John Davis, co-founder and director of AG Hair Cosmetics, has been researching herbal extracts for as long as his company has been in existence. In the early years of the business, he used to import a product from England because of its high herbal extract content, including balm mint. Today, balm mint is in 95 percent of the products manufacturered by AG -- from its Re:coil Curl Activator to its Deep Conditioner.

“Balm mint soothes the scalp, particularly if you have an oily scalp, which is a result of overactive sebaceous [or oil-producing] glands,” Davis said.

You may have only recently noticed balm mint as an ingredient in some of your upscale hair-care products, but it’s far from a new discovery. The herbal extract has been used for more than 2,000 years, mainly as a medicinal plant.

A member of the mint family, balm mint’s scientific name is melissa officinalis but it’s also known by nearly a dozen other names, including the popular lemon balm, sweet balm and bee balm. The scent of the leaves is similar to the pheromone produced by honeybees so they tend to swarm to the plant. In fact, "melissa," which is part of the herb’s scientific name, is actually the Greek word for honeybee.

Originally native to western Asia, southern Europe, and northern Africa, balm mint is a bushy perennial plant now widely grown everywhere. It blooms in the summer months with white or golden tube-like flowers, but it is coveted most for the essential oil in its lemony scented leaves. The herb is best used when it’s freshly picked, and the flavor is the strongest just before its flowers bloom. Although the dried leaves aren’t as potent, freezing fresh leaves can help preserve that potency.

“It’s soothing to the scalp, so it’s soothing on the skin,” adds curl guru Lorraine Massey of New York’s Devachan Salon, whose No-Poo hair cleanser and B’Leave-in products contain balm mint.

AG uses balm mint in a blend of herbal extracts, Davis explains.

“It has a calming effect and it’s anti-bacterial," he said. "Dandruff is a bacterial condition, so you can help prevent dandruff. It is also anti-fungal and anti-oxidative.”

This anti-oxidative effect also helps prevent the dreaded fading of hair color. Curl expert Christo of Christo Fifth Avenue salon in New York uses balm mint in his Colorective line, which is a treatment collection for colored hair.

“It creates a curl and color redemption for those who color their hair,” Christo says. “We use this to create more gloss and more shine to their color so their color doesn’t fade.”

The benefits of balm mint reach far beyond cosmetic and even date back to the middle ages. The Greeks treasured it as a medicinal plant because it was believed to ease depression and anxiety, as well as a myriad of ailments such as digestive spasms, menstrual cramps, insomnia, and headaches. This healing herb is even suggested to help people with an overactive thyroid.

And it doesn’t end there. Since balm mint helps ease inflammation with its anti-viral properties, it’s used to calm the swelling and pain from cold sores and insect bites.

Studies have shown that the anti-bacterial effects of balm mint can help with upper respiratory infections as well. When the leaves are used to make a hot tea, balm mint causes sweating that can help break the fever associated with colds and flu. In fact, you will often find lemon balm leaves as part of herbal blends in upscale boxed teas labeled as “calm.”

Beyond tea, the aromatic herb is used to flavor vermouth and other alcoholic beverages, some soft drinks and even foods. Its crushed leaves can be added to everything from salads and sauces to marinades and soups. Indeed, the bountiful uses of balm mint stretch from the kitchen to the medicine cabinet to the shower.

It has garnered so much attention, it is no wonder the International Herb Association (IHA) has selected balm mint as the 2007 Herb of the Year.

Products containing Balm Mint

DevaCare No-Poo

DevaCare Low-Poo

DevaCare Arc Angell

DevaCare One Condition

DevaCurl No-Poo

DevaCurl Low Poo

DevaCurl One Condition

DevaCurl Angell

DevaCurl Set it Free

DevaCurl B'Leave In

DevaCurl Mist-er Right

AG Xtramoist Moisturizing Shampoo

AG Ultramoist Conditioner

AG Deep Conditioner

AG Re:coil

AG Fast Food

AG Details

AG Stimulating Balm Hair & Scalp Conditioner

Curlisto Colorective line

Rusk Balm Mint & Babassu Trea

Bain De Terre Mint Balm Spray Styler

Nioxin Scalp Therapy

Aubrey Organics Honeysuckle Rose Moisturizing Shampoo

Aubrey Organics Honeysuckle Rose Moisturizing Conditioner

Aubrey Organics Island Naturals Replenishing Conditioner

Aubrey Organics Jojoba & Aloe Desert Herb Revitalizing Conditioner

Nature's Gate Tea Tree Shampoo

Aussie 3-Minute Miracle Reconstructor