Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), a member of the mint family, has
long been considered a "calming" herb. It has been used since the Middle Ages to
reduce stress and anxiety, promote sleep, improve appetite, and ease pain and
discomfort associated with digestion (including flatulence and bloating as well
as colic). Even before the Middle Ages, lemon balm was steeped in wine to lift
the spirits, help heal wounds, and treat venomous insect bites and stings.
Today, lemon balm is often combined with other calming, soothing herbs, such as
valerian, to enhance the overall relaxing effect.
Insomnia and anxiety Several studies have found that lemon
balm combined with other calming herbs (such as valerian) helps reduce anxiety
and promote sleep. Few studies have investigated the safety and effectiveness of
oral lemon balm alone, however. For example, in one recent study of people with
minor sleep disorders, those who ingested an herbal combination of valerian and
lemon balm reported sleeping much better than those who ingested placebo pills.
It is not clear from these studies, however, whether lemon balm itself (or the
combined action of lemon balm and valerian) is responsible for these
Herpes Some studies suggest that topical ointments containing
lemon balm may help heal lip sores associated with herpes simplex virus (HSV).
In one study of 116 people with HSV, those who applied lemon balm cream to their
lip sores experienced significant improvement in redness and swelling after only
two days. Although other symptoms, (such as pain and scabbing) did not improve,
both the patients and their physicians reported that the lemon balm ointment was
highly effective. Several animal studies also support the value of topical lemon
balm for herpes lesions.
Other Although few rigorous scientific studies have been
conducted on lemon balm, many professional herbalists suggest that this herb is
beneficial for a variety of health problems including Alzheimer's disease,
attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), indigestion, insomnia, and
hyperthyroidism. Experimental laboratory studies also suggest that lemon balm
has antioxidant and anti-HIV properties, but further studies are needed to
confirm these findings.
Lemon balm is native to Europe but is now grown all over the world. It is
grown not only in herb gardens, but also in crops for medicine, cosmetics, and
furniture polish manufacturing. The plant grows up to two feet in height,
sometimes higher if left not maintained. In the spring and summer, clusters of
small, light yellow flowers grow where the leaves meet the stem. The leaves are
very deeply wrinkled and range from dark green to yellowish green in color,
depending on the soil and climate. If you rub your fingers on them, your fingers
will smell tart and sweet, like lemons. The leaves are similar in shape to mint
leaves, and in fact, come from the same plant family.
What's It Made Of?
Lemon balm preparations are made from the leaves of the plant. Essential oils
made from lemon balm leaves contain plant chemicals called terpenes, which play
at least some role in the herb's relaxing and antiviral effects. Lemon balm also
contains substances called tannins, which are thought to cause many of the
herb's antiviral effects. Lemon balm also contains eugenol, which calms muscle
spasms, numbs tissues, and kills bacteria.
Lemon balm is available as a dried leaf that can be bought in bulk. It is
also sold as tea, and in capsules, extracts, tinctures, and oil. The creams used
in Europe, which contain high levels of lemon balm, are not currently available
in the United States. On the other hand, teas can be applied to the skin with
How to Take It
Lemon balm may be used topically in children to treat cold sores. The dosage
would be the same as the recommendations for use in adults.
For internal use, adjust the recommended adult dose to account for the
child's weight. Most herbal dosages for adults are calculated on the basis of a
150 lb (70 kg) adult. Therefore, if the child weighs 50 lb (20 to 25 kg), the
appropriate dose of lemon balm for this child would be 1/3 of the adult
For difficulty sleeping, or to reduce stomach complaints, flatulence, or
bloating, choose from the following:
Tea: 1.5 to 4.5 grams of lemon balm herb, several times daily
Tincture: 2 to 3 mL (40 to 90 drops), 3 times daily, or the equivalent
in fluid extract or encapsulated form
For cold sores or herpes sores, steep 2 to 4 tsp of crushed leaf in 1 cup
boiling water for 10 to 15 minutes. Cool. Apply tea with cotton balls to the
sores throughout the day.
The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and
treating disease. Herbs, however, contain active substances that can trigger
side effects and interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For
these reasons, herbs should be taken with care, under the supervision of a
practitioner knowledgeable in the field of botanical medicine.
No side effects or symptoms of toxicity have been reported with lemon balm
use, but this herb should not be used by pregnant or breastfeeding women.
Sedatives, Thyroid medications Although it has not yet been
demonstrated in clinical studies, lemon balm may interfere with sedatives and
thyroid medications. If you are taking sedatives (for sleep disorders or
anxiety) or medications to regulate your thyroid, you should consult a
healthcare practitioner before taking lemon balm.
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Review Date: April 2002
Reviewed By: Participants in the review process include: Jacqueline A. Hart, MD,
Department of Internal Medicine, Newton-Wellesley Hospital, Harvard University
and Senior Medical Editor Integrative Medicine, Boston, MA; Gary Kracoff, RPh
(Pediatric Dosing section February 2001), Johnson Drugs, Natick, MA; Steven
Ottariono, RPh (Pediatric Dosing section February 2001), Veteran's
Administrative Hospital, Londonderry, NH; R. Lynn Shumake, PD, Director,
Alternative Medicine Apothecary, Blue Mountain Apothecary & Healing Arts,
University of Maryland Medical Center, Glenwood, MD; David Winston, Herbalist
(March 1999), Herbalist and Alchemist, Inc., Washington, NJ; Tom Wolfe, P.AHG
(March 1999), Smile Herb Shop, College Park, MD. All interaction sections have
also been reviewed by a team of experts including Joseph Lamb, MD (July 2000),
The Integrative Medicine Works, Alexandria, VA;Enrico Liva, ND, RPh (August
2000), Vital Nutrients, Middletown, CT; Brian T Sanderoff, PD, BS in Pharmacy
(March 2000), Clinical Assistant Professor, University of Maryland School of
Pharmacy; President, Your Prescription for Health, Owings Mills, MD; Ira Zunin,
MD, MPH, MBA (July 2000), President and Chairman, Hawaii State Consortium for
Integrative Medicine, Honolulu, HI.
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regarding dosage, precautions, warnings, interactions, and contraindications
before administering any drug, herb, or supplement discussed