Common name: Lemon balm
Other names: Balm, bee balm, melissa, sweet balm, cure-all
Latin name: Melissa officinalis
Affinities: Nervous system, digestive system, circulatory system
Actions: Carminative, antispasmodic, antidepressant, diaphoretic, hypotensive, nootropic, nervine sedative
Specific indications: Anxiety, depression, insomnia, cognitive problems, digestive spasms, excess digestive gas
Diseases: Anxiety(1), depression(1), hypertension(3), flatulent dyspepsia(3), insomnia(3), seasonal affective disorder(2), Alzheimer’s disease(3), ADHD(2), ADD(2)
Parts used: Aerial parts
Energetics: Cooling, drying
Characteristics: Lemon balm is a member of the family Lamiaceae and grows widely in central and southern Europe and in Asia minor; however, it is cultivated throughout the world because of its culinary properties (Dastmalchi et al., 2008). Bees love lemon balm and the genus name, Melissa, is Greek for ‘bee’ (Castleman, 2001). In Iran, lemon balm is known by the names Badranjbooye, Varangboo and Faranjmoshk and is found in the north, north-west, and western regions of the country (Dastmalchi et al., 2008).
History: The ancient Greek physician, Dioscorides, applied lemon balm to skin wounds and the herb to wine in order to treat various ailments (Castleman, 2001). The Roman physician, Pliny, recommended lemon balm to stop bleeding. 10th century Arab doctors used lemon balm for nervousness and anxiety. The 11th century Arab physician, Avicenna, wrote, ‘Balm causeth the mind and heart to become merry’. Medieval Europeans adopted the herb for anxiety and it became very popular.
During the middle ages the uses of lemon balm were expanded by herbalists to include, insomnia, arthritis, sores, digestive problems, cramps, and menstrual problems. They recommended it for so many ailments, lemon balm was considered of something of a cure all. The 17th century herbalist, Nicholas Culpeper recommended the herb for anxiety, depresson, to help digestion, ‘open obstructions of the brain…(and) procure women’s courses’. North American colonists used it to relive menstrual cramps and for fever, although North American popularity of lemon balm never reached that of Europe and parts of Asia.
Current applications: Lemon balm is one of the classic nervines of European herbalism and the Swiss physician and alchemist, Paracelsus (1493-1541), recommended it for ‘all complaints supposed to proceed from a disordered state of the nervous system’ (Guginski et al., 2009). Lemon balm and St. John’s wort can work synergistically to elevate mood. Lemon balm is one of our nervines that may have a tonic or restorative role in the long term. Andrew Chevallier lists lemon balm as a nervine tonic in his Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine (Chevallier, 2000), although this is a point of dispute amongst herbalists.
David Hoffman in his, Holistic Herbal, states that lemon balm is an excellent carminative herb with anti-depressive properties (Hoffman, 1988). It relieves spasms in the digestive system, flatulent dyspepsia, anxiety, depression, and high blood pressure. For digestive problems, it be combined with hops, chamomile, and meadowsweet. For stress, he recommends it is combined with lavender and lime blossom. David Winston uses lemon balm in combination with St. John’s wort for seasonal affective disorder (Winston, 2007). He also recommends it to enhance cognitive function, relive symptoms of Alzheimer’s (irritability and forgetfulness), nervous stomach, improving sleep, and ADHD.
Science: Lemon balm extracts have anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties in ex vivo studies (Dastmalchi et al., 2008; Lin et al., 2012). It is also appears lemon balm has some pain relieving properties as it has been observed in vivo to reduce neurogenic and inflammatory pain (Guginski et al., 2009). Lemon balm has been found to relieve stress, improve mood and cognitive performance in small, but well controlled, human clinical studies (Kennedy et al., 2004; Kennedy et al., 2006).
Safety: High. However, caution with dosage is required if combining with sedative drugs. Probably best to avoid using alongside anti-depressants drugs, if possible, similar to to St. John’s wort.
Dosage: Dose of tincture is 10-60 drops 2-3 times daily.
Form: The fresh tincture is much preferred.
Research on models
Anti-oxidant activity: One study found lemon balm ethanolic extracts had anti-oxidant activity ex vivo (Dastmalchi et al., 2008).
Anti-inflammatory activity: A study found that lemon balm ethanolic extracts has anti-inflammatory activity and inhibited the COX-2 pathway in an ex vivo study (Lin et al., 2012).
Analgesic activity: One in vivo study in mice found that lemon balm extracts appear to reduce both neurogenic and inflammatory pain (Guginski et al., 2009).
Research on humans
Stress: One study (n = 18, double blind randomised placebo controlled) found that a 600mg dose of lemon balm ameliorated negative mood and there were significant improvements in calmness and alertness in healthy persons (Kennedy et al., 2004). A significant increase in the speed of mathematical processing was observed.
Stress(II): In another study (n = 24, double blind randomised placebo controlled) the authors found that a 600mg dose of valerian and lemon balm combined could relieve stress in healthy individuals (Kennedy et al., 2006).
Castleman, Michael. “The new healing herbs.” Bantam Book, New York (2001): 465-471.
Chevallier, Andrew. Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine: The Definitive Home Reference Guide to 550 Key Herbs with all their Uses as Remedies for Common Ailments. Dorling Kindersley, 2000.
Dastmalchi, Keyvan, et al. “Chemical composition and in vitro antioxidative activity of a lemon balm (Melissa officinalis L.) extract.” LWT-Food Science and Technology 41.3 (2008): 391-400.
Guginski, Giselle, et al. “Mechanisms involved in the antinociception caused by ethanolic extract obtained from the leaves of Melissa officinalis (lemon balm) in mice.” Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior 93.1 (2009): 10-16.
Hoffman, David. Holistic herbal. Element Books, 1988.
Kennedy, David O., et al. “Anxiolytic effects of a combination of Melissa ofcinalis and Valeriana ofcinalis during laboratory induced stress.” Phytotherapy research 20.2 (2006): 96-102.
Kennedy, David O., Wendy Little, and Andrew B. Scholey. “Attenuation of laboratory-induced stress in humans after acute administration of Melissa officinalis (Lemon Balm).” Psychosomatic medicine 66.4 (2004): 607-613.
Lin, Jau-Tien, et al. “Antioxidant, anti-proliferative and cyclooxygenase-2 inhibitory activities of ethanolic extracts from lemon balm (Melissa officinalis L.) leaves.” LWT-Food Science and Technology 49.1 (2012): 1-7.
Winston, David, and Steven Maimes. Adaptogens: herbs for strength, stamina, and stress relief. Inner Traditions/Bear & Co, 2007.