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As a mom, I’m always looking for the safest herbs and essential oils to use for everyday ailments. Lemon balm is an amazing herb I always keep around, and it’s a staple in my natural remedy recipes. It has many benefits and uses, as you’ll find out below!
What Is Lemon Balm?
This lemony herb is a member of the mint family. Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is native to Europe and has been used for over 1,000 years in herbal medicine. It has been used traditionally for:
The leaves look similar to mint but have a lemony smell when you touch them. The plant produces light yellow flowers in the spring and summer. The leaves and flowers are both edible and are used in culinary and medicinal preparations. Humans love this herb and have used it in perfumes and aromatherapy for generations, but it’s highly attractive to bees as well.
Health Benefits of Lemon Balm
This herb has many health benefits, making it great to use in herbal remedies. Here’s why it’s awesome:
According to a 2017 review, lemon balm has antimicrobial properties. The review found that a combination of lemon balm and mint was helpful for herpes infections and did not cause resistance, making it a great antiviral herb. This herbal combination helped shorten the time it took for herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) sores to heal, and it helped reduce spreading. The review also found that this amazing herb has antibacterial and antifungal properties.
Anti-inflammatory and Antioxidant
The above review also found that lemon balm can help with inflammation and pain. It has an antioxidant effect that helps with inflammation (which helps reduce pain). Antioxidants also help with many diseases that are associated with oxidation. This herb scavenges natural and synthetic free radicals, making it beneficial for its antioxidant properties. It also directly blocks pain signals, similar to how narcotic pain medications block pain.
Ease Menstrual Symptoms
Lemon balm is also a helpful herb for premenstrual symptoms (PMS), according to a 2015 study of high school girls. This study concludes that the group who used it saw a significant reduction in symptoms, such as cramps and mood changes. There are no side effects mentioned, so it may be worth trying this herb if PMS is a concern for you.
Help for Thyroid Disease
Lemon balm may also be helpful for thyroid issues. A 1985 study found that it might benefit people suffering from Graves’ disease (hyperthyroidism). The reason is that this herb inhibits TSH (a thyroid hormone stimulator) from binding to receptors.
A 2014 overview of the effects of lemon balm on the body supported this finding. It found that lemon balm decreases circulating TSH levels but increases levels of circulating T3 and T4. So, in theory, this could mean that this herb is also beneficial for those with hypothyroidism.
More research is needed to be sure how it could affect those with thyroid disease. So, always consult your doctor before trying lemon balm if you have a thyroid issue.
Much like chamomile, lemon balm is a soothing herb. It can help create calming effects, reduce stress, and soothe the nervous system.
Studies support this traditional use as well. Participants in a 2004 study felt calmer after taking lemon balm.
Another study published in 2014 found similar results. Participants who ingested the herb with food were less stressed and had less anxiety, suggesting that it has anxiolytic properties.
Lemon balm also helps with sleep. A combination of valerian root and lemon balm helped kids get more restful sleep in a 2006 study. Almost 81 percent of participants found relief from sleep disorders, and roughly 70 percent had improvement in restlessness.
Herbalists have been using lemon balm for generations to help with indigestion or bloating, similarly to mint. While there isn’t much scientific data to support this use, one 2010 study found some evidence to support this use. In the study, a lemon balm dessert helped ease indigestion (dyspepsia) better than the alternative dessert (though both helped).
May Boost Cognitive Function
The 2014 study mentioned above also found that participants who ingested lemon balm performed better on cognitive tests such as concentration, memory, and math. This boost in performance may be related to how lemon balm constituents affect the body. A 2009 study found that the herb helps boost GABA, which offers a calming effect and supports cognitive function.
According to a 2008 study, rosmarinic acid (present in lemon balm) inhibits the degradation of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Low acetylcholine levels may cause cognitive issues such as Alzheimer’s disease. So, a cup of tea made with this herb may be the answer to staying sharp as we age!
Lemon Balm Uses
The benefits of lemon balm make it a medicinal plant to have on hand. I always keep the dried herb in my natural medicine cabinet for when it’s needed. I also like to have the essential oil at home for the times when it works better. Here are some of the ways I use it:
- In tea – for hand, foot, mouth disease, or for help with sleep (mix with lavender and chamomile). To make a tea with lemon balm (or a mixture of herbs), steep 1-2 tablespoons of dried leaves in hot water. Or if you want to buy one, here is a great, clean option for lemon balm tea, and here is one I like for sleep.
- In a tincture – for fighting stress or helping induce sleep. I make tinctures with dried herbs and alcohol. I take a dropper full at night when I’m struggling to settle down for sleep. You may also be able to buy lemon balm extract or tincture online or in herbal stores.
- Infused in olive oil – lemon balm infused oil can be used in lotions and creams or as a massage oil for its soothing properties.
- Relaxation bath – Add the essential oil to your bath water for relaxation (make sure you dilute in a carrier oil first). This works well for kids as well as adults.
- For a sleep aid – infuse honey with the dried herb. I take 1 teaspoon at bedtime or whenever I need calm (kids like this too!).
- In a favorite dish – add to salads, fish, and vegetable dishes.
- Infuse water with lemon balm for a refreshing drink. Herbal-infused water is a great treat on a hot day. I like it plain, but you could add a spoonful of honey if you want.
- In a salve or lip balm – great for cold sores. You can also use it to add a refreshing scent to a lip balm. Use lemon balm essential oils or infused oil.
There are many ways to use this amazing herb, but these are my favorite!
Lemon Balm Side Effects and Safety
Lemon balm is generally considered safe for otherwise healthy people. Because it’s a gentle herb, it is often used by herbalists for children (for essential oil use 2 years+) and women who are pregnant or nursing. However, the above 2017 review states that it shouldn’t be used by pregnant or nursing women, children, patients with hypothyroid issues, and those taking sedatives.
I agree that using lemon balm while taking a sedative or when you have thyroid issues may not be a good idea. But the recommendation that children and pregnant/nursing women should avoid it is likely overly cautious since most herbalists agree that it is safe for most people. I personally use lemon balm during pregnancy and while nursing as well as with my children. Of course, always ask your doctor if lemon balm is safe for you or your children.
Where to Find Lemon Balm
Lemon balm is easy to find in dried form online or in natural food and supply stores. Here’s my favorite lemon balm essential oil. Note that it’s not actually called lemon balm essential oil but Melissa, after its genus name.
You can also grow your own. This is a great seed company I’ve found offering organic and heirloom seeds. Don’t have a green thumb? That’s ok! Lemon balm is very hardy and grows in the wild, requiring little attention. As I mentioned earlier, it’s a great plant to attract bees and include in your pollinator garden, or you can plant it in a pot as a part of your container garden.
This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Scott Soerries, MD, Family Physician and Medical Director of SteadyMD. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
Do you use lemon balm for your natural remedies? What’s your favorite lemon balm use? Don’t forget to share this post with a friend!
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- Akbarzadeh, M., Dehghani, M., Moshfeghy, Z., Emamghoreishi, M., Tavakoli, P., & Zare, N. (2015). Effect of Melissa officinalis capsule on the intensity of premenstrual syndrome symptoms in high school girl students. Nursing and Midwifery Studies, 4(2).
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- Müller, S., & Klement, S. (2006). A combination of valerian and lemon balm is effective in the treatment of restlessness and dyssomnia in children. Phytomedicine, 13(6), 383–387.
- Gasbarrini, G., Zaccone, V., Covino, M., & Gallo, A. (2010). Effectiveness of a “cold dessert”, with or without the addition of a mixture of digestive herbs, in subjects with “functional dyspepsia”. Journal of Biological Regulators and Homeostatic Agents, 24(1), 93-98.
- Awad, R., Muhammad, A., Durst, T., Trudeau, V. L., & Arnason, J. T. (2009). Bioassay-guided fractionation of lemon balm (Melissa officinalis L.) using an in vitro measure of GABA transaminase activity. Phytotherapy Research, 23(8), 1075–1081.
- Dastmalchi, K., Ollilainen, V., Lackman, P., Gennäs, G. B. A., Dorman, H. D., Järvinen, P. P., Yli-Kauhaluoma, J., & Hiltunen, R. (2009). Acetylcholinesterase inhibitory guided fractionation of Melissa officinalis L. Bioorganic & Medicinal Chemistry, 17(2), 867–871.