Lemon balm was widely used in ancient Greece and Rome. Avicenna, the great Arabic physician (980- 1037), said that lemon balm caused “the mind and heart to be merry.”
Lemon balm clears heat, calms the heart, improves concentration, cleanses the liver, improves chi circulation, and lifts the spirits. German studies indicate that lemon balm’s volatile oils help protect the cerebrum from excess external stimuli. It is a good herb for children; a cup of tea before bed can help prevent nightmares and allow for a good night’s sleep, and it is excellent to calm the nerves and boost the mood of schoolchildren who are anxious about upcoming tests.
Topically, lemon balm can be used as a compress to treat boils, burns, eczema, gout, headache, insect bites, sunburn, tumours, and wounds. It makes an uplifting bath herb. The essential oil can be added to salves to treat herpes. Lemon balm was widely used in ancient Greece and Rome. Avicenna, the great Arabic physician (980- 1037), said that lemon balm caused “the mind and heart to be merry.”
Common balm, lemon balm, melissa, sweet balm; bee balm; heart’s delight; honey plant; Zitronenmelisse, Melisse, Herztrost (German); citronelle, baume, mélisse, Herbe citron (French); melissa (Italian); Sidrunmeliss (Estonian); Badrangbuye, Farandj moschk (Farsi); Sitruunamelissa (Finnish); Mézfû, Orvosi citromfû, Macskaméz, Anyaméhfû (Hungarian); Sítrónumelissa, Hjartafró (Icelandic); Sitronmelisse (Norwegian); Melisa lekarska, rojownik, rojownik lekarski, matecznik (Polish); Melissa limonnaya, Limonnik (Russian); Balsamita maior, Toronjil (Spanish); Citronmeliss, Hjärtansfröjd (Swedish); Melisa, Ogul out (Turkish)
Lemon balm has been cultivated in the Mediterranean region for about 2000 years. The Muslim herbalist Avicenna recommended lemon balm “to make the heart merry.” Paracelsus claimed this herb could completely revitalize the body and called it the “elixir of life”, and 14th century French King Charles V drank its tea every day to keep his health. The famous Carmelite Water, first made by 17ty century Carmelite nuns to treat nervous headache and neuralgia, combined lemon balm with lemon-peel, nutmeg, coriander and angelica root. Sacred to the temple of Diana, lemon balm was called “heart’s delight’ in southern Europe. Its virtue of dispelling melancholy has been praised by herbal writers for centuries, and it is still used today in aromatherapy to counter depression.
Essential oil (containing citronellal, citral), phenolic acids, flavonoids
Carminative. Antispasmodic. Diaphoretic. Sedative.
Insomnia, anxiety, irritability, depression, infantile colic, flatulence, flatulent colic, intestinal colic, nervous dyspepsia. Topically for herpes infections. Fever, common cold, influenza, Irritable bowel syndrome.
Anxiety, Stress and Insomnia
Lemon balm teas have been used for generations to relieve anxiety and sleeplessness. In one study where healthy volunteers were stressed under controlled laboratory conditions, a mixture of lemon balm and valerian soothed them and made them less anxious. Each participant took increasing doses of both herbs and was measured serially. The best combination for alleviating anxiety and inducing calmness was at 600 milligrams of a tablet that had 120 milligrams of valerian with 80 milligrams of lemon balm. Other studies have found that when used with valerian, lemon balm hastens sleep and relaxes muscle tension in persons with attention deficit disorder (ADD), without daytime drowsiness.
Combined extracts of lemon balm and valerian have been studied as a treatment for insomnia. A double-blind study of twenty people with insomnia compared the benefits of 0.125 milligrams of the sedative triazolam (Halcion) against placebo and a combination of valerian and lemon balm. The herbal combination was found to be as effective as the drug.
Treatment of herpes infections is complicated by the fact that the virus can become resistant to drug treatment. Lemon balm expands the possibilities of treatment and is useful when prescription treatments fail. It kills off the virus in the test tube in as little as three hours. In one double-blind study, 116 people with herpes received either a placebo or extracts of lemon balm at a concentration of 1 percent in a cream base. The group receiving the active cream experienced significantly greater improvement in symptoms on day two compared to the group receiving the placebo cream. (Herpes outbreaks are usually most painful on the second day after the outbreak.) By day five of the study, 50 percent more individuals in the lemon balm group were symptom-free than in the placebo group. People using lemon balm also experienced less scarring than those using the placebo. This indicates that people who used lemon balm suffered less damage to skin cells. Almost identical results were found in a second clinical study. In addition to shortening the healing period, treatment with lemon balm prevented the spread of the infection and quickly relieved the itching, burning, tingling, swelling, stabbing, and redness of a herpes outbreak. Lemon balm has an advantage over other treatments in that it does not induce drug resistance in the virus over time. In addition, a chemical constituent of lemon balm, rosmarinic acid, acts against viruses, yeasts, and bacteria in the laboratory.
Lemon balm stops spasms and relieves pain caused by IBS. The form of the herb that had this antispasmodic action is the essential oil, which may be strong enough to break up spasms but not so strong as to cause constipation. However, no human data are available.
In one study, lemon balm was used in patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease and participants showed improved cognitive function after sixteen weeks of treatment.
Dosage (Divided Daily)
• Dried Herb: 6,000 – 12,000mg
• Liquid Extract: 6 – 18mL (1:5 liquid extract)
Interactions with other drugs
- Bone, K. (2003). A clinical guide to blending liquid herbs: Herbal formulations for the individual patient. St. Louis, MI: Churchill Livingstone.
Balch, P. A., & Bell, S. J. (2012). Prescription for herbal healing (2nd ed.). New York, N.Y.: Avery.
- Mars, B. (2007). The desktop guide to herbal medicine: the ultimate multidisciplinary reference to the amazing realm of healing plants, in a quick-study, one-stop guide. Laguna Beach, CA: Basic Health Pub.
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