Lemon Balm Benefits

What if a simple garden herb could be a natural ally against stress, aiding digestion, and even soothing the skin? Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is an ancient herb with a modern twist. Since Greek and Roman times, it has been known for its remarkable healing properties. Lemon balm remains a go-to remedy in today’s holistic health toolkit. 

The name 'Melissa' comes from the Greek word for 'honey bee.' This name highlights its attractiveness to bees, which are crucial for pollination. By the Middle Ages, lemon balm had become a staple in monastic gardens. Lemon balm continues to be used for its health benefits, which are still relevant in modern herbal medicine.

These historical uses lay the foundation for its current applications. Modern herbalists and health enthusiasts praise lemon balm for its gentle yet effective impact on various systems in the body. This article will focus on the benefits of lemon balm and showcase its lasting significance in herbal medicine.

Overview of Lemon Balm

Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) is a distinctive herb characterized by its light green, heart-shaped leaves and clusters of small, white flowers. It originates from the Mediterranean region and parts of West Asia but now grows widely around the world.

This perennial herb thrives in well-drained soil and partial shade to full sun. It can reach up to two feet in height. Its vigorous growth requires careful management to prevent it from dominating garden spaces.

When touched, the leaves release a refreshing lemon scent. Gardeners value lemon balm for its aromatic leaves, which are used in culinary and medicinal applications. The plant also attracts pollinators like bees, enhancing garden biodiversity.

To control its spread, regular pruning is crucial. Harvesting the leaves in the morning is ideal for the best aromatic and therapeutic qualities when the essential oils within the leaves have peaked.

Historically, the use of lemon balm in herbal medicine dates back to ancient times. The Greeks and Romans valued it for its calming effects, promoting sleep and aiding digestion. By the Middle Ages, monks included it in their medicinal gardens for its ability to heal wounds, reduce fever, and improve mood. Known as a 'heart's delight,' lemon balm continues to symbolize its soothing effects on the mind and body.

From its roots in ancient history to modern-day applications, lemon balm remains a powerful natural remedy for various health concerns.

Benefits of Lemon Balm on the Body’s Systems

Digestive System

Lemon balm serves as a carminative, helping expel gas from the intestines and reduce bloating. This makes digestion smoother and more comfortable. Its essential oils relax the muscles of the digestive tract.

This relaxation alleviates indigestion and nausea. Lemon balm also has antispasmodic properties to ease spasms in the digestive muscles. This brings relief from cramps and discomfort(6).

Beyond its impressive digestive benefits, lemon balm also plays a crucial role in managing and alleviating nervous system disorders.

Nervous System

Lemon balm serves as a nervine relaxant. It effectively calms the nervous system, reducing stress and anxiety. This calming influence alleviates mental tension and enhances sleep quality.

By relaxing the mind, lemon balm facilitates an easier transition into sleep. Moreover, it plays a significant role in improving mood and cognitive function. It contributes to long-term mental health benefits and builds resilience against stress.

Lemon balm's mood-enhancing and cognitive benefits arise from several key mechanisms:

Increases Neurotransmitter Activity: The herb positively affects the brain's neurotransmitter levels, especially gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA, an inhibitory neurotransmitter, significantly influences mood and anxiety regulation. Lemon balm's ability to boost GABA activity promotes relaxation and lowers anxiety levels, indirectly improving mood.

Antioxidant Properties: Lemon balm is rich in antioxidants. These compounds protect brain cells from oxidative stress, safeguarding cognitive functions like memory, attention, and problem-solving skills.

Anti-inflammatory Effects: With its anti-inflammatory properties, lemon balm addresses chronic inflammation, a factor in mood disorders and cognitive decline. This support for brain health underpins improved cognitive functions and mood.

Interacts with Acetylcholine: By inhibiting the breakdown of acetylcholine, an instrumental neurotransmitter for memory and learning, lemon balm ensures higher levels of this neurotransmitter. Enhanced acetylcholine levels lead to improved memory retention and learning capabilities.

Through these actions, lemon balm supports a more balanced mood and better cognitive function. Its benefits extend across mental health and cognitive performance, making it a valuable ally in promoting mental well-being (2)(3).

Skin Health

Soothing Skin Properties:

Lemon balm is widely recognized for its soothing effects on the skin. Its high content of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds effectively reduces skin redness and calms irritation. These properties also accelerate the healing of minor wounds or insect bites. By reducing inflammation, lemon balm helps relieve skin conditions like eczema and sunburn.

Antioxidant and Anti-inflammatory Effects:

The essential oils of lemon balm are rich in rosmarinic acid and flavonoids. These substances relieve inflammation and combat oxidative stress. Oxidative stress can accelerate skin aging, so these antioxidants protect skin cells from damage and maintain youthful skin health(7).

Antimicrobial Effects:

Lemon balm's antimicrobial properties make it effective against various microbial skin infections. Here's a breakdown of the types of infections it can help manage or prevent, enhancing the understanding of its benefits in skincare:

Types of Microbial Skin Infections Treated by Lemon Balm

Bacterial Infections:

  • Acne Vulgaris: Caused by Propionibacterium acnes (now known as Cutibacterium acnes), this is the most common skin condition that lemon balm helps manage by inhibiting the growth of acne-causing bacteria, reducing inflammation, and preventing breakouts.
  • Impetigo: A highly contagious skin infection usually caused by  Staphylococcus aureus (staph infection) and sometimes by Streptococcus pyogenes (group A strep). Lemon balm's antibacterial properties can help prevent the spread and severity of impetigo, especially when used in its initial stages.
  •  

    Fungal Infections:

  • Ringworm (Tinea Corporis): Caused by a fungus that lives on the dead tissues of the skin, hair, and nails. Lemon balm's antifungal properties can help inhibit the growth of the fungi responsible for ringworm.
  • Candidiasis: Often caused by Candida albicans, this yeast infection can affect the skin, especially in warm, moist areas like skin folds. Lemon balm can help manage candidiasis by reducing yeast growth on the skin.

  • Viral Infections:
  • Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV): Responsible for cold sores and genital herpes. The phenolic compounds and flavonoids in lemon balm interfere with the virus's ability to replicate and infect new cells, which helps in managing outbreaks and reducing the frequency of their occurrence.
  • Applications in Skin Care Products

  • Cleansers and Toners: Incorporating lemon balm into these products enhances their antimicrobial efficacy, making them effective at removing impurities and protecting the skin from bacterial and fungal invasions.
  • Moisturizing Creams: Lemon balm-infused creams help maintain healthy skin by offering a barrier that prevents microbial infections and soothes inflamed or irritated skin.
  • Wound Healing Ointments: Due to its ability to prevent infection and promote healing, lemon balm is beneficial in ointments for cuts, scrapes, and minor burns, aiding in faster recovery and preventing microbial growth.
  •  

    The broad-spectrum antimicrobial activity of lemon balm makes it a valuable natural ingredient in managing and preventing a variety of skin infections. By reducing microbial growth and soothing the skin, lemon balm enhances the skin's health and resilience, making it a significant addition to skincare regimens, especially for those prone to microbial skin issues(2).

    Cardiovascular System

    Lemon balm supports heart function as a cardiac nervine. It positively affects cardiovascular health by managing blood pressure and heart rate. This is due to its relaxing diaphoretic properties. This means that lemon balm can induce sweating to release excess heat from the body. It can lessen the workload of the heart, especially in stress or heat(3)(4).

    Thyroid Regulation

    Lemon balm's effect on thyroid regulation, particularly in suppressing an overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism), is attributed to several key compounds:

    Rosmarinic Acid: This is one of the most significant compounds in lemon balm. It has been shown to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. The rosmarinic acid in lemon balm blocks the thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) from functioning at the thyroid gland receptor sites. This helps to prevent TSH from stimulating the thyroid gland.

    This acid also inhibits the activity of TSH at the thyroid gland receptor sites. This action helps to regulate thyroid function by preventing TSH from activating the thyroid gland.

    Flavonoids: Lemon balm contains various flavonoids, known for their antioxidant properties. Some of these flavonoids have been suggested to interact with the thyroid gland, helping to modulate its activity and potentially reduce the excessive production of thyroid hormones.

    Phenolic Acids: Lemon balm has other phenolic acids, in addition to rosmarinic acid, that could affect the thyroid gland. These compounds could contribute to the overall regulatory effect on thyroid activity.

    Triterpenes: Triterpenes are a group of chemical compounds naturally found in many plants, including lemon balm. These compounds are celebrated for their broad spectrum of therapeutic effects. Triterpenes are known to possess anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antimicrobial, and antitumoral properties, making them powerful agents in the treatment and management of various conditions.

    Combining these compounds in lemon balm can contribute to its reported effectiveness in managing hyperthyroidism symptoms. They help normalize thyroid activity by potentially inhibiting the release of TSH and blocking thyroid hormone receptors. Thus reducing the thyroid gland's activity. However, people with thyroid conditions should consult healthcare professionals before using lemon balm as a treatment(1)(4).

    Cooling and Calming Heat

    Lemon balm is highly regarded for its ability to cool the body, making it an excellent natural remedy for managing fevers and discomfort during hot weather. Its cooling effects are primarily attributed to its diaphoretic properties, which stimulate the body’s sweat glands, promoting sweat production. This process helps to dissipate excess body heat through evaporation, effectively reducing body temperature.

    Moreover, lemon balm contains several active compounds, such as rosmarinic acid and flavonoids, which are known for their soothing effects on the body. These compounds help calm the central nervous system, reducing the body’s heat stress responses such as irritability and restlessness. This calming action makes lemon balm particularly useful in conditions associated with heat, such as heat exhaustion and minor heat-induced irritations.

    The herb’s ability to enhance the body's natural thermoregulation processes also contributes to its effectiveness in treating fevers. By promoting sweating and expanding blood vessels near the skin's surface, lemon balm increases heat loss, which can help lower fever and alleviate discomfort. This mechanism supports the body's efforts to regulate its temperature during febrile illnesses.

    Additionally, the calming effects of lemon balm can also mitigate other symptoms often associated with elevated body temperatures, such as anxiety and inability to sleep. The herb's mild sedative properties can help induce a state of relaxation, which is conducive to recovering from illness and stress caused by heat.

    Practical Applications

    Given its cooling and calming properties, lemon balm can be used in several practical ways to relieve heat-related symptoms:

    • Teas and Infusions: Drinking a tea made from lemon balm leaves can provide internal cooling and hydration during hot weather or when feverish.
    • Compresses: Applying a cloth soaked in a cooled infusion of lemon balm to the forehead or other parts of the body can help reduce external body temperature and provide relief from fever.
    • Bath Additive: Adding lemon balm leaves or a strong infusion to bathwater can offer a soothing and cooling effect, ideal for relaxation and heat relief.

    By understanding these mechanisms and practical uses, individuals can effectively incorporate lemon balm into their health and wellness practices to combat the discomfort associated with heat, both environmental and internal.

    Mildly Drying and Relaxing Tension

    Lemon balm has a mildly drying effect, which comes again from its rosmarinic acid content. This helps in conditions with excess moisture, such as heavy sweating. Lemon balm supports the body's natural balance.

    Lemon balm also relaxes physical and mental tension. This contributes to well-being and relaxation. It is an excellent aid for stress and tension relief(4).

    Understanding the diverse benefits of lemon balm sets the stage for integrating this versatile herb into a daily regimen. There are many ways to implement the healing properties of lemon balm.

    Lemon Balm Tea Benefits

    Lemon balm offers versatile applications, from soothing teas to medicinal preparations and culinary uses. Each form leverages the herb's therapeutic effects, catering to different needs and preferences.

    Preparing and Using Lemon Balm Tea: Lemon balm tea stands out for its calming effects. To prepare it, steep fresh or dried lemon balm leaves in boiling water for five to ten minutes. This process extracts the herb's essential oils, which are rich in beneficial compounds.

    Drinking lemon balm tea can reduce stress, improve sleep quality, and aid digestion. For the best results, enjoy the tea in the evening to relax before bedtime or throughout the day to maintain a calm, focused state.

    Other Uses for Lemon Balm:

    Tinctures: Lemon balm tinctures concentrate the properties of the herb into a liquid form. They provide a convenient way to administer its calming effects. Lemon balm tincture can be taken directly under the tongue or added to water. This method is useful for stress relief and anxiety management.

    Capsules: For those who prefer a no-fuss, precise dosage, lemon balm capsules are ideal. They offer a simple way to incorporate lemon balm's benefits into a daily routine, supporting mood regulation and cognitive function.

    Topical Preparations for Cold Sores: Applying lemon balm topically can combat cold sores. Its antiviral properties make it effective against the herpes simplex virus. Lemon balm in creams and ointments are available for this specific purpose. Applying these preparations to affected areas speeds up healing and reduces symptom severity.

    Culinary Uses: Beyond its therapeutic applications, lemon balm enhances culinary dishes. Its citrusy flavor complements salads, soups, and sauces. Lemon balm can also be infused into syrups, oils, and dressings to add a fresh, lemony note to recipes.

    Lemon balm's soothing and healing properties can be harnessed in various aspects. Lemon balm offers natural, holistic benefits in various forms. It can be enjoyed in all the different forms listed above.

    Safety and Considerations

    While lemon balm is safe for most people, it's important to be mindful of potential interactions and considerations. Awareness and caution ensure the benefits can be enjoyed without adverse effects.

    Interactions with Medications and Conditions: Lemon balm may interact with certain medications and medical conditions. It has sedative properties, so combining it with sedative medications might enhance the effect, leading to excessive drowsiness. Individuals taking medications for anxiety, and insomnia should consult healthcare professionals before using lemon balm. Additionally, since lemon balm can influence thyroid activity, those with thyroid disorders or taking thyroid medications should approach its use with caution.

    Considerations for Pregnant or Breastfeeding Women: The safety of lemon balm in pregnant or breastfeeding women remains unclear due to limited research. Although it is widely considered safe in foods, medicinal quantities might pose risks. Pregnant or breastfeeding women should seek advice from healthcare providers before incorporating lemon balm into their routine(5).

    Recommended Dosages and Safe Use

    Finding the right lemon balm dosage can vary depending on the form and intended use. It's always best to start with the manufacturer's recommendations on commercial products. When making lemon balm tea or other homemade preparations, it is recommended to use a small amount to start. The dose can be gradually increased if needed.

    While adjusting the dosage, it’s important to watch for side effects. Though lemon balm is generally safe, some individuals may experience:

    Digestive discomfort: This can include symptoms like nausea or abdominal pain.

    Allergic reactions: Signs could be skin rashes, itching, or respiratory issues.

    Drowsiness: Given lemon balm’s sedative effects, excessive sleepiness is possible, especially when combined with other sedative substances.

    Headache: Some people might encounter headaches after consuming lemon balm.

    Monitoring the body’s response is crucial. Reducing the dosage or discontinuing use may be necessary, especially if side effects persist or if using lemon balm alongside other medications.

    Conclusion

    Lemon balm stands out as a remarkably versatile herb with profound health benefits. Lemon balm is famous for its calming effects on the nervous system. Additionally, it improves sleep, cardiovascular function, and thyroid regulation along with numerous skin conditions.

    Since it is available in so many forms, it easily fits into daily wellness routines. Lemon balm can be a valuable asset in a journey toward natural health.

    FAQ:

    How does lemon balm benefit skin health?

    Lemon balm, known for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, can be beneficial for skin health. These properties help soothe the skin, reduce redness, and promote the healing of wounds or irritations.

    The antioxidants in lemon balm also protect the skin from free radical damage. Potentially slowing the aging process and improving skin vitality. Additionally, its antimicrobial action can assist in managing acne-causing bacteria.

    Does lemon balm repel mosquitoes?

    Yes, lemon balm repels mosquitoes effectively. It contains high levels of citronellal, a compound also present in citronella. Citronella is a well-known mosquito repellent. The strong lemon scent of lemon balm deters mosquitoes.

    This makes it a natural and eco-friendly choice for pest control. You can crush lemon balm leaves to extract their essential oils. Then, rub the oils on your skin as a topical repellent.

    Can you eat lemon balm?

    Lemon balm is edible and often used in culinary applications for its mild lemon flavor. It commonly enhances salads, soups, teas, and desserts with a refreshing citrus note. Lemon balm is not only tasty but also offers health benefits, including aiding digestion and relieving stress.

    Is lemon balm safe for dogs?

    Lemon balm is generally safe for dogs in moderation. It offers calming effects similar to those it provides humans. This can help reduce anxiety and promote relaxation in dogs. Introduce lemon balm to your dog's diet gradually and in small amounts.

    This approach allows you to monitor for any adverse reactions. Always consult with a veterinarian before adding lemon balm or any new supplement to your dog's regimen. This ensures it is suitable for your pet's health condition.


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    Sources:

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    6. Cho IJ, Kim SE, Choi BR, Park HR, Park JE, Hong SH, Kwon YS, Oh WS, Ku SK. Lemon Balm and Corn Silk Extracts Mitigate High-Fat Diet-Induced Obesity in Mice. Antioxidants (Basel). 2021 Dec 19;10(12):2015. doi: 10.3390/antiox10122015. PMID: 34943118; PMCID: PMC8698494.
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