How does it feel?
Lemon balm grows widely in gardens and makes a great plant for anyone to grow themselves, even in a window box. Look out for its characteristic light green leaves: picking and sniffing a leaf will tell you immediately you have the right plant. There is that wonderful aromatic lemony aroma. Chew a piece and the bright, citrusy taste comes through straightaway: the strong aromatic lemon flavour is combined with subtle hints of mint; the slight lemon acidity and tannic astringency combined with a real sweetness.
All around the world the actions of traditional medicines were understood by their immediate sensory impacts. Click on each of lemon balm’s key qualities below to learn more:
Lemon balm delivers its properties immediately. This is clearly a gentle, soothing yet uplifting remedy, acceptable to everyone from the very youngest of age.
What can I use it for?
Lemon balm is of particular use where a digestive upset is exacerbated by stress and anxiety. It is great for children, who may prefer the taste to chamomile.
This relaxant effect has also been useful where stress affects the chest and heart, with symptoms like palpitations and hyperventilation: these in turn may be associated with acid reflux, hiatus hernia, associated symptoms that can arise when the digestion is stressed.
Lemon balm tea also has a gentle lifting effect that can be very comforting in low moods. In Germany it has long been seen as particularly active on the central nervous system. Modern research supports this view.
Melissa essential oil, or highly concentrated extracts have demonstrated benefits in relieving the symptoms of oral herpes infections or cold sores. However this effect is unlikely to be found with the herb on its own.
Into the heart of lemon balm
One of the most reliably calming family remedies that can be safely used for anyone, and with a flavour that is widely accepted by all ages.
Lemon balm was originally one of the stand-by remedies for the home-management of fever. Many of its modern uses apply the same characteristics: safe, gently calming, vasodilatory (opening the peripheral blood circulation) and antispasmodic properties.
What practitioners say
Digestive: Lemon balm has carminative properties and is indicated in flatulence, dyspepsia, spasms and generalised indigestion; particularly where this is exacerbated by anxiety and stress.
Cardiovascular and Heart: It is a gentle circulatory tonic that dilates the peripheral blood vessels, lowers high blood pressure and relieves stress-related symptoms such as palpitations or angina.
Nervous system: Indicated in anxiety, tension and mild-depression, in conditions characterised by nervous pain such as fibromyalgia but also in neuralgia and numbness.
Metabolism: Lemon balm looks to be a promising long-term complement to dietary control of the metabolic syndrome that often merges into late onset diabetes.
Did you know?
The volatile oils have been closely investigated in Germany where the plant is the main ingredient of a popular medicine known as ‘Melissengeist’.
Safe to use with no reports of adverse events
Traditional Ayurvedic characteristics are
- Rasa (taste) Pungent, sweet, sour, astringent.
- Virya (action) Cooling.
- Vipaka (post-digestive effect) Pungent.
- Guna (quality) Light, dry, sharp/ penetrating.
- Dosha effect: stablises vata, and reduces excessive pitta and kapha
- Dhatu (tissue) rasa/plasma, rakta/ blood, majja/nerve, shukra/reproductive
- Srotas (channels) anna/digestive, majja/ nervous, shukra/reproductive, prana/ respiratory
In modern support of lemon balm’s traditional reputation, 55 sufferers from regular bouts of palpitation who took 14-day of treatment with 500 mg of lyophilized aqueous extract of lemon balm leaves, in comparison to the placebo reduced frequency of their palpitation episodes and significantly reduced anxiety. Two double-blind crossover studies evaluated the mood-affecting and cognitive effects of a standardised lemon balm preparation administered in a beverage and in yoghurt. In each study, a cohort of healthy young adults’ self-rated aspects of mood were measured before and after a multi-tasking framework administered one hour and three hours following one of four treatments. Both active lemon balm treatments were generally associated with improvements in mood and/or cognitive performance.
In a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized, balanced crossover experiment, 18 healthy volunteers received two separate single doses of a standardized lemon balm extract (300 mg, 600 mg) and a placebo, on separate days separated by a 7-day washout period. 600 mg of lemon balm ameliorated the negative mood effects of a laboratory stress test, with significantly increased self-ratings of calmness and reduced self-ratings of alertness. In addition, a significant increase in the speed of mathematical processing, with no reduction in accuracy, was observed after ingestion of the 300-mg dose.
In an earlier study 20 healthy, young participants received single doses of 600, 1000, and 1600 mg of dried lemon balm, or a matching placebo, at 7-day intervals. Cognitive performance and mood were assessed just before and up to 6 hours after, using an established computerized assessment battery and visual analogue scales. The most notable cognitive and mood effects were for the highest (1600 mg) dose: it improved memory performance and increased ‘calmness’ up to 6 hours after taking the herb. However, improved memory task performance and visual information-processing increased with decreasing dose.
Inhaling the essential oil of lemon balm has also been shown to reduce agitation, in this case in a double blind controlled study among care home residents with severe dementia.
In an other research direction, randomized, placebo-controlled trial with 62 patients received either 700 mg/day of lemon balm capsules or placebo for 12 weeks. Those taking the herb found significant differences in serum blood sugar, HbA1c, pancreatic β-cell activity lipid profile, inflammatory markers, and systolic blood pressure. The same team had earlier shown promising benefits on other markers of cardiovascular health relevant to the management of diabetes.
Similar cardiovascular benefits were found among patients with chronic angina; 3 g daily over 8 weeks of lemon balm also reduced depression, anxiety, stress, and sleeplessness in this group of patients.
The reputation of concentrated lemon balm extracts in treating oral herpes simplex virus were tested in a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized trial with a standardized lemon balm cream (a dried 70:1 extract of lemon balm leaves) with 66 patients with at least four episodes per year or with placebo. The cream was applied to the affected area four times daily over five days. A combined symptom score of the values for complaints, at day 2 of therapy was formed as the primary target parameter. There was a significant difference in size of affected area and number of blisters in those taking the lemon balm.
To see the references used in this summary check our downloadable Expert Herbal Reality Resource pdf
3-12 g per day of dried herb by infusion (tea)
- Rosmarinic acid and other hydroxycinnamic acid derivatives (eg. caffeic and chlorogenic acids).
- Essential oil eg. geranial and neral, b-caryophyllene, linalool, geraniol, nerol, citronellal
- Flavonoids principally luteolin derivatives and apigenin
- Triterpenes (ursolic and oleanolic acid)