Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis), also known as melissa, bee balm, sweet balm, and cure-all, is a perennial plant in the mint family. Originally a Mediterranean plant, it is now most widely grown in Germany and England. Generally growing no more than 21 inches tall, it has a square stem that bears mint-shaped leaves and in the summer, small white flowers. Its name comes from the lemon smell that occurs when pressure is applied to the leaves. The dried leaves of lemon balm have medicinal properties that have been used since ancient Greece.
Insomnia and Anxiety
Lemon balm has a relaxing effect that makes it useful for insomnia. Studies have shown that lemon balm, used in combination with valerian, is as effective against insomnia as triazolam (Halcion), a prescription sedative. Another study showed that animals given a sleep aid needed less of the aid when given lemon balm. People with Attention Deficit Disorder/Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADD/ADHD) have benefited from using lemon balm and valerian to help them relax and sleep.
Lemon balm also works to calm anxiety. In one study, lemon balm was given to subjects who were engaged in a stress-inducing activity. Their stress levels were reduced after taking the lemon balm. Lemon balm’s calming, relaxing effect has also been seen in a study on Alzheimer’s patients who showed less agitation after being treated with a topical application of lemon balm.
One benefit of lemon balm is that it doesn’t cause the groggy, “hangover” effect the next day that many prescription drugs have. However, it can cause drowsiness and should be avoided when doing something that requires being alert, such as driving. The usual dosage when using lemon balm for its relaxing effect is 1.5-4.5 grams of dried leaves, or according to the instructions for tinctures and extracts.
Herpes and Viral Infections
Both oral and genital herpes can be treated with lemon balm. Lemon balm both kills the herpes virus and helps reduce cell damage and scarring from the virus. Symptoms of herpes, such as pain, tingling, and itching, are all significantly reduced by use of lemon balm cream. Recurrences of herpes outbreaks are also reduced by use of lemon balm cream. When treating herpes with lemon balm, it is usually recommended to use a cream with 1% lemon balm applied four times daily during an outbreak, and two times daily as a preventive measure.
Lemon balm is particularly effective as a treatment for herpes because it is not subject to the resistance that the body can build against traditional antibiotic treatments. However, lemon balm doesn’t have the suppressant effects of some prescription herpes medications. While it is effective for treating an individual’s outbreak, it does not stop the spread of herpes. For people with herpes and engaged in a sexual relationship with a partner who doesn’t have herpes, suppressive drug therapy should be considered to protect the uninfected partner.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
Irritable bowel syndrome involves spasms of the intestines that cause pain and discomfort. Lemon balm has antispasmodic properties that stop these spasms. At the same time, the herb is gentle enough not to cause constipation. The essential oil of lemon balm is the best form of the herb to use in treating IBS.
Note: Lemon balm oil may cause some rise in eye pressure, and hence should be avoided by people with glaucoma.
Lemon balm’s relaxing effects can help reduce pain, ease menstrual cramps and relieve PMS symptoms. The herb’s antispasmodic properties makes it helpful in relieving menstrual cramps.
Lemon balm contains polyphenols that attack infectious bacteria such as streptococcus and mycobacteria. The eugenol present in lemon balm acts as a pain reliever. This makes it an effective preventative and treatment for infection in wounds.