Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)

Lemon Balm: Medical Uses

Lemon balm is used as a sleep aid and for nervousness and stomachaches.

Historical Uses

Paracelsus called lemon balm “the elixir of life”. Benedictine missionaries first brought lemon balm to the West. Historically, leaves were picked fresh and used as a poultice to reduce inflammation and a cup of lemon balm tea was used to reduce a fever.

Melissa means “honeybee” in Greek. If smeared on hives, lemon balm will attract bees.

Growth

Lemon balm is a member of the Lamiaceae family and is native to southern Europe. The plant grows indoors or out, and it prefers moist soil with partial shade. The leaves are lemon scented.

Part Used

• Leaves

Major Chemical Compounds

  • • Citral
  • • Citonellal
  • • Geraniol
  • Flavonoids
  • • Quercitin

Lemon Balm: Clinical Uses

Lemon balm is used as a sleep aid and for nervousness and stomachaches. It is used externally for oral herpes. In Europe, lemon balm topical cream is used to treat oral and genital herpes. It is approved by the German Commission E for “nervous sleeping disorders and gastrointestinal complaints”.

Mechanism of Action

The actions of lemon balm are unknown. One theory is that lemon balm may make it difficult for the herpes virus to attach to cells.

Lemon Balm: Dosage

Tea: Pour one cup of boiling water over 1 to 2 teaspoons of finely chopped leaves and steep for 5 minutes.

Extract cream (external use): Apply standard Melissa 70:1 extract cream in a thick layer at the first sign of blisters four times a day up to 14 days. Also may be used on a regular basis twice a day to prevent oral herpes.

Contraindications

• None are known.

Pregnancy and Breast-Feeding

Lemon balm is safe if used at recommended dosages.

Summary of Studies

Mohrig & Alken (1996). This double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized, two-armed clinical trial included 116 patients; 58 were treated topically with a highly concentrated and fractionated 70:1 extract of Melissa in a cream base (1 percent Melissa extract cream), and 58 were treated with a placebo in a cream base. Patients were treated for herpes simplex 2 to 4 times daily over 5 to 10 days or until the area was healed. Of the 116 patients, 67 had herpes labialis. Results: Statistical differences were seen on day 2 of the study among patients who used Melissa extract compared to those who used the placebo and with patients who started therapy within 4 hours of symptom onset.

Cerny et al. (1999). This double-blind, placebo-controlled, multicenter study included 88 healthy volunteers who did not have insomnia. Subjects took a valerian/lemon balm combination (Songha Night from Switzerland, containing 480 mg valerian dry extract [4.5:1] and 240 mg lemon balm dry extract [5:1]) 30 minutes before bedtime. Results: Improvement in sleep quality without serious side effects.

Warnings

• If you are pregnant and think that you might have genital herpes, consult your health-care practitioner.

• Lemon balm does not help to prevent the spread of genital herpes in sexually active individuals.

Lemon Balm: Recipes

Lemonade

On a hot summer day, pick fresh lemon balm leaves. Pour 1 cup of hot water over the leaves, let sit for 10 minutes, and strain. Let the liquid cool, add ice and a little honey or turbinado sugar, and you have a refreshing cup of lemonade.