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Lemon Balm

What You Need to Know About Lemon Balm

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Updated May 27, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Lemon balm plant, close-up
Vincenzo Lombardo/Photodisc/Getty Images

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is an herb often used to treat anxiety and stress. A member of the mint family, lemon balm contains terpenes (chemicals thought to produce a relaxing effect).

Uses for Lemon Balm

Common health claims for lemon balm include the treatment and/or prevention of these conditions:

Benefits of Lemon Balm

To date, few scientific studies have focused on the health effects of lemon balm. However, findings from available research suggest that the herb shows promise in treatment of the following:

1) Cold Sores

Shown to possess antiviral properties, lemon balm has been found to promote the healing of cold sores (small, painful blisters caused by the herpes simplex virus-1) in several studies. In treatment of cold sores, lemon balm is typically applied topically (in the form of a cream or ointment).

Preliminary research indicates that topical application of lemon balm may also be useful in treatment of genital herpes (a condition caused by the herpes simplex virus-2).

2) Alzheimer's Disease

Lemon balm may benefit people with Alzheimer's disease, according to a 2003 study. For four months, 42 older adults with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease took a daily dose of lemon balm or a placebo. At the end of the treatment period, those taking lemon balm showed a significantly better outcome on cognitive function. In addition, agitation (a problem prevalent among Alzheimer's patients) was found to be less common in the lemon balm group.

3) Anxiety

In a 2006 study of 24 healthy volunteers, scientists discovered that taking a combination of lemon balm and valerian helped reduce participants' anxiety levels during a stress-inducing lab experiment.

4) Insomnia

In a research review published in 2005, investigators found that lemon balm "may have some effect on sleep" but cautioned that "reports are too scanty to form any opinion about this."

Learn about other natural sleep aids.

How to Use Lemon Balm

Although lemon balm is generally considered safe, the herb may interact with sedatives and thyroid medications.

Given the lack of scientific support for lemon balm's health effects, it's important to consult your physician before using this herb in treatment of any health condition.

Lemon Balm Tea

Available in capsule and tincture form, lemon balm can also be consumed as a tea. When brewing lemon balm tea, make sure to keep the teapot or cup covered at all times in order to hold in the steam (thought to contain the herb's therapeutic aromatic oils).

Sources:

Akhondzadeh S, Noroozian M, Mohammadi M, Ohadinia S, Jamshidi AH, Khani M. "Melissa officinalis extract in the treatment of patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease: a double blind, randomised, placebo controlled trial." J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2003 74(7):863-6.

Gaby AR. "Natural remedies for Herpes simplex." Altern Med Rev. 2006 11(2):93-101.

Kennedy DO, Little W, Haskell CF, Scholey AB. "Anxiolytic effects of a combination of Melissa officinalis and Valeriana officinalis during laboratory induced stress." Phytother Res. 2006 20(2):96-102.

Mazzanti G, Battinelli L, Pompeo C, Serrilli AM, Rossi R, Sauzullo I, Mengoni F, Vullo V. "Inhibitory activity of Melissa officinalis L. extract on Herpes simplex virus type 2 replication." Nat Prod Res. 2008;22(16):1433-40.

Schnitzler P, Schuhmacher A, Astani A, Reichling J. "Melissa officinalis oil affects infectivity of enveloped herpesviruses." Phytomedicine. 2008 15(9):734-40.

Wheatley D. "Medicinal plants for insomnia: a review of their pharmacology, efficacy and tolerability." J Psychopharmacol. 2005 19(4):414-21.

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