What is Lemon Balm?
Lemon balm is also known as Melissa officinalis a sweet balm or balm mint that is now grown across the globe and is known for its potential calming and digestion benefits.
It is closely related to the mint family - its fresh leaves and stems have a similar shape to mint and have a strong scent of lemon with a hint of mint. This plant is easy to grow at home, as well. Lemon balm is a perennial herb and Lamiaceae, a member of the mint family.
It is popularly combined with other reportedly calming herbs, such as chamomile and valerian, and these supplements can improve sleep, digestive health, and cognitive function. Lemon balm has other forms such as lemon balm leaves and essential oils (extract of lemon balm).
When using a lemon balm tincture, individuals with memory loss have shown improvement in cognitive function including alertness and focus. If you are interested in learning more about the herb's other healing possibilities, keep on reading.
Top Lemon Balm Benefits
Finding a remedy for your areas of concern for your health can be beneficial not only for your mental wellness but for your entire nervous system as well.
Let's break down each of this fragrant herb's potential health benefits:
Stress can cause symptoms of irritability, nervousness, and sensitivity to stimuli. In 2004, a double-blind study found that participants that took lemon balm in various doses self-reportedly felt calmer and less on edge. They were exposed to laboratory-induced stressors and were given 300 mg, 600 mg doses of lemon balm, or a placebo. Further studies do need to be conducted, but the findings so far are encouraging.
For acute stress episodes, 300 mg or 600 mg of dried lemon balm can be mixed into food or a drink to help reduce stress. It is also helpful to learn more about stress and how to properly support somebody dealing with stress and agitation.
Supplements that contain lemon balm can help your overall emotional wellness, such as capsules or gummies, and are easy to incorporate into your daily food routine.
Overall, it can help with overall emotional wellness and promote calmness.
- Mental Fatigue
In 2014, a study analyzed lemon balm's effects in regards to cognitive function. Over two separate days, 25 participants were instructed to have a study day and a day of assessments on a computer, covering aspects such as long-term memory, short-term memory and concentration. These included reaction time and mathematical processing. They were given iced tea made from lemon balm extract or a placebo tea before each test.
Participants who took the lemon balm iced tea reported lower emotional issues and better memory, which ultimately, benefited their performance. More research is necessary, but mixing lemon balm with food or steeping in tea may boost focus and overall cognitive performance.
- Sleep Quality and Duration
If you suffer from poor sleep quality or have trouble falling asleep, lemon balm might be what you are looking for. When combined with other herbs, such as chamomile or hops, lemon balm has a calming effect that can help reduce stress, and, in return, promote sleep. These supplements can be found as a capsule or gummies to help improve sleep.
Multiple studies support lemon balm in conjunction with these other herbs — however, it is unclear whether lemon balm is effective on its own or works best to amplify the others' effect. In one study, volunteers who took 600 mg of lemon balm, compared to the 300 mg and placebo counterparts, reported having a better mood and increased focus.
- Digestive Health
Nowadays, processed foods and unknown food intolerances can upset sensitive stomachs. Expensive food allergy and genetic tests can be done to uncover possible food triggers, helping us avoid future stomach discomfort. Alternatively, lemon balm might be a solution for people who are prone to indigestion frequently and discomfort.
In 2010, 30 participants with functional dyspepsia, or recurring indigestion, were given a sorbet with or without lemon balm, after a meal — it was called the "Gran Soleil" dessert. The results found that the ones who ate lemon balm-mixed sorbet experienced reduced indigestion and lower pain intensity compared to their placebo counterparts.
Lemon balm's potential stomach benefits may tie into nausea relief effects. Similar to the 2010 study, lemon balm was mixed into either food or drink but was combined with other purportedly calming herbs. Lemon balm, on its own, still needs further research to ensure its effects.
To help reduce nausea, lemon balm in dried leaf, loose-leaf, or bagged form can be made into a tea and consumed at the onset.
A common symptom of stress is headache discomfort. Lemon balm may help relieve tension and promote relaxation, which are both keys to getting rid of headaches, especially when stress-induced. Depending on the intensity, taking 300 mg or 600 mg lemon balm supplements can be beneficial when taken at the first sight of headache development.
- Reducing Cold Sores
Another use for lemon balm is cold sore treatment. At the first sign of a sore, topical creams that have lemon balm as an ingredient may increase recovery time and time between breakouts.
In 1999, a study found that participants that used a lemon balm calm, over the placebo cream, experienced these positive results. The sores healed quicker than the participants who used the placebo cream. Again, more studies are necessary to support these initial findings.
Before applying any creams to an affected area, test it out first on an easily accessible area on your arm to see if it causes irritation. If you do not experience any adverse reactions within 24 hours, try applying lemon balm cream several times a day, as needed, to see if it works for you.
- Menstrual Discomfort
In 2015, a study involving 100 high school student participants tested lemon balm's effects on menstrual cramps. For three consecutive cycles, the students took either a lemon balm supplement or a placebo and were monitored over the three-cycle period. After each cycle, each student self-reported the intensity of their discomfort.
The ones who took the two 600 mg lemon balm supplements reported reduced physical, psychological and social PMS symptoms. No statistically significant difference was reported in the placebo group after each cycle.
Daily lemon balm supplements may be beneficial before symptoms even appear if absorbed thoroughly and taken on a frequent basis.
How to Use Lemon Balm
Lemon balm can be found in dried form, topical creams, gummy chews, or capsules. Benefits and use methods differ between children and adults, so it is recommended to consult your healthcare provider when deciding on proper dosage and when considering new herbal remedies.
Children can typically be treated with lemon balm topically for cold sores. For adults, any of the following methods can be beneficial:
- Dried lemon balm tea can aid in digestion after a meal or ingested by mixing with food. It can be mixed into honey, jams, and even salads.
- Lemon balm supplements from 300 to 500 mg taken three times daily.
- Topical creams can be applied directly to affected areas daily.
- Steep in boiling water for 10-15 minutes and apply to cold sores with clean cotton balls.
Potential Side Effects and Risks
Like any medication and herb, lemon balm can react with other substances that may create adverse effects. These side effects can be reduced by taking lemon balm after or during a meal and taking under two grams a day. If purchasing supplements, do a bit of research and choose a reputable company. It is not recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding individuals.
Over the years, many studies have shown lemon balm's potential benefits. Though more research needs to be done, if you are not pregnant or showing adverse reactions to this herb, it is worth incorporating into your daily routine. It can aid in digestive issues, headaches, and sleep, to name a few.
Easily grown in the home or found at grocery stores, there are many convenient ways to use lemon balm to aid your personal needs. Try a topical cream for sores or gummy supplements to improve sleep and cognitive function.
Meet our Experts
This article has been reviewed by members of our Scientific Advisory Board.
Dr. Jay Cowin, Nutrition Expert
Founder of Functional U, a Nutrition, Performance & Optimal Health practice.