Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is commonly used to treat anxiety and insomnia, as well as herpes simplex infections. Learn more about the benefits of lemon balm and the scientific studies that corroborate its effectiveness.
Main Benefits of Lemon Balm
The following benefits of lemon balm have been established by traditional uses and validated by numerous scientific studies, including human clinical trials.
The benefits of lemon balm include its use in the treatment of anxiety for over 2,000 years, and modern science has validated its relaxing effects through numerous clinical studies.
A 2013 review from the University of Melbourne of plant-based medicines that included 53 species supports the efficacy of the chronic use (i.e., greater than one day) of lemon balm in the treatment of anxiety disorders. It concluded that current evidence supports acute anxiolytic activity in lemon balm.
Since ancient Rome, herbalists and writers have praised the benefits of lemon balm, alone and in combination with other herbs, in the treatment of sleep disorders. Nowadays, a large number of clinical studies suggests that lemon balm may be the only known plant with a sedative action with virtually no toxicity.
A 1999 clinical study from Inselspital in Bern, Switzerland, supports the idea that lemon balm's sedative action is potentiated in combination with other herbs with similar properties. However, to properly assess the benefits of lemon balm for sleep, it is also necessary to consider its traditional use in sleep disorders and its well-documented relaxing properties, which under appropriate conditions can lead to sleepiness.
Treating herpes simplex infections
The Roman poet Virgil referred to the benefits of lemon balm in his Georgics, written around 30 BCE, highlighting its effectiveness when used to heal wounds, sores, as well as bee and wasp stings. Nowadays, its antiviral properties are used to relieve cold sores caused by herpes simplex infections. Over the past 50 years, many studies have corroborated that lemon balm can destroy the virus and inhibit its replication.
In 1999, a clinical trial from the Cooperative Clinical Drug Research and Development GmbH, Germany, was carried out to evaluate the efficacy of applying lemon balm cream to herpes simplex cold sores. Lemon balm's benefits as a topical treatment were validated in just two days. It showed a reduction in the healing period, preventing the spread of the infection and alleviating typical symptoms of herpes, such as itching, tingling, burning, swelling, tightness, and redness.
Secondary Benefits of Lemon Balm
The secondary benefits of lemon balm include those not so frequently used nor widely studied, but whose effectiveness has been suggested by some scientific evidence in human subjects, although further research is needed.
Reducing cholesterol and oxidation levels
A small clinical trial realized in the University of Medical Science, Tehran, Iran, published in the International Journal of Pharmacology in 2012, evaluated the antioxidant effects of an infusion of Melissa officinalis in workers occupationally exposed to aluminum. The benefits of lemon balm tea, after a month of drinking it twice per day, were confirmed. The participants showed significant increase in antioxidant capacity and a significant decrease in triglycerides, cholesterol, and aspartate transaminase.
Unconfirmed Benefits of Lemon Balm
The unconfirmed benefits of lemon balm are those not so frequently used nor widely studied, but suggested by some preclinical trials, although research on humans is yet to be conducted.
- Improving liver function. Lemon balm extract has shown protective effects on the liver, reducing oxidative degradation in the liver tissue and increasing glutathione, an important antioxidant.
- Protecting neurological function. Lemon balm seems to have the capacity to increase the flow of oxygen to the body's tissues, exhibiting restorative and protective effects in various neurological diseases, such as stroke, cardiorespiratory arrest, and traumatic brain damage.
- Reducing blood sugar. Results of a preclinical trial in type 2 diabetes showed a significant reduction in blood glucose, as well as an improved glucose tolerance and significantly higher serum insulin levels.
In spite of the extensive scientific research, there's much about lemon balm health benefits that remains unknown. However, the extended popularity of this herb through history is a reliable testimony of its anxiolytic, sedative, and antiviral benefits. Recent findings suggest that this herb has an amazing, untapped potential, and more benefits of lemon balm are yet to be corroborated by further research.
- Acta Microbiologica Bulgarica, Antiherpes effect of Melissa officinalis L. extracts, 1993
- CNS Drugs, Plant-Based Medicines for Anxiety Disorders, Part 2: A Review of Clinical Studies with Supporting Preclinical Evidence, 2013
- Daru Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Neuroprotective properties of Melissa officinalis after hypoxic-ischemic injury both in vitro and in vivo, 2012
- EXCLI Journal, Chemical Composition and Antimicrobial Activity of the Essential Oil from Leaves of Algerian Melissa Officinalis L., 2014
- Fitoterapia, Tolerability and efficacy of valerian and lemon balm in healthy volunteers (a double- blind, placebo-controlled, multicentre study), 1999
- Indian Journal of Pharmacology, Anxiolytic and antidepressant-like effects of Melissa officinalis (lemon balm) extract in rats: Influence of administration and gender, 2012
- International Journal of Pharmacology, Effects of Melissa officinalis L. on Oxidative Status and Biochemical Parameters in Occupationally Exposed Workers to Aluminum: A Before after Clinical Trial, 2012
- Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology, Medicinal plants for insomnia: a review of their pharmacology, efficacy and tolerability, 2005
- The British Journal of Nutrition, Anti-diabetic effects of lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) essential oil on glucose- and lipid-regulating enzymes in type 2 diabetic mice, 2010
- Journal of Ethnopharmacology, Protective role of Melissa officinalis L. extract on liver of hyperlipidemic rats: A morphological and biochemical study, 2005
- Phytomedicine, Balm mint extract (Lo-701) for topical treatment of recurring herpes labialis, 1999