lemon balm cake

Gifts of Lemon Balm (Plus a Lemon Balm Cake Recipe)

Lemon balm is generous. Plant a small patch in your garden and it will soon take over, spilling into neighboring beds and walkways. If you wisely sow seeds or grow a small plant in a container, it will soon fill the pot.

As summer progresses, lemon balm’s dense foliage grows longer and longer with flower stalks emerging. Those tiny white flowers may not look like much, but bees and other pollinators absolutely love them. Lemon balm is so loved by bees that its genus name, Melissa, comes from Greek origins of both “bee” and “honey.”

Lemon balm is the perfect medicine for our time. To be fair, I think I say that no matter what day, week, month, or year it is. Twelfth-century herbalist Saint Hildegard von Bingen said, “Lemon balm contains within it the virtues of a dozen other plants.”

With its ability to strongly modulate inflammation as well as lift our spirits, I love infusing lemon balm into my life in many different ways, including yummy treats like a delicious lemon balm cake. But before we get to the recipe, let’s take a closer look at lemon balm’s gifts.

lemon balm cake

For Anxiety, Depression, and Insomnia

Lemon balm has been used for medicine for thousands of years by many people in the Mediterranean. Pliny, Hippocrates, Galen, Culpepper, and even Shakespeare all spoke of its attributes.

Human clinical trials have shown that lemon balm can relieve agitation in people with dementia and improve the mood and stress levels of healthy adults.1234

In a 2018 double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial, 80 patients with chronic stable angina were separated into two groups. One group received 3 grams of lemon balm daily for 8 weeks while the other group received a placebo. The results showed that lemon balm can decrease depression, anxiety, stress, and sleep disorders in patients with chronic stable angina.5

One of my favorite ways to enjoy the relaxing gifts of lemon balm is to make a strong tea and then take the time to enjoy each and every sip.

To Modulate Inflammation

Lemon balm is full of antioxidants and can powerfully decrease inflammation and oxidative stress. There have been some interesting studies about this!

For example, lemon balm can protect the eyes. An in vitro study showed that by protecting human retinal pigment epithelial cells from oxidative stress-induced cell death, lemon balm has therapeutic potential for the prevention of dry age-related macular degeneration.6

In an interesting human clinical trial, 55 radiology staff members were asked to drink lemon balm tea twice a day for 30 days. (The radiation from X-rays can damage DNA and induce oxidative stress.) Oxidative stress markers were recorded before they began drinking the tea and again after the 30 days. Researchers recorded numerous improvements in oxidative stress markers, including a “marked reduction in plasma DNA damage.”7 I wish more radiology staff and others regularly exposed to low levels of radiation knew about this study!

lemon balm cake

Effective Against Viruses

Lemon balm is also famous for its ability to inhibit viral infections. Many people turn to it to reduce herpes sore outbreaks. An in vitro study showed that a lemon balm extract could even inhibit attachment and penetration of acyclovir-resistant herpes virus.8 An older double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized trial showed that lemon balm is effective against herpes labialis.9

Lemon balm has also been shown to be effective against influenza A. One in vitro study concluded that “lemon balm essential oil ingredient seems to act as natural and novel antiviral substance through the different stages of influenza virus (H9N2) replication.”10 I would love to see human clinical trials developed to see the results in vivo.

Is Lemon Balm Safe for Everyone?

It is commonly repeated that lemon balm, while generally regarded as safe, is not appropriate for people with hypothyroidism.

This supposed contraindication has its roots in questionable studies in the 1980s (in vitro animal studies). Another source of this information may come from the fact that lemon balm is frequently used in formulas for people with hypErthyroidism. However, herbs are often modulatory in nature and it being helpful for hypErthyroidism doesn’t inherently make it unsafe for hypOthyroidism.

To date there is no evidence that lemon balm adversely effects people with hypothyroidism. In fact, many herbal practitioners prefer to use it for many of the symptoms associated with hypothyroidism.

Using Lemon Balm

Lemon balm has many gifts ranging from reducing anxiety to modulating inflammation and addressing viral infections. This is just the beginning as lemon balm is known to do so much more!

How can you get the best results with lemon balm?

Lemon balm can be used fresh or dried. I love lemon balm both ways. A cold infused fresh lemon balm tea is a refreshing treat in the summer and I drink dried lemon balm tea all year long.

Herbalists use lemon balm in small to large amounts ranging from 3 to 30 grams per day. Many of the clinical trials use about 3 grams per day.

Lemon balm can also be used in foods, such as this delicious lemon balm cake.

Lemon Balm Poppy Seed Honey Cake

Gather the heart-lifting lemon balm from your garden (or farmers market or friend’s garden) and infuse it into this delicious tasting lemon balm cake. Serve it with lemon balm tea (or fresh infused lemon balm water) and make it an event with a simple picnic on your lawn, balcony, or community green space.

If you don’t have access to fresh lemon balm, you could try using a couple tablespoons of dried lemon balm in the cake. (I haven’t tried this but it will probably work.) Or you can omit it in the cake and simply used dried lemon balm for the icing.

I used a honey bee cakelet pan to make these — it seemed especially fun because of lemon balm’s strong affinity for bees. You can bake this lemon balm cake in a variety of pans including muffin pans, 8-inch cake pans or even an 8-inch loaf pan. When using different pans, you’ll need to adjust the baking time. When I cooked this recipe in an 8-inch loaf pan, I increased the baking time to 60 minutes.

What you’ll need…

Cake

  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon balm leaves
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup oil (such as olive oil)
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk or thin yogurt
  • 2 teaspoons poppy seeds

Icing

  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon balm leaves (or 1/4 cup dried)
  • 1 cup just-boiled water
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 tablespoon arrowroot powder
  • More poppy seeds for sprinkling
  • Lemon balm leaves for garnish (optional)

For the cake:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a baking pan (see notes above).
  2. Finely mince the lemon balm. (I use a food processor for this but a knife is fine too.)

lemon balm cake

  1. Mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.

lemon balm cake

  1. In a large bowl, mix together the oil, minced lemon balm, honey, and vanilla extract. (I use a cake mixer for this step.)

lemon balm cake

  1. Add the eggs, mixing them in one at a time, and then the buttermilk (or yogurt).

lemon balm cake

  1. Add the dry mixture to the wet mixture in two batches. Mix on low speed until combined, and do not overmix. Mix in the poppy seeds.

lemon balm cake

lemon balm cake

  1. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.

lemon balm cake

  1. Bake until it is brown around the edges and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 30 minutes for a cakelet pan or 60 minutes for a loaf pan.

For the icing:

  1. Steep the lemon balm in 1 cup of just-boiled water for 5 minutes.

lemon balm cake

  1. Strain into a small pan. Add the honey and stir until it is dissolved.

lemon balm cake

  1. Separate two tablespoons of the lemon balm and honey mixture into a small bowl and allow to cool. Once cool, add the arrowroot powder and stir well.

lemon balm cake

lemon balm cake

lemon balm cake

  1. Add this mixture back into the small pan with the lemon balm and honey.
  2. Heat the pan on medium-low heat. Whisk the mixture continuously until it begins to thicken. Pull it from the heat just as it thickens; otherwise, it will continue to thicken and become overly gel-like.
  3. Spoon the icing over the cake.

lemon balm cake

  1. Sprinkle poppy seeds on top.

lemon balm cake

  1. Garnish with fresh lemon balm leaves if desired.

lemon balm cake

lemon balm cake

Now I’d love to hear from you!
Do you adore lemon balm?
What are you favorite ways to enjoy this delicious and aromatic plant?
Please share in the comments below.

Show 10 footnotes

  1. Akhondzadeh, S., et al. “Melissa Officinalis Extract in the Treatment of Patients with Mild to Moderate Alzheimer’s Disease: A Double-blind, Randomised, Placebo-controlled Trial.” Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry 74, no. 7 (2003): 863–66. doi:10.1136/jnnp.74.7.863.
  2. Ballard, Clive G., et al. “Aromatherapy as a Safe and Effective Treatment for the Management of Agitation in Severe Dementia: The Results of a Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial with Melissa.” Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 63, no. 7 (2002): 553–58.
  3. Kennedy, D. O., et al. “Modulation of Mood and Cognitive Performance following Acute Administration of Melissa Officinalis (Lemon Balm).” Pharmacology, Biochemistry, and Behavior 72, no. 4 (2002): 953–64. doi:10.1016/S0091-3057(02)00777-3.
  4. Kennedy, D. O., et al. “Modulation of Mood and Cognitive Performance following Acute Administration of Single Doses of Melissa Officinalis (Lemon Balm) with Human CNS Nicotinic and Muscarinic Receptor-Binding Properties.” Neuropsychopharmacology 28, no. 10 (2003): 1871–81.
  5. Haybar, Habib, Ahmad Zare Javid, Mohammad Hosein Haghighizadeh, Einollah Valizadeh, Seyede Marjan Mohaghegh, and Assieh Mohammadzadeh. “The Effects of Melissa Officinalis Supplementation on Depression, Anxiety, Stress, and Sleep Disorder in Patients with Chronic Stable Angina.” Clinical Nutrition ESPEN 26 (2018): 47–52. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.clnesp.2018.04.015.
  6. Jeung, In Cheul, Donghyun Jee, Chang-Rae Rho, and Seungbum Kang. “Melissa Officinalis L. Extracts Protect Human Retinal Pigment Epithelial Cells against Oxidative Stress-Induced Apoptosis.” International Journal of Medical Sciences 13, no. 2 (February 3, 2016): 139–46. https://doi.org/10.7150/ijms.13861.
  7. Zeraatpishe, Akbar, Shahrbano Oryan, Mohammad Hadi Bagheri, Ali Asghar Pilevarian, Ali Akbar Malekirad, Maryam Baeeri, and Mohammad Abdollahi. “Effects of Melissa Officinalis L. on Oxidative Status and DNA Damage in Subjects Exposed to Long-Term Low-Dose Ionizing Radiation.” Toxicology and Industrial Health, September 21, 2010. https://doi.org/10.1177/0748233710383889.
  8. Astani, Akram, Mojdeh Heidary Navid, and Paul Schnitzler. “Attachment and Penetration of Acyclovir-Resistant Herpes Simplex Virus Are Inhibited by Melissa Officinalis Extract.” Phytotherapy Research 28, no. 10 (2014): 1547–52. https://doi.org/10.1002/ptr.5166.
  9. Koytchev, R., R. G. Alken, and S. Dundarov. “Balm Mint Extract (Lo-701) for Topical Treatment of Recurring Herpes Labialis.” Phytomedicine 6, no. 4 (October 1, 1999): 225–30. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0944-7113(99)80013-0.
  10. Pourghanbari, Gholamhosein, Hasan Nili, Afagh Moattari, Ali Mohammadi, and Aida Iraji. “Antiviral Activity of the Oseltamivir and Melissa Officinalis L. Essential Oil against Avian Influenza A Virus (H9N2).” VirusDisease 27, no. 2 (June 2016): 170–78. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13337-016-0321-0.

Which herbs & remedies should you always stock in your kitchen?

36 comments
  1. 1. thank you for your “lemon balm cake recipe” … can I please delete (or substitute) the: 1/2 cup buttermilk or thin yogurt
    2. since you asked for my website: am I allowed to share your recipe there?

    • Hello Angie!
      1. You are welcome to make substitutions or deletions, as you deem necessary. However, the recipe was tested as written above and it can be very tricky to remove or sub out ingredients in more complex recipes, like a cake. The buttermilk/yogurt plays an important role in the recipe.
      2. Yes, you may share our recipe, but not the entire article, as long as you share a link back to this article.

    • Angie, if you’re avoiding dairy you could try non-dairy milk soured with vinegar. I’ve used almond and coconut in other cake recipes that have called for yogurt, as well as non-dairy yogurt.

    • If it’s a worry about finding buttermilk, you can make a fantastic stand in. Add 1 tbsp lemon juice or vinegar to a measuring cup, fill with milk to the 1 cup line. Mix together and let sit for roughly 10 minutes. Use like buttermilk.

  2. This looks incredible… and perfect timing since we planted lemon balm in our garden this year <3 and looking for great things to do with it!

    • Yay! I hope you enjoy it!

  3. Can you possibly figure out how to make this gluten free? I’d really like to make it, but don’t what to use regular flour; need it GF

    • You can pretty much substitute a gluten free flour mix for any recipe that calls for flour. There’s rarely a need to figure anything out, just make the substitution. I have a friend who is gluten free and I made this cake last week and used gluten free flour. She loved it.

  4. Mmmm. This sounds yummy! And yours is so pretty and fun with that honey comb pan! Thanks for sharing! I love lemon balm! I’m currently drying a bunch and making a tincture. =)

  5. I have asked this question before, but never got an answer. How do I measure herbs in grams? I’ve grown herbs for years and have never measured by grams.

    • I use a kitchen scale that has grams.

  6. I make a daily tea with lemon balm, oregano, rosemary, thyme, mint, grated tumeric, ginger, macha green tea powder and MCT oil, a dash of honey, cinnamon, black pepper…we do it for inflammation, but it has greatly impacted our herpes zoster outbreaks!! I can tolerate sipping it warm, but we usually just let it cool and chug it!

    • I love blending my own teas and this sounds amazing. how much of each herb do you find works. Do you simmer or make as an infusion?

  7. Oh my gosh! I just made this cake and it is wonderful! Not too sweet and perfect with a cup of Lemon Balm tea! I did not have poppy seeds so I substituted anise seed and white chia seed! A beautiful little healthy snack cake!
    Thank you Rosalee for always giving us new and delicious ways to enjoy our beloved herbs!

    • I am so happy to hear this, Lori! Thanks for sharing your experience with us.

    • Live your substitutions. Thank you for sharing.💚

  8. Yum! Looking forward to making this delicious cake! Rosalee, where did you get your honeycomb/bee cakelet pan?

    • Hi Annie! Rosalee shared that it is called: Nordic Ware Honeycomb Pan. I hope this helps!

  9. This recipe is perfect timing!!! I just discovered lemon balm is growing in my yard! I recognized it after viewing the herb growing webinar that was presented by Learning Herbs a week or so ago. Now you provide a recipe! This is so great! What a great Spring! I can hardly wait to try it. Blessings to all of you!

    • Awesome, Sherry! I am happy to hear your news, thanks for sharing with us!

  10. An inspiring recipe, thank you!

  11. I love lemon balm. I drink the tea, delicious. I also infuse it in oil to use in my lip balm, it helps with cold sores. I have also put some young leaves in salad or chopped and sprinkled on fish. But I’ve never thought of baking with it. Your recipe sounds delicious. Thank you. One problem is I can’t download it to print it. But I found that my writing skills are still fairly acceptable. Lol
    Laurie

    • I am thrilled you love lemon balm and use it in so may ways! For download issues, please use the little blue chat bubble in the lower right for assistance.

      • Well, I’ve just made this, and haven’t yet eaten any so can’t comment on the flavor just now.
        However, the quantity of arrowroot given was way too little. I whisked the icing for 20 minutes and it was still the consistency of water. After adding another tablespoon of arrowroot it thickened up slightly, but even then it wasn’t as thick as I expected.
        I’m hoping the taste will make up for it!

  12. How do you make your cold infursed Lemon Balm iced tea? I have fresh Lemon Balm in my garden.

  13. Where can I purchase lemon balm leaves ?

    • I love Mountain Rose Herbs for dried herbs. Here’s a link for you: iwantherbs.com

  14. Ooh, this sounds so yummy! Can’t wait to try and share with the grandkids! Thank you!

  15. Is lemon balm best dehydrated or air dried? A friend said air drying her oregano and thyme worked better than the dehydrator

    • It is my observation that this is a combination of personal preference and practicality. I prefer all my herbs be air-dried. I also live in a drier climate, so this works well for me. I find the herbs taste and work best air-dried. Other herbalists have different experiences. I encourage you to try it both ways and see what you prefer.

  16. I can’t wait to make this cake and try dairy and gluten free versions as well. I have tried to grow lemon balm in hot Austin in alkaline caliche soil for years to no avail. In Dallas it grew without problem. I am wondering what to do. My other herbs do just fine!!! I like to make tea from lemon balm, lemon grass and lemon verbena.
    Bobbie Nehman

    • Lemon balm really likes fast draining soil. One time I tried to grow it in a pot with soil straight from the ground and it was really thick and filled with clay. Didn’t work. Next year I mixed a bunch of compost in with the clay soil and after that the lemon balm was growing up a storm. So maybe try growing it in a pot with amended soil. Good luck!

  17. I so enjoy your recipes Rosalee. I also love it when science proves what herbalists have always known! Very interesting study on oxidative stress. Thank you Lemon Balm. We love you!

  18. Great article Rosalee. I will let you know how the cake went over with the taste testers! :)

  19. I’m thinking about trying this cake. It sounds delicious. I have a question though. Is there any way I can eliminate the arrowroot powder?

  20. I also forgot to ask. How do you make your lemon balm tea? I have had lemon balm for a long time but never really did anything with it. I want to use it this year as I have tons of it!

Leave a Comment

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

We love hearing from you! Please leave a comment...

The TWO key ingredients for learning about herbs are…

Experiences that inspire + a great learning community

Join the LearningHerbs community for free recipes, remedies, webinars and more…

WordPress Video Lightbox Plugin