Lemon balm or Melissa officinalis is one of my favorite herbs. It belongs to the Lamiaceae or mint family. It was given its common name because when the leaves of the plant are rubbed together, it produces a lemon scent.
Lemon balm is native to Europe, the Mediterranean, and Asia, and was used in ancient Greek and Roman times to help dress surgical wounds and treat bites and stings from snakes (American Botanical Council (ABC), 2013). It was also used to improve memory, as a sedative to treat sleep disorders, and to alleviate gastrointestinal conditions (ABC, 2013).
It is known as an herbal cure-all because it has so many beneficial effects. It is an analgesic, sedative, spasmolytic, tranquilizer, antihistamine, antimicrobial, antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, gas reducer, fever reducer, hypotensive, emmenagogue, and memory enhancer. It has been used to treat herpes simplex virus infections, agitation, anxiety, colitis, and dyspepsia; induce sleep; lower blood pressure; and improve cognitive performance, sleep quality, and cardiovascular function.
Other than this long list of benefits, here are 3 specific reasons to use lemon balm.
1. Generally A Safe Herb
Lemon balm is considered as safe to use by the FDA. There are no known contraindications, side effects, or drug interactions. It can even be used during pregnancy and lactation (ABC, 2013). This means it can be easily incorporated into different types of herbal treatments or supplements.
Despite its safety, children and people with thyroid conditions, possible allergies, glaucoma, and those operating heavy machinery or driving should avoid using the herb.
The leaves are the part of the plant that is most commonly used. The leaves can be eaten directly, or it can be consumed as a tea, tincture, liquid extract, or supplement. It can be applied topically as a cream or poultice or compress.
It can be used as an essential oil, but I should note that in aromatherapy, lemon balm does have some contraindications. An herb on its own can be safe, but once its components are concentrated, as when extracting essential oils, they may pose some risks. Thus, pregnant women and children should avoid lemon balm essential oil, and people with sensitive or damaged skin should avoid using the essential oil topically.
2. Effective Antiviral
Lemon balm has antiviral effects. The constituents that impart lemon balm its antiviral effects are the tannins and polyphenols, specifically rosmarinic acid, caffeic acid, and ferulic acid (Petersen, 2014).
Lemon balm has antiviral effects against the herpes simplex virus (HSV). In a study conducted on 116 patients infected with HSV, redness was reduced in the patients receiving a topical application of lemon balm. Another study on 66 patients showed that those given a topical application of lemon balm had a significant relief of symptoms (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013).
The herb has antiviral action against HSV type 1 and type 2, even at very low concentrations. (Allahverdiyev, Duran, Ozguven, & Koltas, 2004; Chwil et al., 2014). Lemon balm also has antiviral effects againstTrypanosoma brucei, the parasite carried by the tsetse fly, and Leishmania major, a parasite that causes skin disease (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013).
The essential oil of lemon balm also has antiviral effects and has been found to be effective against the yeast Candida albicans(Hawkins, 2014). Also, bread that was exposed to the waste left over after lemon balm has been extracted into essential oil or other form, had higher shelf life than regular bread (Vasileva et al., 2018)!
3. Great Calming Properties
Lemon balm as an herb and essential oil has calming effects on the body. In fact, some believe that calming effects are so strong, it is contraindicated for those who are driving or operating machinery because of its sedative properties. It is also beneficial to people who are suffering from panic, shock, anxiety, hysteria, nervous crisis, trauma, and stress (Hawkins, 2014).
A recent clinical trial showed that lemon balm capsules reduced anxiety and improved sleep in 100 female adolescents who were suffering from premenstrual syndrome. The women were given 600 mg capsules of the herb twice daily for three months, and also had an improvement in symptoms of depression and social function (Heydari, Dehghani, Emamghoreishi, & Akbarzadeh, 2018).
Lemon balm is safe to use, and has strong antiviral and calming properties, in addition to many other benefits. And, before I leave you, I’ll add one more interesting benefits. Part of its scientific name, Melissa, is the Greek word for bee, indicating that it was named for its ability for attracting bees (ABC, 2013). It may make a great addition to any garden wishing to bring in more bees.
Allahverdiyev, A., Duran, N., Ozguven, M., & Koltas, S. (2004). Antiviral activity of the volatile oils of Melissa officinalisL. against Herpes simplexvirus type-2. Phytomedicine, 11, 657-661. Retrieved from http://lirnproxy.museglobal.com/MuseSessionID=cf714c5c5eb2705bcf4f0cf1370ba94/MuseProtocol=http/MuseHost=web1.infotrac-custom.com/MusePath/pdfserve/get_item/1/A74316452141.pdf
American Botanical Council. (2013). Lemon balm. Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E.Retrieved on April 17, 2018 from http://cms.herbalgram.org/herbstream/achs/HerbalMedicine/index.html#param.wapp?sw_page=@@@@@@expEView%3Fufgp%3DLemonBalm.html@expEView%3Fufgp%3DLemonBalm.html
Chwil, P., Terlecki, K., Sobstyl, J., Sobstyl, P., Kotula, L., & Kocki, J. (2014). Melissa officinalisL. extract- an effective remedy. Modern Phytomorphology, 6, 119. Retrieved from http://phytomorphology.org/PDF/MP6/06119119.pdf
Hawkins, B. (2014). Aromatherapy 201- Clinical Aromatherapy.West Coast Institute of Aromatherapy.
Heydari, N., Dehghani, M., Emamghoreishi, M., & Akbarzadeh, M. (2018). Effect of Melissa officinalis capsule on the mental health of female adolescents with premenstrual syndrome: a clinical trial study. International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health, online. https://doi.org/10.1515/ijamh-2017-0015
Petersen, D. (2014). Herb 503 Advanced Herbal Materia Medica II. Portland, OR: American College of Healthcare Sciences.
Pizzorno, J. E. & Murray, M. T. (2013). Textbook of Natural Medicine(4thed.). St. Louis, MO: Churchill Livingstone.
Vasileva, I., Denkova, R., Chochkov, R., Teneva, D., Denkova, Z., Dessev, T., Denev, P., & Slavov, A. (2018). Effect of lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) and melissa (Melissa officinalis) waste on quality and shelf life of bread. Food Chemistry, 253, 13-21. doi:10.1016/j.foodchem.2018.01.131.