Lemon balm is commonly used for its calming properties, antibacterial, and thyroid-related effects, ability to enhance memory, lower blood pressure, regulate menstruation, and prevent muscle spasms, as well as gas.
Lemon Balm is a lemon scented herb native to Southern Europe. It is a member of the Lamiaceae family that includes other common herbs such as mint, which means that it is very easy to grow; in fact it should be grown in a container or pot unless you want your entire garden to be taken over by this happy-to-spread-its-love plant.
Originating in the Middle East and North Africa, lemon balm moved very early northwest to Southern Europe (it was naturalized in Europe in the 1500’s) and then to America by 1700.
This herb’s genus gets its name from the Greek word for “honey bee;” as lemon balm attracts bees. The word “balm” is derived from the Greek word “balsamon” which means “balsam,” an oily, sweet smelling resin. Lemon balm is also known as Apiatrum, Balm, Bee Balm, Bee’s Leaf, Honey Plant, Labiates, Lemon Fragrance, Melissa and Sweet Balm.
Lemon Balm holds a significant place in Greek culture. The ancient Greeks believed that lemon balm and bees have a strong relationship; for example, they believed that bees would never abandon a hive if the herb grew nearby. Similarly, bees use the herbs as a marker to find their way back to their hive after traveling beyond the hive. Because of these views, Greeks would even rub hives with lemon balm to make bees feel welcome. The Greeks also believed very strongly in melissa as a promoter of long life. The last prince of Wales, Prince Llewellyn, who lived in the 13th and 14th centuries, was said to have drunk melissa tea every day of his 108 year life.
Various cultures held the belief that Lemon Balm retained mystical soothing powers. The Ancient Arab physician from the 11th Century named Avicenna also agreed that melissa “causeth the mind and heart to become merry.” His influence most likely introduced this herb to medicine as a cure for depression and anxiety. Similarly in 1530, the German Brunschwig stated in the Book of Distillation that sweet balm contributed to a “sharp wytte” and “good memory” and restores those who were angry to be “mery and refressht again.”
The medicinal use of lemon balm dates back into ancient times. Dioscorides used balm for dog and scorpion bites and also in wine to soothe patients. The ancient Arabs used the herb to treat heart disorders. In the middle ages, a sprig of lemon balm was said to staunch the blood of a sword wound and to help relieve an ear ache, toothache, pregnancy sickness, fix crooked necks, and prevent baldness. There were also the beliefs that carmelite water (lemon balm, lemon peel, nutmeg and Angelia root) was useful against nervous headaches and neurologic affections and that lemon balm would cure bites and scorpion stings.
In more recent history, lemon balm was used against catarrh, fevers and flatulence problems. People realized that the oil makes for great surgical dressing because it kills off germs and while the oil dries, it seals up wounds. 19th century physicians used the herb to entice sweat for fevers and regulating menstrual cycles; though, lemon balm was not as preferred as other mints because it contains less volatile oil.
Today, lemon balm is still widely used in medicine. The herb works as a useful astringent to cleanse pores for people with acne. Furthermore, a recent study shows the herb has a sedative effect on the central nervous system of mice which explains its use as a type of valium by several cultures. Lemon balm oil has also been found to reduce bacteria and viruses. When the herb is combined with St. John’s Wort or Echinacea, a topical application of the mixture is effective in treating cold sores of the Herpes Simplex Virus. The herb also inhibits thyroid functioning so it works to combat hyperthyroidism and as a mood enhancer for depressed patients. While studies are still inconclusive, there is very strong evidence to suggest that lemon balm is also effective in decreasing symptoms of Alzheimer’s and dementia such as memory loss. There are no known side effects or symptoms of toxicity from taking Lemon balm.
Because it is so mild, lemon balm is perfect for children with colds and flus as well, helping to break a fever if needed, calm their systems so they may sleep better, as well as boost them up so they get better faster. Lemon balm is also being studied for its ability to treat anxiety and stomach problems such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
So whether you are looking to boost your immune ysstem or your mood, give lemon balm a try, becasue this happy little plant won’t let you down.
MATERIA MEDICA: LEMON BALM
Latin Name: Melissa officinalis
Family: Lamiaceae (Mint Family)
Parts Used: Aerial parts before flowering
Energetics: cooling, drying
Actions: antibacterial, antidepressant, antihistamine, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antispasmodic, antiviral, aromatic, carminative, cephalic, cholagogue, diaphoretic, digestive, emmenagogue, febrifuge, hypotensive (mild), nervine, parturient, rejuvenative, sedative, stomachic, tonic, vasodilator
Uses: Memory enhancer, mild sedative, antibacterial, antiviral, thyroid support.
Preparation & Dosage:
• Tea: 1-2 teaspoons in 10oz hot water, steep for 15-25 minutes. Drink hot to help with colds, flus, and fevers. Can be drunk throughout the day as desired
• Tincture: 60-90 drops 3-4 times per day for immune boosting and mood enhancing qualities
• Essential Oil: add 5-6 drops to 1 ounce of carrier oil, apply topically to cold sores or other vial outbreaks to help speed healing. Oil can also be added to bath water.
• Generally considered very safe, even for children.
• Those with hypothyroid conditions should avoid lemon balm as it can lower thyroid function.