Melissa officinalis Linn. Labiatae. Balm.
Mediterranean region and the Orient. This aromatic perennial has long been an inmate of gardens for the sake of its herbage, which finds use in seasonings and in the compounding of liquors and perfumes as well as the domestic remedy known as balm tea. The plant in a green state has an agreeable odor of lemons and an austere and slightly aromatic taste, and hence is employed to flavor certain dishes in the absence of lemon thyme. The culture was common with the ancients, as Pliny directs it to be planted, and, as a bee-plant or otherwise, it finds mention by Greek and Latin poets and prose writers. In the Ionian Islands, it is cultivated for bees. In Britain, it is said to have been introduced in 1573. It is mentioned in France by Ruellius, 1536; in England, by Gerarde, 1597, who gives a most excellent figure; and also by Lyte, 1586, and Ray, 1686. Mawe, 1758, says great quantities of balm are cultivated about London for supplying the markets. In the United States, it is included among garden vegetables by McMahon, 1806. As an escape, the plant is found in England and sparingly in the eastern United States. Bertero found it wild on the island of Juan Fernandez.
But one variety is known in our gardens, although the plant is described as being quite variable in nature. This would indicate that cultivation had not produced great changes. The only difference noted in the cultivated plant has been in regard to vigor. A variegated variety is recorded by Mawe, 1778, for the ornamental garden. This variation is noted by Vilmorin.