxing and soothing. It has found use in the treatment of Crohn's disease which is an anti-inflammatory disease which affects the gastro-intestinal tract.

When to Distill — Distill the leaves prior to flowering, discard the heavier stems. During or after flowering, citral is reduced while other components are increased.

Scent — Green, vegetative, herbaceous and floral with a strong citrus character. Lemon verbena is different from either Melissa or Lemon peel.

Chemistry of the Essential Oil — Chemical components are identified as 35-40% citral (a combination of neral and geranial); 13% limonene, 6% citronellol, 6% geraniol, nerol 5%; many other components. —Essential Oils 1976-1992 by Brian Lawrence.

Use of the Essential Oil — This essential oil is a powerful anti-inflammatory, fever reducer and sedative. It is generally inhaled for stress, insomnia, depression, nervous fatigue and to help during an asthmatic crisis. Strongly anti-viral, it is applied directly to a cold sore to reduce pain and symptoms.

Sources — These two plants are available as hydrosol and essential oil and available from a variety of companies. For a list, please contact the Aromatic Plant Project or Prima Fleur at 415/455-0957.

Perfumer & Flavorist. vol. 24, May/June 1999, p 52.
Rose, Jeanne. 375 Essential Oils & Hydrosols. Frog 1999.
Rose, Jeanne. An Herb for Skin Care. Aromatic Plant Project Press Release. March 2000.
Rose, Jeanne. Herbs & Things. Last Gasp. 2001
Author Background — Jeanne Rose has been working as an educator in herbs and aromatherapy since 1967. She has written over 18 books and would be happy to send you a catalog of books and products if you will leave your name and address at 415/564-6785 or e-mail

©All Rights Reserved 2003. No part of this article may be used
without prior permission from The Aromatic Plant Project.
©Author's Copyright and Jeanne Rose,

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