The lemon balm plant (Melissa officinalis) originated in southern Europe and is now found throughout the world. The lemony smell and pretty white flowers of the plant have led to its widespread cultivation in gardens. The leaves, stems, and flowers of lemon balm are used medicinally.
How It Works
The terpenes, part of the pleasant smelling volatile oil from lemon balm, are thought to produce this herb’s relaxing and gas-relieving (carminative) effects. Flavonoids, phenolic acids, and other compounds appear to be responsible for lemon balm’s anti-herpes and thyroid-regulating actions. Test tube studies have found that lemon balm blocks attachment of antibodies to the thyroid cells that cause Grave’s disease (hyperthyroidism). The brain’s signal to the thyroid (thyroid-stimulating hormone or TSH) is also blocked from further stimulating the excessively active thyroid gland in this disease. However, clinical trials proving lemon balm’s effectiveness in treating Grave’s disease are lacking.
One small preliminary trial studying sleep quality compared the effect of a combination product containing an extract of lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) and an extract of valerian root with that of the sleeping drug triazolam (Halcion). The effectiveness of the herbal combination was similar to that of Halcion, as determined by the ability to fall asleep and the quality of sleep. Another trial also found that the same combination of valerian and lemon balm, taken over a two-week period, is effective in improving quality of sleep.
According to double-blind research, topical use of a concentrated lemon balm extract speeds healing time of herpes simplex virus sores (cold sores) on the mouth.
- Cold Sores: Lemon balm, with its antiviral properties, appears to speed the healing of cold sores and reduce symptoms when applied topically as a cream.
- Alzheimer’s Disease: Supplementing with an herbal extract of lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) has been shown to improve cognitive function and reduce agitation in people with Alzheimer’s disease.
- Colic: A soothing tea made from chamomile, vervain, licorice, fennel, and lemon balm has been shown to relieve colic more effectively than placebo.
- Genital Herpes: One study found that topical application of a cream containing a highly concentrated extract of lemon balm helped heal oral and genital herpes sores faster than a placebo.
- Hyperthyroidism: Test tube studies have found that lemon balm blocks attachment of antibodies to the thyroid cells that cause Grave’s disease (hyperthyroidism), though clinical trials proving lemon balm’s effectiveness as a treatment are lacking.
- Indigestion: Lemon balm is a gas-relieving herb that is used traditionally for indigestion. Carminatives (also called aromatic digestive tonics or aromatic bitters) may be used to relieve symptoms of indigestion, particularly when there is excessive gas. It is believed that carminative agents work, at least in part, by relieving spasms in the intestinal tract.
- Heartburn: see indigestion
- Infection: Lemon balm is an antiviral and antimicrobial herb.
- Insomnia: Studies have found a combination of valerian and lemon balm to be effective at improving sleep.
- Nerve Pain: Traditionally, topical applications to the temples were sometimes used by herbalists for insomnia or nerve pain.
Charlemagne once ordered lemon balm planted in every monastery garden because of its beauty. It has been used traditionally by herbalists to treat gas, sleeping difficulties, and heart problems. In addition, topical applications to the temples were sometimes used by herbalists for insomnia or nerve pain.
People with glaucoma should avoid lemon balm volatile oil until human studies are conducted, as animal studies show that it may raise pressure in the eye.
References to Dive Into
Auf’mkolk M, Ingbar JC, Kubota K, et al. Extracts and auto-oxidized constituents of certain plants inhibit the receptor-binding and the biological activity of Graves’ immunoglobulins. Endocrinol 1985;116:1687-93.
Blumenthal M, Busse WR, Goldberg A, et al. (eds). The Complete Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Boston, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications, 1998, 160-1.
Dressing H, Köhler S, Müller WE. Improvement of sleep quality with a high-dose valerian/lemon balm preparation: A placebo-controlled double-blind study. Psychopharmakotherapie 1996;6:32-40.
Dressing H, Riemann D, Low H, et al. Insomnia: Are valerian/balm combination of equal value to benzodiazepine? Therapiewoche 1992;42:726-36 [in German].
Koytchev R, Alken RG, Dundarov S. Balm mint extract (Lo-701) for topical treatment of recurring herpes labialis. Phytomedicine 1999;6:225-30.
Weiss RF. Herbal Medicine. Gothenburg, Sweden: Ab Arcanum, 1988, 31, 286.
Wölbling RH, Leonhardt K. Local therapy of herpes simplex with dried extract of Melissa officinalis. Phytomedicine 1994;1:25-31.