Sometimes, the most beneficial natural health remedies are the ones that have been around the longest. That’s certainly the case with lemon balm, a fast-growing plant that’s been studied for its effects on everything from insomnia to cancer.
What is the herb lemon balm good for? Used in teas, cooking and to make Melissa essential oil, it’s been prescribed by doctors since the Middle Ages as a natural remedy to improve sleep, reduce anxiety, treat wounds and promote longevity.
Today, its benefits have been widely studied, especially in Europe and the Middle East, where the plant originated.
Once you realize how many ways you can benefit from the many lemon balm uses described below, I’m sure you’ll be itching to grow some in your own garden.
What Is Lemon Balm?
The perennial lemon balm plant is a member of the mint family. Known officially as Melissa officinalis, it is sometimes referred to as common balm or balm mint.
Its native home is southern parts of Europe and various parts of the Middle East and Central Asia, but it’s now grown regularly in the Americas and other locations around the world.
Various lemon balm benefits have been employed in traditional medicine, especially in European countries such as Austria. In fact, lemon balm is an ingredient in Carmelite water, an alcoholic extract beverage formulated in the 14th century that’s still for sale in Germany.
In classic literature, characters often added lemon balm to wine or tea in order to treat various illnesses, like high fevers, headaches, nerve pain, wounds, bites and stings.
A few written works praise the lemon balm plant for its mood-lightening effects, such as Persian writer and thinker Avicenna, who referred to it as that which “maketh the heart merry and joyful.” It was also mentioned by:
- Homer in “The Odyssey”
- Nicholas Culpeper (a popular English botanist, physician and herbalist)
- and in the 1696 London Dispensary, which told readers that, “An essence of Balm, given in Canary wine, every morning, will renew youth, strengthen the brain, relieve languishing nature and prevent baldness.”
1. Protects Against Heart and Liver Problems
Animal studies suggest that lemon balm essential oil has the ability to protect the heart and liver, in part by lowering high triglycerides and improving cholesterol synthesis in the liver. The same 2012 study that discovered these results also revealed that inhaling lemon balm oil reduces some of the factors that lead to perpetual growth of a common liver cancer cell.
Another heart-related benefit of lemon balm may be its ability to protect the heart muscles from injuries. Researchers gave an oral extract of the plant to animals in a 2016 study and found it resulted in a reduction of heart rate and blood pressure — plus they found indications of resistance to heart injury in lower doses.
Traditional Iranian medicine has used it as a therapy for some time to treat heart palpitations, and science seems to back up this use. It may have a positive impact on the mechanics and electrical impulses of the heart, giving it power to help regulate heart arrhythmias, aka irregular heartbeat.
Melissa officinalis has been shown in certain rat studies to reduce the occurrence of premature beats, tachycardia and fibrillation within the heart, all without causing any negative side effects.
In one trial using an orally administered extract of lemon balm leaf, subjects seemed to experience a significant drop in benign heart palpitation episodes, which is believed to be tied to its ability to enhance one’s mood.
2. Functions as a Natural Antibacterial Agent
Lemon balm oil specifically shows a high level of antibacterial and antimicrobial activity against candida. This is a common yeast infection that causes a number of candida symptoms, including exhaustion, brain fog, digestive problems and a weakened immune system.
3. May Be Useful Against Diabetes
Researchers have tested both lemon balm essential oil and extract for their effects on high blood sugar. Both produce similar results by reducing blood sugar levels and oxidative stress related to diabetes in mice.
In fact, researchers at the Free University of Berlin stated, “ethanolic lemon balm extract can potentially be used to prevent or concomitantly treat type 2 diabetes,” because they were so impressed by the convincing data on the mice subjects.
Does lemon balm work for weight loss? Because it has anti-inflammatory effects, can help you cope with stress, improves digestion and supports metabolic health, it may be useful for maintaining a healthy weight.
It’s a not a magic bullet, but help with weight loss might be a potential secondary effect.
4. Might Fight Anxiety and Improve Mood, Concentration and Sleep
Traditionally, lemon balm herbal preparations have been used to treat anxiety and insomnia. Its mild sedative effect is a well-known feature.
These claims seem to stand up to scientific scrutiny, as well as extend beyond treating general anxiety.
For example, there’s some evidence this herb helps improve hyperactivity, concentration problems and impulsiveness in elementary school children. Taken internally in food products, it also seemed to enhance mood and/or cognitive performance, as demonstrated in a study involving young adults.
It has potential to improve problem solving, math skills, concentration and alertness, according to available research.
Does lemon balm make you sleepy? It may, although it works differently than sedative medications.
When used as an herbal sleep aid, it seems to help reduce insomnia symptoms and sleep disorders, including during menopause when symptoms such as anxiety, hot flashes and restlessness are very commonplace.
5. Fights Herpes Naturally
Lemon balm uses also extend into topical application, due in part to the herb’s antiviral qualities. Specifically, when applied directly to the skin, it is a useful herbal remedy to help treat the herpes virus.
While there is no permanent cure for herpes, treatment methods generally involve finding ways to decrease the frequency and duration of outbreaks. To date, most researchers have studied the efficacy of lemon balm on herpes labialis, or cold sores.
When using lemon balm extract in cream form, research shows that the intervals between herpes breakouts become longer, the healing period shortens and the symptoms, such as itching and burning, seem to decrease. Interestingly, because of the way that lemon balm works to achieve this, studies point to no risk of a resistance to the herpes virus forming after repeated uses.
The same results seem to exist when using lemon balm essential oil, too.
According to various sources, it seems lemon balm’s effects on the herpes simplex virus are related to its antioxidant compounds. These include tannins and polyphenols.
There are no well-known side effects when using this substance, either topically or orally.
6. Powerful Antioxidant and Anti-Inflammatory
This herb can help fight free radical damage in ways that may prove to be remarkable in natural medicine.
Perhaps most notably in this particular benefit of lemon balm is its potential impact against a specific kind of cancer known as glioblastoma multiforme. This fast-spreading cancer usually begins in the brain and has no known effective treatments.
However, a 2014 study found that lemon balm essential oil caused apoptosis (spontaneous cell death) in these cancer cells and stopped the expression of a protein known as multidrug resistance associated protein 1 (MRP1). This is especially important considering that MRP1 is partly responsible for the drug resistance cancers develop to traditional treatment methods, such as chemotherapy.
Other studies have found lemon balm products to have apoptotic effects on other cancer cell lines, including a type of cancer affecting the organ lining separating the organ from the rest of the body, MCF-7 (a breast cancer cell line), a colorectal cancer cell line, the most common liver cancer cell and two different types of leukemia cells.
In one study looking at how the antioxidants in lemon balm affect oxidative stress caused by low levels of radiation, lemon balm had remarkable results, including a significant improvement in blood levels of other cells. A study that looked at supplementing the diet of medical professionals consistently exposed to low levels of radiation with lemon balm showed that it may be an effective way to protect them against unhealthy levels of oxidative stress.
The study also showed lemon balm could naturally regulate a very important substance called superoxide dismutase. This enzyme, known in short as SOD, is vital to understand in terms of oxidative stress because the naturally occurring SOD can cause a number of different types of cell damage.
However, it is possible to regulate it naturally, using substances such as lemon balm that keep it in check.
In addition to providing antioxidant support, it has the potential to act as an anti-inflammatory agent. Reducing chronic inflammation helps protect against disease and relieve pain.
7. Can Regulate Overactive Thyroid
Thyroid conditions affect a decent portion of the population of the United States, and one of the two common thyroid conditions, hyperthyroidism, can benefit from lemon balm.
Extract of lemon balm is one of the treatment methods that natural health practitioners tend to use when attempting to regulate overactive thyroid. Research suggests that these extracts stop the components that over-activate the thyroid from binding with the thyroid receptor, specifically in patients with Grave’s disease.
8. May Aid in Digestion
Because of its antioxidant activity, this extract has a potentially protective effect on the gastrointestinal system. One way it can help soothe digestive issues is by preventing gastric ulcers, as shown on rats, although this has not been studied at length yet.
There is also some evidence that lemon balm products, as well as peppermint and angelica root, may be useful in creating herbal remedies for constipation. For example, lemon balm tea benefits seem to include fighting abdominal pain and discomfort after eating, constipation, and bloating.
This may in part be due to the tea’s calming effects on the nervous system.
9. Naturally Soothes Pain
If you have a toothache, apply a small amount of lemon balm oil to the painful area. You can also inhale the oil or tab it on your temples and neck to help fight headaches.
Risks, Side Effects and Interactions
What are the side effects of lemon balm? Lemon balm is generally safe for most people, but because it affects thyroid activity, people taking thyroid medication or who have severely underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) should not take it.
Some patients have experienced mild side effects after receiving lemon balm extract treatment. These may include:
- nausea and stomach pains
- skin reactions
- allergic reactions
To minimize risk of negative reactions, consume the oil with food, and start with a low dose. You can also perform a skin patch test to make sure you don’t get a rash.
If you are pregnant or nursing, consult your doctor before using herbs regularly. Also discuss using this product with your health care provider if you take medications for thyroid disease, anxiety, insomnia or depression.
How to Use It
What do you do with lemon balm? The most useful parts of this plant (and the way it found its name) are the leaves.
Compounds are extracted from the leaves and used to make lemon balm oil, tincture, salves and various medicines.
Some of the most popular lemon balm uses include using the leaves in the kitchen to make tea and flavor dishes, as well as to create perfume oils and insect repellents. Some people even use it to make homemade toothpaste.
Growing lemon balm:
If you live in a somewhat warm climate, you may want to try your hand at growing lemon balm. Moist, well-drained soil creates the perfect environment for growing healthy lemon balm.
It also most likely will need fertilizer and a bit of shade. It’s not unusual to need to trim and harvest it several times during its growing season in order to stop it from overtaking other plants as it germinates quickly.
Lemon balm recipes:
Because of its pleasant scent, lemon balm is a delicious herb to add as the final flavoring to a dish. Additionally, uses for lemon balm span everything from homemade lip balm to a dressing for salads.
Some people even use it as part of homemade cosmetics.
You can add it to meat and seafood dishes for an extra pop. It’s also not uncommon to find it used in fruit-based drinks and even cocktails.
To get the most benefits it’s best to purchase a high-quality lemon balm oil that contains pure extract.
Lemon balm essential oil is sometimes also known as Melissa oil. While it’s difficult to make your own oil, you can make tea, cold infusions, salves and more at home.
Here’s a simple herbal lemon balm tea recipe to try: Steep the fresh leaves for 15 minutes or so in very hot water, remove leaves and (optional) add raw honey as a natural sweetener.
Another option is making a “cold infusion” by placing the leaves in a glass jar with cold water (one tablespoon per cup of water) and letting the jar infuse overnight before drinking in the morning.
Lemon balm dosage:
If you don’t want to grow it yourself, you can find lemon balm tea and supplements online. As with all herbal products, use caution, and be very selective where you purchase from, looking for reputable sellers.
Dosage recommendations vary depending on what you’re using it for. A general recommendation for uses including relieving anxiety/stress is to take 300 milligrams of lemon balm in capsule form twice daily.
Some people take up 600 milligrams twice daily, however starting with a low dose and splitting your dose may be better tolerated. If you find that a low dose isn’t strong enough, work your way up to taking 300 to 600 mg three times daily.
- What is lemon balm? Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is a perennial herb that’s grown all over the world.
- People have used this plant for centuries as an herbal treatment and natural medicine to treat various ailments.
- Scientific research has shown it can be effective in protecting the heart and liver from common diseases. Other lemon balm benefits include having antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
- These properties often operate in ways that circumvent the normal resistances that illnesses form to many medications and remedies.
- Lemon balm can be applied topically to help treat herpes outbreaks and extend time between outbreaks.
- Using lemon balm oil, extract, tea and other products can improve mood, concentration and sleep quality while reducing anxiety. This herb may also help regulate an overactive thyroid, fight PMS symptoms and improve digestion.