Lemon Balm
What is it? Overview Usage Side Effects and Warnings
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Lemon Balm Overview

Written by FoundHealth.

Commonly called by its Latin first name, Melissa, lemon balm is a native of southern Europe, often planted in gardens to attract bees. Its leaves give off a delicate lemon odor when bruised.

Medical authorities of ancient Greece and Rome mentioned topical lemon balm as a treatment for wounds. The herb was later used orally as a treatment for influenza, insomnia, anxiety, depression, and nervous stomach.

What Is the Scientific Evidence for Lemon Balm?

Herpes Infection

Numerous test tube studies have found that extracts of lemon balm possess antiviral properties. 1 2 We don't really know how it works, but the predominant theory is that the herb blocks viruses from attaching to cells. 3 One double-blind, placebo-controlled study followed 66 individuals who were just starting to develop a cold sore (oral herpes). 4 Treatment with melissa cream produced significant benefits on day 2, reducing intensity of discomfort, number of blisters, and the size of the lesion. (The researchers specifically looked at day 2 because, according to them, that is when symptoms are most pronounced.)

Another double-blind study followed 116 individuals with oral or genital herpes. 5 Participants used either melissa cream or placebo cream for up to 10 days. The results showed that use of the herb resulted in a significantly better rate of recovery than those given placebo.

Relatively informal observations suggest that regular use of lemon balm cream may help reduce the frequency of herpes flareups. 6

Sedative Effect

Lemon balm extracts have been found to produce a sedative effect in mice. 7 Based on this, human trials have been performed.

In a 4-month, double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 42 people with Alzheimer’s disease , use of an oral lemon balm extract significantly decreased their tendency to become agitated. 8 In another study, lemon balm essential oil applied to the skin in the form of a cream also reduced agitation in 71 people with Alzheimer's disease. 9 The researchers considered this a form of aromatherapy , a treatment in which the odor of a substance is said to produce the benefit. However, one of the first things to disappear in Alzheimer's disease is the sense of smell; it is more likely, therefore, that the lemon balm worked via absorption through the skin. 10 Lemon balm has also shown sedative and anti-anxiety effects in two small studies of healthy people. 11 In other studies, combination therapies containing lemon balm plus valerian have shown modest promise as sedatives for the treatment of insomnia . 12

Dosage

For treatment of an active flare-up of herpes, the proper dosage is 4 thick applications daily of a standardized lemon balm (70:1) cream. The dosage may be reduced to twice daily for preventive purposes.

The best lemon balm extracts are standardized by their capacity to inhibit the growth of herpes virus in a petri dish. 13 To make sure the extract has been properly prepared, manufacturers place cells in such a growing medium and then add herpes virus. Normally, the virus will gradually destroy all the cells. But when little disks containing lemon balm are added, cells in the immediate vicinity are protected. Although manufacturers use this method as a form of quality control, it also provides evidence that lemon balm really works.

When taken orally for its calming effect, the standard dosage of lemon balm is 1.5 to 4.5 g of dried herb daily; extracts and tinctures should be taken according to label instructions.

References

  1. Wolbling RH, Leonhardt K. Local therapy of herpes simplex with dried extract from Melissa officinalis. Phytomedicine. 1994;1:25-31.
  2. Dimitrova Z, Dimov B, Manolova N, et al. Antiherpes effect of Melissa officinalis L. extracts. Acta Microbiol Bulg. 1993;29:65-72.
  3. Wolbling RH, Leonhardt K. Local therapy of herpes simplex with dried extract from Melissa officinalis. Phytomedicine. 1994;1:25-31.
  4. Koytchev R, Alken RG, Dundarov S. Balm mint extract (Lo-701) for topical treatment of recurring herpes labialis. Phytomedicine. 6(4):225-30.
  5. Wolbling RH, Leonhardt K. Local therapy of herpes simplex with dried extract from Melissa officinalis. Phytomedicine. 1994;1:25-31.
  6. Wolbling RH, Leonhardt K. Local therapy of herpes simplex with dried extract from Melissa officinalis. Phytomedicine. 1994;1:25-31.
  7. Wolbling RH, Leonhardt K. Local therapy of herpes simplex with dried extract from Melissa officinalis. Phytomedicine. 1994;1:25-31.
  8. Akhondzadeh S, Noroozian M, Mohammadi M, et al. Melissa officinalis extract in the treatment of patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease: a double blind, randomised, placebo controlled trial. J Neurol NeurosurgPsychiatry. 2003;74:863-6.
  9. Ballard CG, O'Brien JT, Reichelt K, Perry EK. Aromatherapy as a safe and effective treatment for the management of agitation in severe dementia: the results of a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial with Melissa. J Clin Psychiatry. 63(7):553-8.
  10. Snow LA, Hovanec L, Brandt J. A Controlled trial of aromatherapy for agitation in nursing home patients with dementia. J Altern Complement Med. 2004;10:431-437.
  11. Kennedy DO, Scholey AB, Tildesley NT, et al. Modulation of mood and cognitive performance following acute administration of Melissa officinalis (lemon balm). Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2002;72:953-964.
  12. Cerny A, Schmid K. Tolerability and efficacy of valerian/lemon balm in healthy volunteers (a double-blind, placebo-controlled, multicentre study). Fitoterapia. 1999;70:221-228.
  13. Wolbling RH, Leonhardt K. Local therapy of herpes simplex with dried extract from Melissa officinalis. Phytomedicine. 1994;1:25-31.
 
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