Latin Name: Melissa officinalis
Also Known As
Cure All, Sweet Balm, Sweet Mary, Melissa, Honey Plant
Origin: Southern Europe
Traditional Use and Health Benefits
For more than 2,000 years Lemon Balm has been cultivated as a culinary and medicinal plant. Herbalists in the Renaissance period held this herb in high regard for its healing ability, with many attributing to it the potential for a long life when taken every day in elixir form.
People throughout Europe have been using Lemon Balm for centuries as a digestive aid and to calm frazzled nerves. It was traditionally used to treat headaches, migraines, stomach cramps and urinary infections amongst other things.
Lemon Balm Benefits
Lemon Balm is what’s known as a “carminative herb”, meaning it can relieve stagnant digestion, ease abdominal cramping, and promote the overall digestive process. The volatile oils in Lemon Balm contain chemicals known as “terpenes” that relax muscles and relieve symptoms such as excess gas.
Lemon Balm contains both “choloretics” and “colagogues”, which may also help with liver and gall bladder problems. Bile is produced in the liver, stored in the gall bladder and then released into the small intestine to digest fats. A choloretic stimulates production of bile whilst a colagogue enhances the expulsion of bile from the gall bladder. The primary Lemon Balm constituents in these categories are; caffeic acid, eugenol, chlorogenic acid and P-coumaric acid, which enhance the content of digestive juices thus improving the digestion of food.
For digestive relief, Lemon Balm is best consumed as a tea taken immediately after meals.
Lemon Balm contains the active compound “rosmarinic acid” – an enzyme which effectively increases GABA (gamma amino-butyric acid) in the brain. GABA is one of the inhibitory neurotransmitters, used by the brain to prevent over-excitement and attain balance. It is responsible for ensuring that we are not overly stressed and plays a role in sleep cycles. Increasing stimulation of GABA receptors will produce a sedative or calming effect and explains why Lemon Balm works well as an anti-anxiety herb.
The difference between Lemon Balm being an effective anti-anxiety herb and a sleep aid is dosage. It combines extremely well with the herb Valerian, with several studies showing that these two herbs combined can induce a deep and restful night’s sleep.
The aforementioned “rosmarinic acid” has also been found to exert neuroprotective effects, helping to protect the cells of the brain thereby potentially slowing down the aging of this all important organ. Researchers in India found that rosmarinic acid reduces free radicals, as well as protecting the nerve cells in the brain from deterioration. Lemon Balm also contains powerful antioxidants such as “eugenol” which intercept free radicals before they can attack brain cells.
Research suggests that the flavonoids, phenolic acids and other compounds found in this versatile herb appear to be responsible for Lemon Balm’s thyroid-regulating actions. Test tube studies have found that Lemon Balm blocks the attachment of antibodies to the thyroid cells that cause Grave’s disease (hyperthyroidism). The brain’s signal to the thyroid (thyroid-stimulating hormone or TSH) is also blocked from further stimulating the excessively active thyroid gland in this disease.
Combines well with Valerian and Chamomile.
Recommended Dosage Powdered, crushed, cut, or whole: 2 grams per day Infusion: 2 grams in 150 ml of boiling water 1:1 Fluid Extract: 2 ml dose per day 1:5 Tincture: 10 ml dose per day .
Folklore and History
Texts describing Lemon Balm can be found as far back as Ancient Turkey, where it was planted near bee hives to encourage the bees to return home to the hive rather than swarm away. It’s name Melissa officinalis” is derived from the Greek word Melissa, meaning honeybee. In Ancient Greece it was planted and used by the beekeepers of the Temple of Artemis to help keep the sacred honeybees content.
A perfume containing Lemon Balm, known as Carmelite Water, was in high demand in Renaissance times due more to practicality than the need to allure through scent. Carmelite Water helped to cover the stench of unwashed bodies as bathing was considered an “opening” for sinful thoughts due to exposure of naked skin to the eyes of the bather. As most people of that time period only bathed once a year, or in some cases once a lifetime, the need for sweet smelling perfumed waters was very high. Carmelite Water also covered the smell of disease (plague), death (from plagues), and filthy living environments (attributors to plague) so rampant at that period of human history.
The Greek physician Dioscorides used Lemon Balm as a medicinal herb, describing it as useful to treat a disordered state of the nervous system.
Citronellal, Triterpenens, Geranial, Neral, Rosmarinic acid, Geraniol, Flavonoids, Polyphenols.
Lemon Balm should not be used during pregnancy or lactation.
Due to its anti-thyroid action, Lemon Balm should not be taken by people with thyroid conditions without consulting their healthcare professional.
Lemon Balm should not be taken by people on prescription medication for mental health disorders as it can affect the medication. Please consult your healthcare professional.
Lemon Balm can cause drowsiness and should therefore not be consumed prior to operating machinery or driving.