Lemon balm is a perennial plant whose leaves emanate a distinct citrus aroma. However, there's much more to lemon balm than just its scent, with research examining the plant's links to anxiety, insomnia, and the immune system. To find out what you need to know, keep reading.
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is a close relative of the mint family. Once native to Europe, it now grows worldwide, producing vibrant white flowers and heart-shaped leaves. Interestingly, it's the leaves, not the flowers, that people use in herbal teas, as a flavouring for food, and, most importantly, in homoeopathic remedies.
This is good news for wellness enthusiasts, as the plant's lemon-scented leaves may support several areas of mental and physical wellness. However, before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let's look at the traditional uses of lemon balm.
Melissa officinalis made a name for itself in the Middle Ages as a herbal aid to sleep, stress, indigestion, and wound healing. For external ailments, the leaves were crushed and ground, producing a balm for the skin. For mood-related issues, the leaves were steeped in hot water or wine, creating a herbal tonic.
Nowadays, the holistic uses of lemon balm haven't changed all that much. Lemon balm extract is a popular addition to wellness supplements, tinctures, and oils. It also blends well with other botanical extracts, increasing the plant's diverse toolkit.
With a better idea of what lemon balm has to offer, it's time to examine the clinical evidence supporting the plant's wellness potential.
We mentioned the traditional use of lemon balm for stress, and two double-blind, placebo-controlled studies sought to determine the validity of this application.
In a clinical trial from 2004, eighteen healthy volunteers were given two doses of M. officinalis extract. The purpose was to monitor how the control group compared to the placebo group after exposure to cognitive stress. The results show that lemon balm "significantly increased self-ratings of calmness and reduced self-ratings of alertness".
Those initial findings appear to go hand in hand with a 2018 study. This time, eighty participants were split into two groups, with one group taking M. officinalis (MO) supplements for eight weeks. Based on self-reported scores, the MO group saw a significant reduction in "depression, anxiety, stress and total sleep disturbance" compared to the placebo group.
Both studies suggest a positive link between lemon balm and mood disorders, but the relatively small sample sizes must be kept in mind. Mood-related conditions such as stress and anxiety are incredibly nuanced, and more extensive research is needed to evaluate the plant's full potential.
The potential synergy of botanical extracts is an area of great interest for researchers, especially in the realm of sleep.
With this in mind, two studies examined the influence of lemon balm and valerian on sleep quality for menopausal women and children with dyssomnia. With the former, researchers found that the experimental group (approximately fifty women) showed "reduced levels of sleep disorders", while the latter study noted similar improvements, with core symptoms being reduced to "mild or absent in most of the patients".,
A review of Melissa officinalis points to the plant's diverse chemical constituents as a potential source of antiviral and antimicrobial properties. The researchers found that the plant contains "high amounts of flavonoids, rosemary acid, gallic acid, phenolic contents".
Further studies are seeking to determine if lemon balm shows potential against herpes viruses, influenza viruses, and gastrointestinal tract disorders. Specifically, rosmarinic and tannic acid show the most potential, although further research is needed to expand on the preliminary findings.
Lemon balm has a long history of holistic use, which, in addition to preliminary studies, suggests the risk of side effects from lemon balm is low, and possibly limited to:
• Skin rashes
Still, a slow and steady approach to lemon balm consumption is recommended for first-timers, even if it appears well-tolerated in healthy individuals. Sticking to the manufacturer's recommended dosing guidelines, and consuming high-quality extracts (free of contaminants), is crucial.
With capsules, tinctures, and extracts being the most common forms of lemon balm, it's easy to add the plant to your daily wellness routine. However, there are several caveats to its use, including possible drug interactions and dosing frequency.
We've already highlighted the importance of following the manufacturer's recommended dosing guidelines, and this advice still stands. However, giving your body a break from lemon balm is generally a good idea; it’s suggested to take a week off after roughly three weeks of continued use. It may also help to take capsules or tinctures alongside food to limit the risk of nausea.
The final watch-out is possible drug interactions. If you're currently taking (or planning to take) prescription medication, then you must discuss the implications of lemon balm with a doctor or physician. While there are several specific interactions to consider (including glaucoma, thyroid, and serotonin medication), the lack of research means it's necessary to get case-specific advice.
As a precautionary measure, you should also avoid lemon balm if you're pregnant, breastfeeding, or awaiting surgery.
If you're interested in heading straight to the source, you'll be pleased to know that the entire lemon balm plant is edible. Although, as tempting as the flowers look, the leaves are the main focus for wellness enthusiasts. You can simply pick the leaves and leave them to steep in hot water, or add them to food as an aromatic garnish.
It's important to know that a handful of lemon balm leaves won't contain anywhere near the ratio of bioactive compounds as a concentrated extract. So, if your focus is on improving mental and physical wellness, supplements remain the most viable choice.
With the entire lemon balm plant edible, the risks associated with fresh sources are low. The risk of side effects naturally increases with concentrated products such as capsules and tinctures, but the plant still appears well-tolerated in healthy individuals.
If you take a common sense approach to consumption, lemon balm should be a welcome addition to your existing wellness routine. Plus, the plant's synergy with other natural botanicals makes it an influential member of existing supplement formulas.
Excited by the potential of lemon balm? You'll find supplements infused with the sweet-smelling plant at the Cibdol store. Or, to learn more about the vast influence of botanicals, visit our Encyclopedia.
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 Astani A, Navid MH, Schnitzler P. Attachment and penetration of acyclovir-resistant herpes simplex virus are inhibited by Melissa officinalis extract. Phytotherapy research : PTR. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24817544/. Published 2014. Accessed November 8, 2022. [Source]