Lemon balm (Mellissa officinalis) is one of my favorite herbs to grow in the garden. It hails from the mint family and seems to be able to grow in most environments with relative ease. I personally love all of the health benefits of lemon balm, but I also love it for its ability to attract bees and other beneficial pollinators to the garden. An added bonus is that its strong, citrusy scent deters several unwelcome pests, including gnats and mosquitoes.
So even though I focus my gardening efforts on native medicinal plants, I believe the benefits of lemon balm to be too significant to dismiss. It is definitely a useful addition to both pollinator gardens and medicinal herb gardens.
What is lemon balm?
Lemon balm is a fragrant herb that’s native to Europe, North Africa, and West Asia, but it can be found naturalized in many other places around the world. People have been using it as medicine for thousands of years. Modern research suggests that lemon balm may improve your mood, immune system, and digestive health, among many other benefits.
Lemon Balm Lore & Legend
In classical times, lemon balm was used by both the Greeks and Romans to relieve anxiety and treat snake bites. The Arabs also used it to strengthen the heart. Shakespeare knew that lemon balm had healing properties. In The Merry Wives of Windsor, he referred to it as a strewing herb, something you’d throw on the floor before a party so that the aroma would make guests merrier.
The Doctrine of Signatures, a medieval way of treating illness with herbs, holds that a plant’s appearance reveals its healing properties. Lemon balm, with its heart-shaped leaves, was believed to aid heart health. Amazingly enough, current research proves this to be true!
The Many Benefits of Lemon Balm
Lemon balm is one of the most versatile herbs out there. Not only can it help you chill out, but it provides a multitude of benefits that can improve your overall health. Continue reading to learn about all of the wonderful health benefits of lemon balm.
1. Calms and relaxes
One of the most talked-about benefits of lemon balm is its ability to calm and relax.
Lemon balm is a great way to calm down at the end of a stressful day, or if you need to relax before bed. I love using lemon balm as a sleep aid because it helps me to clear my mind and feel more relaxed when I go to sleep. A 2004 study found that taking lemon balm eased the negative mood effects of laboratory-induced psychological stress. Participants who took lemon balm self-reported an increased sense of calmness and reduced feelings of alertness
2. Improves sleep quality
One of the most significant benefits of lemon balm is in its ability to affect sleep. Lemon balm is believed to help you sleep by acting directly on GABA receptors in the brain, according to a study published in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice. The herb stimulates the production of serotonin while delivering a mild sedative effect.
3. For treating cold sores
Lemon balm has antiviral properties, so it’s a natural medicine for treating the herpes simplex virus. Lemon balm cream is used for cold sores and appears to be effective because of its antioxidant properties. There are no adverse effects from using the drug topically or orally.
4. Works as an antioxidant
Lemon balm has antioxidant properties. These antioxidant compounds include flavonoids, phenolic acids, terpenes, and rosmarinic acid. These compounds may help prevent cell damage by strengthening the cells’ natural defenses against free radicals.
5. Can reduce blood pressure
A double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 49 people with high blood pressure found that taking lemon balm three times daily over a four-week period produced a 10% decrease in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. A meta-analysis showed that lemon balm intake is associated with reduced blood pressure levels. Studies in animals show that taking lemon balm can help reduce blood pressure.
6. Help for PMS
Lemon balm can help reduce symptoms associated with PMS such as irritability, mood swings, and tender breasts by decreasing the amount of estrogen present in your body (estrogen is responsible for all those annoying symptoms).
7. Is good for skin
In addition to its ability to soothe chapped lips or dry skin patches, lemon balm can also be used as an antiseptic agent for cuts or scrapes on the skin surface by applying it directly onto these areas of tenderness such as cracked heels, nail beds or cuticles; this will help prevent infection from occurring within these areas of tenderness due to its antibacterial and antifungal properties.
8. Can aid digestion
One study found that lemon balm can help relieve symptoms of indigestion, such as heartburn, nausea, belching, flatulence, and abdominal pain. The researchers concluded that one of the benefits of lemon balm is that it may be useful in treating indigestion due to its ability to relax smooth muscles in the gastrointestinal tract and reduce inflammation in the stomach lining.
9. May reduce menopausal symptoms
Menopause can cause sleep disruption, due to hot flushes and sweating. Lemon balm can help reduce insomnia and other symptoms of menopause.
10. Soothes psoriasis or eczema flare-ups.
Lemon balm also contains a compound called rosmarinic acid, which helps fight free radicals that cause premature aging of skin cells. It also contains tannins that have anti-inflammatory properties that help soothe irritation from psoriasis or eczema flare-ups. If you suffer from either of these conditions, lemon balm is an excellent choice for treating rashes or other skin irritations caused by them.
11. Repels mosquitoes
If you’re looking to repel mosquitoes, lemon balm is a great option. The essential oil in lemon balm contains compounds that act as insect repellents. A study published in the journal Planta Medica found that lemon balm oil works better than DEET, the most common chemical used in commercial insect repellents. In fact, this study found that lemon balm oil is more effective than citronella at keeping mosquitoes away!
So if you want to enjoy your time outdoors without worrying about being bitten by those pesky bugs, try rubbing some lemon balm oil on your skin before heading to the park or beach (or anywhere else where there are lots of mosquitos).
12. May help with Alzheimer’s Disease
Another of the benefits of lemon balm is its potential as an Alzheimer’s treatment. Recent human studies have shown that taking 600–1600 milligrams of dried lemon balm leaf capsules increases cognitive function and mood. These findings suggest that lemon balm might be useful in treating Alzheimer’s disease and other conditions associated with stress and anxiety.
How to Grow Lemon Balm
Lemon balm can be a delightful addition to your garden. It’s easy to grow and prefers rich soil, but it will grow in almost any soil. Lemon balm can tolerate part shade to full sun, but it grows best in full sun. It doesn’t require fertilization, as this will make the plant lose its scent. You can propagate lemon balm from seeds, cuttings, or divisions of mature plants.
Harvesting & Drying Lemon Balm
Lemon balm is pretty easy to harvest. It can be harvested anytime during the growing season and sometimes I can get a couple rounds in one year. The best time is right before it flowers because this is when the plant has the highest oil content. The oil is what gives it that delicious lemon scent and flavor. At the first signs of flowering, I grab the scissors. A good pair of strong kitchen scissors or some pruning shears work well.
Lemon balm lends itself well to the air drying method. I simply hang bunches upside down in a dry, dark place for about a week and thats it. There are quicker ways using an oven or dehydrator, but this way works well for me.
The herb is considered safe for most people, but those with hypothyroidism should take care when using it. Also, pregnant and nursing mothers should use lemon balm with caution.
To sum things up, lemon balm is a useful plant that can be used in a variety of ways. With the sheer number of benefits it provides, it’s a good idea to have some around if you can grow it. If you can’t find lemon balm locally, you can purchase it from Mountain Rose Herbs. My favorite place to buy high-quality, organic dried herbs and herbal products.
The information provided throughout this site is for educational purposes only and is not to be regarded as substitute for professional medical advice and should not be relied on as health or personal advice. The information provided is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Always seek the guidance of your qualified health professional with any questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition.