Melissa officinalis (Lemon balm) is a herbal medicine that has traditionally been attributed with memory-enhancing properties, but which is currently more widely used as a mild sedative and sleep aid. In a previous study it was demonstrated that a commercial Melissa extract led to dose-specific increases in calmness, and dose-dependent decrements in timed memory task performance. However, the extract utilized in that study did not exhibit in vitro cholinergic receptor-binding properties. The current study involved an initial screening of samples of M. officinalis for human acetylcholinesterase inhibition and cholinergic receptor-binding properties. The cognitive and mood effects of single doses of the most cholinergically active dried leaf were then assessed in a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind, balanced crossover study. Following the in vitro analysis, 20 healthy, young participants received single doses of 600, 1000, and 1600 mg of encapsulated dried leaf, or a matching placebo, at 7-day intervals. Cognitive performance and mood were assessed predose and at 1, 3, and 6 h postdose using the Cognitive Drug Research computerized assessment battery and Bond-Lader visual analog scales, respectively. In vitro analysis of the chosen extract established IC(50) concentrations of 0.18 and 3.47 mg ml(-1), respectively, for the displacement of [(3)H]-(N)-nicotine and [(3)H]-(N)-scopolamine from nicotinic and muscarinic receptors in the human cerebral cortex tissue. However, no cholinesterase inhibitory properties were detected. The most notable cognitive and mood effects were improved memory performance and increased 'calmness' at all postdose time points for the highest (1600 mg) dose. However, while the profile of results was overwhelmingly favorable for the highest dose, decrements in the speed of timed memory task performance and on a rapid visual information-processing task increased with decreasing dose. These results suggest that doses of Melissa officinalis at or above the maximum employed here can improve cognitive performance and mood and may therefore be a valuable adjunct in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease. The results also suggest that different preparations derived from the same plant species may exhibit different properties depending on the process used for the sample preparation.