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Lemon balm is a perennial herb that people can grow in their garden to help attract bees. Beyond the garden, people use lemon balm for a variety of purposes, including for stress relief and to increase mental alertness.
Some people also believe lemon balm can improve digestive health and have antispasmodic and analgesic (pain-relieving) effects.
Unfortunately, limited research exists that proves the effectiveness of lemon balm across larger populations.
In this article, learn more about lemon balm and its possible uses.
Lemon balm, or Melissa officinalis L., grows natively in West Asia, North Africa, and parts of Europe.
As the name suggests, lemon balm has a lemony scent and flavor.
People use lemon balm in traditional medicine for a variety of purposes that range from digestive health and healing wounds to reducing heart rate.
The following are some of the possible effects of lemon balm and the studies that investigate those claims.
Lemon balm may relieve a variety of the less serious conditions that affect the gastrointestinal tract. According to one review of studies, some ailments people use it to treat include:
Researchers gave participants a dessert similar to a sorbet with or without lemon balm that they had also combined with another herb (artichoke, or Cynara scolymus).
Participants who ate the dessert with the herbs experienced less stomach upset than those who did not.
Lemon balm may help reduce stress. One very small study looked at the effects that foods containing lemon balm had on mood and stress levels.
During the study, participants ingested lemon balm in drinks and yogurts. They then had to complete a stress test that involved multitasking and simulated public speaking.
Researchers concluded that certain doses and delivery of lemon balm could reduce stress and negative moods or anxiety.
It is important to note that the study had funding from companies that make products containing lemon balm, so it may have a bias. More research is necessary on these effects before researchers can draw conclusions.
According to a review of studies, lemon balm acts as an antioxidant and is effective in combating oxidative stress.
The researchers indicated that lemon balm might help with conditions related to oxidative stress, such as:
- chronic neurodegenerative disorders (Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease)
- cardiovascular diseases
However, the review indicates that factors, including how people manufacture it and dosage, directly impact lemon balm’s effectiveness.
The study included over 900 children and found that more than 80% saw improvements in their problems sleeping when taking the supplements.
In addition, 70% of the children saw improvements in restlessness. Finally, none of the children experienced adverse effects from the medication.
People should always speak to a doctor before giving a child any type of supplement, however.
There is some evidence that lemon balm may help fight inflammation. The authors of a 2013 study partially support the usage of lemon balm in treating pain and inflammation after an injury.
While it did combat swelling and pain, the authors could not make conclusions about the plant’s exact anti-inflammatory mechanism.
These results come from an animal study, however, so more research in humans is necessary.
The researchers divided the study participants into two groups. They gave one group 1,200 milligrams of lemon balm essence in a pill every day during their period, while the other group had a placebo.
While both groups experienced a reduction in symptoms, the group that received lemon balm had significantly greater relief.
Some evidence suggests lemon balm has antiviral properties. According to one review, researchers have looked at the antimicrobial properties as they relate to conditions such as herpes simplex virus type 1 and type 2.
The researchers indicated that certain concentrations and mixtures containing lemon balm could be effective in treating early stages of herpes infections.
Herpes is a very common virus that causes cold sores, among other illnesses.
The review also found lemon balm was effective against certain bacterial and fungal infections in humans.
Another review of studies also discussed lemon balm’s antiviral activity. The researchers found that lemon balm inhibited the in vitro growth of the viruses that cause herpes simplex, influenza, and myxoviruses.
Some studies indicate that lemon balm is effective in helping relax smooth muscles due to its antispasmodic effects.
In a review of studies, researchers found that lemon balm, in sufficient concentrations, helped to relax smooth muscle tissue in an animal model.
However, they found that a concentration of 30% was not enough to exhibit smooth muscle relaxation.
For most otherwise healthy people, lemon balm is safe to use. Few studies exist on the risks, but anecdotal side effects include:
- skin rashes
- heart palpitations
One review study found no side effects when people used lemon balm for 30 days or less at the correct dose. However, the study did point out that there may be a potential risk for:
- women who are pregnant or breastfeeding
- young children
- people with thyroid disorders
- people taking sedatives
A case study involving one person with specific symptoms indicated that lemon balm has the potential to cause withdrawal-like symptoms.
The authors indicated that the person showed clear withdrawal symptoms coinciding with no longer using lemon balm. They warn that more studies are necessary to further explore possible dependency issues with using lemon balm.
People with a garden may wish to try planting and growing lemon balm themselves.
Lemon balm is also available for purchase online in a variety of forms, including:
Lemon balm may have some potential health benefits and uses. These properties can include reducing gastrointestinal discomfort, relieving stress, reducing PMS symptoms, and fighting some infections.
People should exercise caution, particularly if they are pregnant or have an underlying condition and speak to a doctor before trying new herbal remedies.