Last Updated on December 6, 2021 by Kimberly Crawford
The easily grown lemon balm herb, made into a tea, bolsters mood and alertness.
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), known by practitioners for over 2000 years, has many common names including Melissa, balm mint and sweet balm. Melissa is Greek for honeybee. It is an easy –to-grow garden herb, in fact, this perennial is so prolific it needs to be cut back frequently in the growing season.
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Lemon balm leaves are made into tea (an infusion) –fresh leaves retain more of the phytochemicals – and lemon balm is sold in cream form and as supplements singly, or often in combination with other herbs like valerian and chamomile. Over the years, people have used balm mint for its calming effects.
Lemon Balm is Antiviral
In 1999, a German study reported in Medical Herbalism determined the beneficial efficacy of lemon balm cream made from a standardized extract of lemon balm leaf.
In a clinical trial involving 66 people with cold sores caused by the herpes simplex virus, healing began after just two days. Lemon balm cream now sells in Germany and the USA as commercial products that work as well as synthetic drugs, but with no side effects.
Traditionally, people drink lemon balm tea for viral cold symptoms and fevers as it promotes sweating and makes one feel better. For tea use 2 tablespoons of fresh herb in 2 cups of boiled water; steep for at least 10 minutes. This is one of the few herbal products that is gentle enough for kids – use 1/3 the adult dosage for tea.
Lemon Balm is Antibacterial
Reported in the April 2004 issue of the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, researchers working in the lab found that lemon balm essential oil inhibited the bacterium Shigella sonnei.
It causes the infectious disease shigellosis that is characterized by diarrhea, fever and stomach upset. The bacterium is responsible for two-thirds of the disease in the United States that spreads by poor hygiene.
Interestingly, over the years, people have turned to lemon balm for its antibacterial use in wound healing and insect bites.
Melissa Reduces Sadness
In the 1600s, monks living in Paris came up with a mostly lemon balm concoction – Eau de Melissa (or Eau de Carmes) – that included other herbs and spices.
What started out as an herbal feel-good and calming treatment, evolved into both a perfume and an aperitif that is still formulated and sold today.
Habitually, people have depended on lemon balm to reduce anxiety, stress and sadness, and promote relaxation and mental alertness. An energy bar company, Detour, formulated its yoga energy bar in 2007. Yoga strives for a balance between mind and body needing calmness yet alertness too – that is why lemon balm is one of the ingredients.
Lemon Balm Facilitates Quality Sleep
Reported in the June 1999 issue of Fitoterapia, a clinical study of a combination of lemon balm and the herb valerian found that after a month’s daily treatment, 33% of the herbal group reported significantly higher sleep quality compared to only 9% of the placebo group.
The researchers acknowledged that the herb combination is useful for minor sleep problems.
The Elusive Lemon Balm Essential Oil
Do not count on using lemon balm volatile oil in its concentrated, pure form as it is super expensive; 1/8 oz. can cost in the $60 range.
This is because it takes about 7 tons of the whole plant to get just 1 lb. of oil. For this reason, other essential oils are mixed with lemon balm essential oil.
Lemon Balm is a Gift to Gardeners
Lemon balm is an herb that has the reputation of a cure-all. In addition to antiviral and antibacterial properties, it acts as a mild sedative and encourages a good night’s sleep. Easy-to-grow lemon balm also promotes calmness and mental clarity.
This is an educational article only. The herb might interact with thyroid medications or prescription sleeping pills; seek your health care provider’s advice.