Lemon Balm

Lemon Balm/Melissa

Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) is a perennial herb belonging to the Mint family. It is native to Europe, North Africa and West Asia, and now is cultivated worldwide for its culinary, medicinal and aromatic properties. It has been used for centuries in traditional medicine for its calming, soothing and digestive properties.

History of Lemon Balm

Lemon Balm was dedicated to the goddess Diana, and used medicinally by the Greeks some 2,000 years ago. In the Middles Ages, Lemon Balm was used to soothe tension, to dress wounds, and as a cure for toothache, skin eruptions, mad dog bites, crooked necks, and sickness during pregnancy. It was even said to prevent baldness.

Health Benefits of Lemon Balm

Lemon balm has a mild lemon scent and flavor, which comes from the essential oils present in its leaves. It is thought that the volatile oils in Lemon Balm contain chemicals that relax muscles, particularly in the bladder, stomach, and uterus, thereby relieving cramps, gas and nausea.

Lemon balm is also commonly used as a herbal remedy for; anxiety, stress, insomnia, digestive issues, skin conditions, nervous agitation, sleeping problems, functional gastrointestinal complaints, menstrual cramps and urinary spasms, bronchial inflammation, earache, fever, flatulence, headaches, high blood pressure, influenza, mood disorders, palpitations, toothache and vomiting.

A tea made from Lemon Balm leaves is also said to soothe menstrual cramps and helps relieve PMS.

Lemon Balm Research

ESCOP (European Scientific Cooperative On Phytotherapy) lists the internal use of Lemon Balm for: tenseness, restlessness, irritability, and symptomatic treatment of digestive disorders, such as minor spasms; externally, for herpes labialis (ESCOP, 1997).

Recent evidence suggests that Lemon Balm has a depressant or sedative action on the central nervous systems of laboratory mice. The German Standard License for Lemon Balm tea approves it for nervous disorders of sleep and of the gastrointestinal tract, and to stimulate the appetite (Wichtl and Bisset, 1994).

Lemon Balm for Graves Disease

Lemon balm may block some of the activity of thyroid hormone in the body. Therefore, it has been used in the past to treat Graves disease, an auto-immune condition in which the thyroid gland produces excess thyroid hormone. Although laboratory and animal studies show that lemon balm may help decrease thyroid in the body, no human studies have yet been conducted for this possible use.

Lemon Balm for Mental Clarity, Concentration and Relaxation

Lemon Balm produced an unexpected result in a research study: it greatly increased the ability to concentrate and perform word and picture tasks.

In a study of lemon balm at Northumbria University in England, students were tested for weeks while using either Lemon Balm or a placebo. The students did significantly better on the tests after taking Lemon balm and continued to post improved scores for up to six hours after taking the herb. The students taking Lemon Balm were noted to be calmer and less stressed during the tests. (From Prevention Magazine Sept. 2004).

Antiviral Properties of Lemon Balm to Cure Herpes

Research has shown that the plant contains polyphenols, it can help significantly in the treatment of cold sores and combat the herpes simplex virus, shingles as well as other viral afflictions. Studies have shown a significant reduction in the duration and severity of herpes. Researchers also noted a “tremendous reduction” in the frequency of recurrence.

When applied to cold sores or genital sores caused by the herpes simplex virus, creams or ointments containing lemon balm have speeded healing. The infections did not spread as much and individuals using topical lemon balm also reported more relief from symptoms such as itching and redness. At least part of this effect is due to antiviral properties of caffeic acid and rosmarinic acid, which are contained in lemon balm.

In one study on 115 patients, a proprietary preparation of lemon balm extract in a lip balm showed efficacy in treating lip sores associated with the herpes simplex virus (Wöbling and Leonhardt, 1994).

Lemon Balm for Insomnia and Anxiety

Lemon balm is widely used to treat anxiety and insomnia in Europe. It reduces anxiety and stress and eases sleep disorders.

Several studies have used Lemon balm, and Lemon balm/Valerian combinations to treat stress, anxiety and insomnia. The studies have shown improved sleep patterns and reduced stress and anxiety. In one study a Lemon balm/Valerian combination was found to be as effective as the prescription drug Halcion.

Lemon Balm is approved for “nervous sleeping disorders” and “functional gastrointestinal complaints” by Commission E of the German Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices. Commission E is the German governmental agency that evaluates the safety and effectiveness of herbal products. The United States does not have a comparable agency to evaluate herbal products.

Lemon Balm for Thyroid Problems and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Lemon Balm is used in Europe for treating thyroid problems and has shown an ability to regulate thyroid hormone production. This ability, along with the herb’s anti-viral characteristics, have made the herb useful in the treatment of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

Lemon Balm for Alzheimer’s and Dementia

Lemon Balm contains volatile (essential) oils, including citronellal and citral A and B, which are known to have sedative properties. In both animal and human studies, lemon balm taken by mouth has a calming effect. In larger doses it may promote sleep.

In one study, researchers found that using lemon balm also improved memory and lengthened attention span in individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. This effect may be due to its content of antioxidants, which are thought to protect body cells from damage caused by a chemical process called oxidation.

Another small but interesting study used Lemon Balm aroma-therapeutically to calm overexcited individuals suffering from dementia. Dementia is an increasing deficiency in thought processes caused by brain damage, such as from a stroke, or from diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

How to Take Lemon Balm

Lemon balm is available in various forms including; teas, tinctures, extracts and essential oils. Lemon balm is also used in cooking and aromatherapy for its pleasant scent and taste.

Always take care when taking herbs and Read Our Disclaimer.

Lemon Balm Herb Notes / Side Effects

Very little information is available on how Lemon Balm might affect a developing foetus, an infant, or a small child. Therefore, its use is not recommended during pregnancy, while breast-feeding, or during early childhood.

When Lemon Balm is used with both prescription and non-prescription drugs that promote sleepiness, the effects of the drug may be exaggerated, resulting in sedation or mental impairment. Lemon Balm may cause excessive sedation if it is taken with other potentially sedating herbs such as: Catnip, Hops, Kava Kava, St. John’s Wort and Valerian.

Due to its potential effects on thyroid hormone utilisation, Lemon Balm may interfere with therapy for hyperthyroidism (thyroid hormone excess) or hypothyroidism (thyroid hormone deficiency)

In animal studies, Lemon Balm increased pressure inside the eyes. Even though similar results have not been reported in humans, individuals who have glaucoma should not take Lemon Balm.

Latin Names

Melissa officinalis

Common Names

Lemon Balm, Balm Mint, Bee Balm, Blue Balm, Cure-all, Garden Balm, Honey Plant, Melissa, Sweet Balm, Sweet Mary.

Properties of Lemon Balm

Anti-bacterial, anti-oxidant, anti-spasmodic, anti-viral, aromatic, carminative, cerebral stimulant, diaphoretic, digestive, emmenagogue, febrifuge, nervous restorative, spasmolytic, sedative (mild), tonic.

Lemon Balm is Indicated for:

Amenorrhea, anxiety, calming nerves, chronic fatigue, colds, cold sores, colic, depression, dizziness, fevers, gastrointestinal complaints, Graves’ disease, headaches, herpes virus, hypertension, hypothyroidism, insomnia, menstrual cramps, mental clarity and concentration, nausea relief, nervous agitation, neurocardiac syndrome, painful urination, palpitations, phobias, relaxation, shingles, sleeping problems, upset stomach, viral infections, wounds.

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