||Lemon Balm (English)|
Lamiaceae (Plant Family)
Lemon balm—mildly sedating, antiviral, and
carminative—is used commonly as tea, tincture, and
ointment throughout western Europe, where it was named Europe's plant of the
year in 1988. In the United States, herbalists recommend lemon balm for a broad
range of indications, including insomnia, dyspepsia, infant colic, anxiety,
depression, and chronic fatigue syndrome.
Lemon balm is also used to reduce the pain and swelling of arthritis; to
alleviate headaches; to desensitize individuals prone to allergy, eczema, and
asthma; to relax uterine smooth muscle tissue during premenstrual syndrome; and
to regulate hot flashes during menopause. While many of these uses have not been
corroborated with controlled trials, studies with laboratory animals and tissue
cultures have supported the empirical results of traditional uses of lemon balm.
In the 1970s, lemon balm volatile oil was demonstrated to exact nonspecific
sedative actions. Its effects on the gastrointestinal tract are apparently due
to smooth muscle relaxation. Studies also demonstrate modulation of thyroid
stimulating in relation to lemon balm administration. And current research
supports its use for cold sores or lesions due to herpesvirus types 1 and 2.
Lemon balm has been used for thousands of years. The Greek physician
Dioscorides used it for dog and scorpion bites. In the Middle Ages, Eau de
Melissa was commonly used as a sedative. The 17th century English herbalist,
Nicholas Culpepper, claimed that lemon balm could lift spirits, prevent
fainting, stimulate clear thinking, and precipitate menstruation. American
eclectic physicians used lemon balm during the 19th century as a mild stimulant.
European colonists used it to sweat out fevers. Lemon balm's scientific name,
Melissa, is derived from the Greek word for bee: bees are attracted to its odor.
It is added to cosmetics, furniture polish, insect repellant, and
Erect perennial, growing up to two feet in height, with branching, hairy,
square stems. Oval/heart shaped leaves, wrinkled, opposite, broad, toothed, grow
one to three inches long, and smell like lemon. White-yellow flower clusters
bloom at leaf axils July through September and sometimes become light blue.
Native to Southern Europe and North Africa. Cultivated around the world.
Leaves contain a minimum of 0.05% volatile oil, with citronellal, citral a
and b, geraniol, neral, caryophyllene, linalool, and limonene primary terpenoid
constituents; also, phenol carboxylic acids and estimated 4% rosmarinic acid;
and bitter principles, flavonoids, and tannins.
Dried leaf, tea, capsules, extracts, creams, and oil, and combined with other
sedative or carminative botanical preparations.
Traditional: carminative, diaphoretic, febrifuge; essential oil is sedative,
spasmolytic, antibacterial; poultices used for sores, tumors, headaches, stomach
and menstrual complaints, insect bites
Conditions: catarrh, influenza, painful or delayed menstruation, nervous
unrest or insomnia, gastrointestinal discomfort (internal administration);
wounds or lesions (topical application)
Clinical applications: Lemon balm leaf preparations are approved in Germany
as treatment for nervous sleep disorders, appetite loss, and for symptoms of
functional gastrointestinal disorders (flatulence, abdominal bloating). There is
promise of potential usefulness in treatment of cold sore/herpes simplex
Components in lemon balm essential oil cause mild, nonspecific sedation when
given at dosage ranges of 3 to 100 mg/kg (laboratory animals). Citronellal, a
terpene in the volatile oil, may be the primary sedating constituent. In a study
to determine the effects of 178 herbal extracts on herpes, influenza, and polio
viruses, lemon balm's phenol constituents showed significant antiviral effects.
The oil also has antibacterial activity, and tannins are currently considered
the antiviral agents that speed healing from cold sores and herpes.
A multicenter, double-blind study showed that a concentrated ointment (700 mg
crude drug per gram of ointment), applied bid to qid for 5 to 10 days, began to
relieve symptoms by the second day of treatment. By the fifth day, 50% more
participants applying lemon balm versus placebo noted full symptom relief, and
recovery involved less scabbing than with placebo. Both patients and their
doctors preferred the lemon balm treatment. Lemon balm ointment at this level of
concentration is not currently available in the United States. Tea can be used
when cooled and applied topically.
Freeze-dried liquid extracts are both antithyrotropic and antigonadotropic in
laboratory tests. Lemon balm extract interferes with thyroid stimulating hormone
binding with Graves' immunoglobulin (Graves'-specific IgG), and consequent
thyroid activation, a finding that supports lemon balm's use in the treatment of
Eugenol, geraniol, and nerol, constituents in many plant volatile oils in
addition to lemon balm's, have been evaluated individually. Eugenol, which is
used in dentistry as an antiseptic and anesthetic, has convulsant, antioxidant,
hypothermic, spasmolytic, central nervous system depressant, and platelet
aggregation suppressant actions. Spasmolytic actions pertained to general smooth
muscle activity in both human and animal experimental models; platelet
aggregation provoked by arachidonate, adrenaline, and collagen was blocked in
vitro. Geraniol's antiseptic actions are seven times more potent than phenol.
Antibacterial actions of both geraniol and nerol are under investigation.
|Dosage Ranges and Duration of
- For difficulty in sleeping, or to reduce symptoms of gastrointestinal
distress: 1.5 to 4.5 g dried herb as tea several times daily or as directed by
physician, or tincture, 2 to 5 ml tid, or equivalent in fluid extract or
- For cold/herpes sores: Steep 2 to 4 tsp. dried leaf in 1 cup boiling
water for 10 to 15 minutes, cool, apply topically throughout the day.
The American Herbal Products Association safety rating for lemon balm is
class 1, safe with appropriate use. The German Commission E cites no associated
toxicity or side effects.
Emmenagogue; do not use during pregnancy.
No specific interactions between lemon balm and conventional medications are
known to have been reported in the literature to date, including the German
Commission E monograph (Blumenthal 1998). However, because of the ability of
lemon balm to inhibit binding of bovine thyrotropin to human thyroid plasma
membranes in a potent, dose-related fashion in vitro, systemic use of lemon balm
with other thyroid medications may influence their action, although this has not
been tested (Auf'mkolk et al. 1984).
|Regulatory and Compendial
Dietary supplement in U.S.; leaf preparations are approved for use as tea in
the treatment of functional digestive distress and insomnia by the German
Auf'mkolk M, Ingbar JC, Kubota K, et al. Extracts and auto-oxidized
constituents of certain plants inhibit the receptor-binding and the biological
activity of Graves' immunoglobulins. Endocrinology.
Auf'mkolk M, Hesch RD, Ingbar SH, et al. Inhibition by certain plant extracts
of the binding and adenylate cyclase stimulatory effect of bovine thyrotropin in
human thyroid membranes. Endocrinology. 1984;115:527-534.
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Duke JA. The Green Pharmacy. Emmaus, Pa: Rodale Press; 1997.
Foster S. Herbal Renaissance: Growing, Using and Understanding Herbs in
the Modern World. Salt Lake City, Utah: Gibbs-Smith; 1993.
Kowalchik C, Hylton W, eds. Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of
Herbs. Emmaus, Pa: Rodale Press; 1998.
Leung A, Foster S. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in
Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Wiley & Sons;
May G, Willuhn G. Antiviral effect of aqueous plant extracts in tissue
culture [In German]. Arzneimittelforschung. 1978;28:1-7.
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McGuffin M, Hobbs C, Upton R, Goldberg A, eds. American Herbal Products
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Soulimani R, et al. Neurotropic action of the hydroalcoholic extract of
Melissa officinalis in the mouse. Planta Med. 1991;57:105-109.
Tagashira M, Ohtake Y. New antioxidative 1,3-benzodioxole from Melissa
officinalis. Planta Med. 1988;64:555-558.
Taylor L. Herbal Secrets of the Rainforest. Rocklin, Calif: Prima
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medicine in the United States. Presented at: Human Medicinal Agents from Plants,
The American Chemical Society. HerbalGram. 1992:30, 67.
Vogt HJ, Tausch I, Wöbling RH, Kaiser PM. Melissenextrakt bei Herpes
simplex. Der Allgemeinarzt. 1991;13:832-841.
Wöbling RH, Leonhardt K. Local therapy of herpes simplex with dried extract
from Melissa officinalis. Phytomedicine.
Copyright © 2000 Integrative Medicine
CommunicationsThis publication contains
information relating to general principles
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