While native to southern Europe, lemon balm is now found growing throughout the world. The lemony smell and pretty white flowers of the lemon balm plant have led to its widespread cultivation in gardens. The leaves, stems, and flowers of lemon balm are used medicinally.
Lemon balm can be compared with the effectiveness of mint in the soothing effect it has on the stomach and the positive effect it has on the digestive system. Lemon balm is used to relieve pain and discomfort associated with indigestion and offers relief for such symptoms as gas and bloating. Lemon balm is also beneficial to those suffering from nervousness, anxiety and slight insomnia. Lemon balm helps to calm and relax the nerves and has been used successfully since the Middle Ages.
Lemon balm holds some sedative properties found specifically in some of the chemicals it contains in volatile oils, including citronellal and citrals A and B. In case studies with humans and animals alike, lemon balm has demonstrated calming effects when taken orally. When consumption doses are increased, lemon balm may induce sleep. One case study indicated further benefits of lemon balm may include improved memory and lengthened attention span among patients who suffer from Alzheimer's disease. This may be a consequence of the presence of antioxidants in lemon balm, which are suspected to offer protection for the body's cells from oxidation, a chemical process causing damage to the cells. Yet another case study showed the use of lemon balm in aromatherapy, applying or inhaling fragrances to affect the mood, was effective in calming overexcited individuals specifically those suffering from dementia (an progressive deficiency in thought processes caused by brain damage). In the past, lemon balm has been useful for relieving menstrual cramps, urinary spasms, and gastrointestinal complications or pain. The volatile oils in lemon balm are made up of chemicals that help the muscles relax, particularly the muscles of the bladder, stomach, and uterus, consequently providing relief of cramps, gas, and nausea. Unfortunately, research results are still somewhat inconclusive, and human case studies are lacking to provide concrete proof of its purported uses.
Lemon balm may also help to block some of the secretion of the thyroid gland and its ability to release hormones in the body. Consequently, lemon balm has been implemented for use in connection with Grave's disease, which is an autoimmune condition where individuals suffer from excess thyroid hormone due to an overactive thyroid. However, clinical studies do not supports its use for this condition.
Lemon balm has been used in connection with diseases or conditions involving herpes and other viruses. Creams and ointments that include lemon balm have helped to heal cold sores or genital sores induced by the herpes simplex virus. It was also noted that the infections themselves were confined while using the lemon balm and did not spread as much, and individuals reported that the use of lemon balm topically offered further relief from symptoms such as redness and itching. Lemon balm's antivital properties may be attributed to chemical compounds it contains such as caffeic acid and rosmarinic acid. However, to date, no human studies have been carried out to support the belief that lemon balm is effective against bacterial and fungal activity; however, laboratory studies show that lemon balm has demonstrated some effect against both.Dosage and Administration
For difficulty sleeping or to reduce stomach complaints, flatulence, or bloating, choose from the following:
- Tea, using 1.5 to 4.5 g herb, several times daily
- 2 to 3 mL tincture three times daily, or the equivalent in fluid extract or encapsulated form
For cold sores or herpes sores, steep 2 to 4 tsp of crushed leaf in 1 cup boiling water for 10 to 15 minutes. Cool. Apply with cotton balls to the sores throughout the day.
For children, lemon balm may be used topically on cold sores. The dosage would be the same as the recommendations for this use in adults. For internal use, adjust the recommended adult dose to account for the child's weight. Most herbal dosages for adults are calculated on the basis of a 150 lb (70 kg) adult. Therefore, if the child weighs 50 lb (20 to 25 kg), the appropriate dose of lemon balm for this child would be 1/3 of the adult dosage.
In general, you should read the manufacturer's suggestions for use when taking any herbal product, and consult with your health care provider for brands and dosages that he or she recommends.