Melissa officinalis (commonly known as lemon balm, balm, balm mint, and common balm) is a perennial plant in the mint family. Like its cousins, lemon balm plants feature broad, veined leaves as well as a desirable odoriferous quality (in this case, that of citrus and mints combined). This later quality makes lemon balm desirable for use in aromatherapy and perfumery, as well as in some folk medicinal teas.
Some anecdotal sources also hail lemon balm as a viable option for deterring mosquitos, both in proximity to its plat-based form and in proximity to those wearing the plant’s oil upon their skin. Despite these accounts, only a few reliable scientific studies are currently available to support or deny lemon balm’s ability to keep mosquitoes at bay.
One such study comes from Assumption College, where researchers found a viable (though unenumerated) connection between the presence of lemon balm and mosquito deterrence. These researchers postulated that this insecticidal property may be attributed to some amount of citronella found within the plant’s oily compounds (1).
Despite these preliminary tests, the current body of scientific evidence does not endorse lemon balm for this insecticidal use. This is because the aforementioned study’s results cannot be used to conclusively confirm lemon balm’s effectiveness in this domain. This study, in particular, used fairly lose methodology, for example, and neither enumerated the active ingredients analyzed nor the mosquito species used.
Simply put, lemon balm doesn’t make the shortlist for effective plant-based mosquito repellants. Generally speaking, lemon balm lacks almost any body of evidence to support its effectiveness in this domain, with one of the only noteworthy studies in its favor suffering from a faulty methodology. If anything, lemon balm’s only redeeming quality is the fresh lemony scent that emits from its leaves, which may have negligible effects on a mosquito’s olfactory capabilities.
Most folks select plant-based mosquito repellant alternatives based upon their ease of growth in an at-home garden. Here, too, lemon balm falls flat. While the plant itself grows like other herbs, veteran gardeners often warn against its invasive nature. As such, lemon balm plants can quickly get out of hand and become more of a nuisance than their perceived benefits can counterbalance.
Forms of Lemon Balm and Where to Get Them
Lemon balm plants are most often grown from starters, which are available at plant nurseries as well as online. Once procured, these plants should be given up to 2 feet of bumper space to account for their invasive and fast-growing nature. After taking root with an average degree of sun and water, these plants require frequent trimming to ensure that its foliage does not grow unruly (2).
Like many other herbal plants, lemon balm can be broken down and concentrated to produce essential oil. Widely available online, lemon balm oil imparts a lemony-fresh scent into liquid solution.
Currently, few regulatory studies have been conducted to demonstrate lemon balm oil’s safety overall. However, some studies have been conducted that question lemon balm oil’s safety when used in aromatherapy(3). This points to potential hazards relating to the use of this particular essential oil for mosquito prevention, as well as in food preparation.
1 – Prof. Marie Chua-Perez, Prof. Maricon Ganas, Prof. Erric Ogdol. Sweet basil and Lemon balm as insect repellants. Assumption College, Higher Education Division.
2 – Bonnie Plants. How To: Growing Lemon Balm.
3 – Demirci, K., Akgönül, M., Demirdaş, A., & Akpınar, A. Does melissa officinalis cause withdrawal or dependence?. Medical archives (Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina), 69(1), 60–61. doi:10.5455/medarh.2015.69.60-61
Other Plants & Herbs as Mosquito Repellents
Checkout our analysis of other plants & herbs as natural mosquito repellents: