Common Names

Lemon Balm , Melissa
Botanical Name
Melissa officinalis

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What is it?

The leaves are the parts that are used in herbal medicine from Lemon Balm; a bushy, leafy herb that grows prolifically in diverse climates and is well known for its fresh, distinctive aroma.




How has it been used?

400 hundred years ago, the English herbal physician John Evelyn wrote “Lemon Balm is sovereign for the brain. It strengthens the memory and powerfully chases away melancholy”.

Lemon Balm has been extremely popular in all the old European traditional medicine systems. It has been seen to be equally beneficial to digestive disorders as it is helpful to conditions involving the nerves. Traditional uses include migraines, headaches, stomach cramps, urinary infections, feverishness in children, shingles, vaccine reactions and sleeplessness.

Children seem to respond particularly well to Lemon Balm tea when they are anxious, upset or they are experiencing internal pain.

Lemon Balm has been a traditional treatment for overactive thyroid conditions.

Lemon balm was the favourite herb of the mad genius Paracelsus who believed it would 'revivify a man'. It was also the subject of some extraordinary visions of Saint Hildegard, who said that Lemon balm came to her in a vision and she saw that it had seven different ‘faces’ or personalities, with the centre of them at the heart.


Science on Lemon balm

~ I counted over a dozen clinical trials with actual people taking actual herbs that included Lemon balm. These studies showed phenomenal results for sleeplessness and anxiety but every one of them had the Lemon balm as part of a formula with other herbs, (mostly Valerian). Whilst this means it's difficult to be precise about scientific tests of Lemon balm by itself it does go a long way to illustrate what herbalists from ancient times knew as well; that this is a herb that potentiates the actions of other herbs.

~ There was one study that just tested Lemon balm taken internally by itself. Volunteers were given a single large dose of Lemon balm and had their brain waves tested before and after (via an EEG). The herb clearly affected the brain activity compared to the placebo that was used to ensure this test was done rigorously... but exactly how that might be happening remains very much a mystery (Schulz H, Jobert M, Hubner WD: Phytomed 5(6):449-458, 1998)

~ Laboratory studies on Lemon balm by itself have shown some intriguing possibilities for understanding it better. It has been demonstrated to have actions on the binding of thyroid hormones, on the hormone prolactin, and on the brain chemistry of sleep and excitation (Sourgens H et al: Planta Med 45:78-86, 1982)

~ Lemon balm has also been shown to possess some potent anti-viral activity in the laboratory, including on the herpes simplex virus. This was put to the test in a clinical trial where Lemon balm was used externally in a concentrated form for cold sore lesions where using it 2-4 times daily for 5-10 days yielded conclusive results that it was an effective treatment (Wolbling RH, Milbradt R; Therapiewache 34:1193-1200, 1984)

Safety of Lemon balm

No adverse effects are expected from taking Lemon balm, even in high or frequent doses. It may be confidently taken during pregnancy or whilst breastfeeding (there may be a mild relaxing effect on the baby as the essential oil of Lemon Balm will pass through the breast milk) and it can be used by the young or old with safety.


Personal experiences

For the right person Lemon balm can have a marvellously healing effect. It calms and soothes in such a gentle but sure way; watching it melt away a person's tension is like seeing someone who has become chilled put a warm cloak around them.

If you who are reading this are studying herbal medicine or have your own reasons to want to understand this plant ally at a much deeper level then I urge you to take a dose of Lemon Balm tincture or a cup of its tea and then, with a quiet and attentive mind, observe how the herb makes you feel. This ancient method is how people have always understood the action of a herb in an experiential way and it can give an appreciation that transcends a purely abstract knowledge of these medicines. A person has to try this for themselves for it to really make sense but speaking for myself when I do this I feel Lemon Balm going straight to my heart! It is very relaxing and soothing, truly a gentle remedy and surely one that can only do good to a person.

I use a lot of Lemon balm in formulas of both dried herbs and liquid extract formulas. I often use Lemon balm in a similar way to how I use Licorice root in that I think Lemon balm helps to harmonise the formula, as well as making it taste better and be better absorbed. Fresh Lemon Balm tea, made with a few leaves from the garden in a cup of hot water is calming and refreshing.

Fresh Lemon Balm tincture (where you make the extract without drying the herb first) is vibrantly green and uplifting. Both dried Lemon balm tea and dried Lemon balm tincture are nourishing, tonic, and well suited to longer term use.

You cannot overdose with it but there is no point in taking more than you need for a therapeutic effect. In a cup of hot water a few leaves of fresh Lemon balm are ample to get its benefits. As a dried herb a teaspoon is enough for most and as a tincture just 1 or 2 mls should be more than ample for it to bring its lovely presence to the mind and body..

Lemon Balm combines perfectly with Skullcap for anxiety, with Elder for childhood illness and with Hawthorn for irregular and stressed heart rhythms.


Constitutional note

Much of the information here about the traditional uses of Lemon balm is consistent with the model of thinking whereby one may treat problem A with plant B. There is value in this approach, especially in how it helps us pass on useful knowledge to one another, but it falls short in one vital area; and that is that people are not all cut from the same cloth! Something that works brilliantly for one person may do less for another -- why is this?

The reason is that people vary in their constitutions as to whether they are more hot or cool and at the same time more dry or damp; more info about this here.

There is an old wisdom in treating the person first and the condition second and in this light Lemon balm can particularly offer its benefits when a nourishing action is needed in the 'cycle of healing' - something that is discussed here and shown in a chart here.

Lemon Balm in History

In times gone by Lemon balm was a great favourite for all complaints believed to proceed from a disordered nervous system. The London Dispensary !1696) wrote 'an essence on Balm, given in Canary wine, every morning, will renew youth, strengthen the brain and relieve a languishing nature'.

The great 10th century Arab physician Avicenna wrote 'Balm causeth the heart and mind to become merry' and in Europe for many centuries it was a common adage that Balm 'will 'comfort the heart and drive away melancholy'.

In even earlier times Lemon balm was widely used as a healing herb for wounds and skin diseases. The ancient Greek physician Dioscorides recommended to put Lemon balm leaves on skin wounds and the Roman physician Pliny highly regarded its ability to help stop bleeding.

Please understand that I cannot personally advise you, including on products or dosage, without seeing you in my clinic but ideas on how you might find a good herbalist in your area are here.
This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!



© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd