Lemon Balm is commonly referred to as Melissa due to its Latin name Melissa officinalis. This name is derived from the Greek word Melissa, meaning honeybee. In Ancient Greece it was planted and used by the beekeepers of the Temple of Artemis to help keep the sacred honeybees calm and content.
Native to southern Europe, the Mediterranean and Central Asia, lemon balm can be found in many parts of the world. Its small white flowers attract bees and other pollinators, while its lemony scent helps to repel mosquitoes.
In terms of its history of medicinal applications, herbalists in the Renaissance period revered this herb for its healing ability, with many attributing to it the potential for a long life when taken every day in elixir form.
Most famously, it has been used for centuries for its calming effect. This refers to its ability to provide calm to the nervous system in an agitated or anxious state. Other benefits include the relief from digestive discomfort, as well as protecting the thyroid and nervous system. The Lemon Balm herb has been used to make tea, tinctures and the oil is extracted to make a lovely fresh smelling essential oil that is known as Melissa Essential Oil.
Lemon Balm Benefits:
Lemon Balm is a carminative herb, meaning it can relieve stagnant digestion, ease abdominal cramping, and promote the overall digestive process. The volatile oils in Lemon Balm contain chemicals known as “terpenes” that relax muscles and relieve symptoms such as excess gas [i] [ii].
Lemon Balm contains both choleretics and cholagogues, which helps with liver health and the function of detoxification via the distribution of bile [iii]. Bile is produced in the liver, stored in the gall bladder and then released into the small intestine to digest fats. A choleretic stimulates production of bile whilst a cholagogue enhances its release from the gall bladder. For digestive relief, Lemon Balm is best consumed as a tea taken immediately after meals. Alternatively, Melissa essential oil can be massaged into the abdomen to stimulate the digestive process.
Anxiety, Insomnia and Mental Acuity:
Rosmarinic acid in Lemon Balm increases GABA (gamma amino-butyric acid) in the brain. GABA is one of the inhibitory neurotransmitters, used by the brain to prevent over activity of the neurons. Therefore, it has a calming and balancing effect on the brain, which is helpful in cases of anxiety [iv]. A placebo-controlled randomised, balanced crossover experiment, enlisted 18 healthy volunteers. They received two separate single doses of a standardised Lemon Balm extract (300 mg, 600 mg) and a placebo. Modulation of mood and cognitive performance were assessed. The results showed that the 600mg dose ameliorated cases of low mood. Interestingly, it also improved cognitive performance, as assessed by participants undergoing mathematical tests [v].
At higher doses this mechanism helps promote a restful night’s sleep. Research reports that Lemon Balm combines well with the herb Valerian, with several studies showing that these two herbs combined can induce a deep sleep state. One study in menopausal women concluded valerian and lemon balm combined may assist in reducing symptoms of sleep disorder during the menopause [vi].
Moreover, hyperactivity, concentration difficulties and impulsiveness were seen to improve during seven weeks' application of valerian root and lemon balm extracts in primary school children [vii].
By the same mechanism of rosmarinic acid helping anxiety and sleep, Lemon Balm has also been found to have neuroprotective effects, in that it helps to protect brain cells and potentially slow the negative effects of brain ageing. It is believed this action is also due to the antioxidant action of compounds such as eugenol, which prevent the damaging effects of free radicals on brain tissue [viii] [ix].
Lemon Balm is also said to regulate the actions of the thyroid. Test tube studies have found that it blocks the attachment of antibodies to the thyroid cells that cause Grave's disease (hyperthyroidism). It increases levels of circulating T3 and T4.3. 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 [x] [xi]. However, clinical trials proving lemon balm's effectiveness in Grave's disease are currently lacking.
Lemon balm ointments have been found to help heal cold sores caused by the herpes simplex virus. These effects were seen in a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomised trial with a lip balm containing lemon balm standardised extract. It was also reported that the balm helped elongate intervals between flare ups [xii].
Menstrual Cycle Related Symptoms:
The compound rosmarinic acid in lemon balm may help reduce the severity of menstrual symptoms like cramps and fatigue [xiii]. Lemon Balm extract capsules were also effective in reduction of the PMS symptoms in teenage girls. Symptoms such as anxiety, insomnia, social dysfunction and severe depression were improved [xiv].
Lemon Balm Tea: Use 2 teaspoons of Lemon Balm leaves per person, per cup of boiling water. Let the tea brew for 5 - 15 minutes. Strain and enjoy.
Lemon Balm Tincture: Can be added to water or fruit juice and taken daily. 2-3ml taken 2-3 times per day, or as directed by a Herbal Practitioner.
Melissa Essential Oil: Melissa essential oil can be used in the bath, or in an oil burner. It can be added to a massage oil or cream. Use 6-8 drops per bath.
Pregnancy and breast-feeding: There is not sufficient clinical evidence to know if lemon balm is safe to use when pregnant or breast-feeding. It is best to avoid use.
Surgery: Lemon balm might cause excessive drowsiness if use concomitantly with anaesthetic medications used during and after surgery. It is recommended to cease use of lemon balm around 2 weeks prior to surgery.
Thyroid disease: There is a concern that lemon balm may alter thyroid function, and thus interfere with thyroid hormone-replacement therapy. Please avoid lemon balm if you have severe thyroid disease [xv].
Sedative medications: Taken together with Lemon Balm may cause excessive sleepiness and drowsiness.
Also take caution and consult with your prescribing practitioner if taking any of the following:
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