What Lemon balm is used for?

Medicinally, lemon balm was used by the Greeks and Romans after steeping it in wine to treat wounds and insect bites. It was in the Middle Ages that it started to be used internally as a sedative and by the 1600s English herbalist Nicholas Culpeper was claiming it could improve mood and stimulate thinking. It is these actions in the nervous system for which it is best known today.

Lemon balm supplements are made from the leaves of the plant and contain flavonoids, phenolic acids, tannins, triterpenes, choline, caffeic acid, essential oil and sesquiterpenes. The essential oil of lemon balm contains terpenes, which play at least some role in the herb’s relaxing and antiviral effects. Eugenol and citronellol bind to GABA receptors and therefore cause relaxation. The tannins may be responsible for many of the herb’s antiviral effects. As well as being calming, eugenol eases muscle spasms, numbs tissues and kills bacteria.

Growing and harvesting methods have a significant impact on how much essential oil is present in the herb. The top third of the leaf, for instance, is considerably higher in essential oil than the bottom two-thirds. So you may get variation from one lemon balm product to the next.


Sedative & anxiety-reducing

Studies involving mice and rats have shown that lemon balm does have sedative and anxiety-reducing properties. In humans the evidence is less conclusive. Several studies show that lemon balm combined with other calming herbs (such as valerian, hops and chamomile) helps reduce anxiety and promote sleep.

For example, in one study of people with minor sleep problems, 81 per cent of those who took a herbal combination of valerian and lemon balm reported sleeping much better than those who took a placebo. It’s not clear from this and other studies whether lemon balm or valerian (or the combination) is responsible for the result. The same is true of several studies for anxiety, which used a combination of herbs to reduce symptoms.

One study, however, was a double- blind, placebo-controlled study involving 18 healthy volunteers given two separate single doses of a standardised lemon balm extract (300mg and 600mg) or a placebo for seven days. The 600mg dose of lemon balm improved mood and significantly increased calmness and alertness.

The German Commission E approves lemon balm for the treatment of anxiety and restlessness.

Antiviral & cold sores

Some studies suggest that topical ointments with lemon balm may help heal cold sores caused by the Herpes simplex virus (HSV). In one study of 116 people with HSV, those who put lemon balm cream on their lip sores had significant improvement in redness and swelling after only two days.

Another large study involving three German hospitals and a dermatology clinic showed that, when lemon balm was used to treat the primary infection of HSV, no recurrence was noted.

The reason lemon balm appears to assist with cold sores is that the essential oil has been shown to stop the Herpes virus reproducing.
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