Lemon Balm Herb, Tea and Oil Benefits
Scientific Name(S): Melissa officinalis L. Family Lamiaceae (Mints)
Common Name(S): Lemon balm, balm, melissa, sweet balm
Lemon balm ( Melissa officinalis ), a member of the mint family, has long been considered a "calming" herb. It has been used since the Middle Ages to reduce stress and anxiety, promote sleep, improve appetite, and ease pain and discomfort associated with digestion (including flatulence and bloating as well as colic). Even before the Middle Ages, lemon balm was steeped in wine to lift the spirits, help heal wounds, and treat venomous insect bites and stings. Today, lemon balm is often combined with other calming, soothing herbs, such as valerian, to enhance the overall relaxing effect.
History: Lemon balm has been used in herbal medicine since the times of Pliny, Dioscorides, Paracelsus, and Gerard. The name "melissa" corresponds to the Greek word for bee, while "balm" is a contraction of balsam. The plant has found both culinary and medicinal uses, with the principal historical medicinal uses being carminative, diaphoretic, and antipyretic.
Uses of Lemon Balm
Lemon Balm is edible and medicinal. Fresh leaves can be added to salad or used in egg dishes and can be used to make sauces for fish, poultry and pork. Dried or fresh the whole plant is used to make cool refreshing drinks or warm relaxing teas. Used in alternative medicine the leaves and young flowering shoots are antibacterial, antispasmodic, antiviral, carminative, diaphoretic, digestive, emmenagogue, febrifuge, sedative, and tonic. Balm contains a volatile oil citral and citronella which is strongly antispasmodic and aids in calming nerves, relieving menstrual cramps, insomnia, depression, hyperthyroidism, upset stomach, and colic in babies.
Lemon balm has been used for Graves' disease as a sedative, antispasmodic, and a topical agent for cold sores.
Side Effects of Lemon Balm
No side effects have been reported.
The German Commission E monograph suggests 1.5-4.5 grams of lemon balm in a tea several times daily. The herb can be steeped for ten to fifteen minutes in 150 ml of boiling water to make the tea. Tincture can also be used at 2-3 ml three times per day. Concentrated extracts, 160-200 mg 30 minutes to one hour before bed, are sometimes recommended for insomnia Highly concentrated topical extract ointments for herpes can be applied three to four times per day to lesions.
Lemon balm is frequently combined with other medicinal plants. For example, peppermint and lemon balm together are effective for calming upset stomach. Valerian is often combined with lemon balm for insomnia. Bugleweed (Lycopus virginicus) and lemon balm have been used together for Graves' disease.
Toxicology: The antithyroid activity of melissa extract mentioned above is weak enough that it does not present a serious safety concern in patients without Graves' disease. The topical use for herpes cold sores has not produced any reports of dermal toxicity. Melissa extract was not found to be genotoxic in a screen of several medicinal plants.
Summary: Lemon balm may be of use as a topical agent for cold sores, and it appears to have potential use as a mild sedative. No side effects have been reported.
Lemon balm is approved in the German Commission E monographs for nervous sleeping disorders and functional GI complaints. It is also monographed in ESCOP F-2, WHO vol. 2, and BHP vol. 2. An AHP monograph is in progress.
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