Lemon balm, Melissa officinalis, balm, common balm, or balm mint, is a perennial herbaceous plant in the mint family Lamiaceae.
Native to south-central Europe, the Mediterranean Basin, Iran, and Central Asia, it has been cultivated since at least the 16th century as an ornamental plant, for its oil (used in perfumery), and its many virtues. It is now naturalized in the Americas and around the globe.
The leaves are used as an herb, in teas, and also as a flavouring agent.
Lemon Balm is also strategically grown to attract bees for honey production.
Aside from the myriad of benefits of Lemon Balm, there are a number of other reasons to admire it:
- As a garden perrenial, Lemon Balm benefits us with its beauty and aroma.
- The amazing yet delicate aroma is literally intoxicating.
- One of the emerging Lemon Balm benefits is its use in Phytoremediation, the use of plants to reduce pollution in the air, soil or water.
- Lemon Balm is used in food, drinks, and cosmetics.
- It is an effective insect repellent, including against mosquitoes.
- It improves Skin Appearance – The first cosmetic use of lemon balm goes back to the 14th century when the Queen of Hungary reportedly used it to erase years from her face by softening wrinkles. Today, it’s still recommended for boosting the appearance of skin and reducing the appearance of fine lines.
- Lemon Balm is effective at protecting the liver from some of the negative effects of an unhealthy diet.
- In a cell-based study, Lemon balm reduced thyroid function by preventing thyroid-stimulating hormone from binding to its receptor.
- In cell-based studies rosmarinic acid and salvianolic acid in lemon balm protected skin cells against damage caused by UV radiation.
- In a study in 200 with colicky infants, Lemon balm significantly decreased average daily crying time after 28 days and reduced colic episodes through its calming effects and by relaxing the gut.
- Studies show that extracts of Lemon Balm stops the components that over-activate the thyroid from binding with the thyroid receptor, specifically in patients with Grave’s disease.
- Lemon Balm can help soothe digestive issues by preventing gastric ulcers.
- Lemon Balm taken in capsule form in a 2015 study effectively reduced PMS symptoms in high school-aged women.
- Lemon Balm treats melancholy, finding yourself in life situations you are not ready to accept.
Lemon Balm Benefits – Mental Health Benefits
Lemon Balm protects brain cells and supports brain health and function.
Antioxidants such as eugenol in Lemon Balm detain free radicals before they can attack brain cells. Rosmarinic acid, which is a key compound in lemon balm, is also beneficial in this regard.
Members of the mint family such as peppermint, rosemary and Lemon Balm generally act as cerebral vasodilators, which means they open the blood flow to the brain, providing more oxygen and glucose to brain cells.
If the brain doesn’t get enough blood, it can quickly affect brain function. Animal studies show that, when provided shortly after such an episode, lemon balm appears to be protective of the brain.
Lemon Balm also improves memory and brain function by binding to nicotinic and muscarinic receptors in the brain. Both of these types of receptors are activated by acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that plays roles in enhancing memory and alertness.
Lemon Balm increases GABA by inhibiting GABA transaminase, an enzyme that breaks it down.
Also known as gamma-aminobutyric acid, GABA is a neurotransmitter that helps send messages between the brain and the nervous system.
- Rat studies show GABA producing a calming effect, improving mood, and reducing stress levels.
- In a pilot trial Lemon Balm completely eliminated anxiety in 14 people with stress.
- Also, a combination of Lemon Balm and valerian root significantly reduced anxiety in 24 healthy volunteers.
Lemon Balm may help treat diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia, which are characterized by memory loss and learning disability.
- In one study Lemon Balm improved performance and memory in healthy participants.
- In another study Lemon Balm improved cognitive performance and mood in 20 healthy participants.
- Lemon Balm also increased accuracy and attention in cognitive performance tasks in 20 college students.
Lemon Balm Benefits – Relaxation and Sleep
If you have difficulty falling asleep, you will find an ally in Lemon Balm. Studies show the it encourages restful sleep:
- Evidence shows children sleep more peacefully throughout the night with Lemon Balm.
- In a study from 2011, Lemon Balm was shown to help with mild-to moderate anxiety disorders and sleep disturbances.
- Another study found that menopausal women suffering from interrupted sleep reported much better rest after taking an extract of Lemon Balm and valerian.
Lemon Balm Benefits – Antioxidant Properties
Lemon Balm helps to fight free radical damage in ways that are proving to be invaluable in natural healing:
- The extract has significant antioxidant activity. For those of us with cold sores, Lemon Balm in the form of a lip balm may prevent the spread of the infection, shorten the healing time, and reduce symptoms associated wutg cold sores.
- Studies suggest its antioxidant properties could be relevant for the management of oxidative stress, of particular importance for neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and Huntington’s. Such diseases are incurable, resulting in progressive degeneration and/or death of neuron cells.
- When combined with acupuncture, eugenol, one of the powerful antioxidants in Lemon Balm, helped test subjects recover memory-related functions.
Lemon Balm Benefits – Blood Sugar Regulation
Many herbs that provide antioxidants also help promote balanced blood sugar levels. Some research suggests that Lemon Balm may encourage normal blood sugar levels and reduce oxidative stress related to diabetes:
- In one study, the antioxidant activity of Lemon Balm essential oil on free radicals and its hypoglycaemic effect in mice were investigated. After 6 weeks they showed significantly reduced blood glucose levels.
- Researchers at the Free University of Berlin impressed by the convincing data from their studies stated, “ethanolic Lemon Balm extract can potentially be used to prevent or concomitantly treat type 2 diabetes.”
Taking Lemon Balm along with diabetes medications might cause your blood sugar to go too low. Monitor your blood sugar closely. The dose of your diabetes medication might need to be changed.
Lemon Balm Benefits – Antimicrobial Effects
Lemon Balm hosts a plethora of disinfecting aromatics that exhibit antimicrobial activity against many pathogens including bacteria and viruses:
- The viruses that cause herpes type I and type II (mouth and genital herpes) are destroyed by a complex of substances it secretes.
- Lemon Balm oil specifically shows a high level of antibacterial activity against candida, a common yeast infection that can trigger a number of symptoms such as digestive problems, exhaustion, brain fog, and a weakened immune system.
- Lemon Balm has also been shown to be effective against flu, warts and mumps.
Lemon Balm Benefits – Inflammation and Pain
An alcohol extract of Lemon Balm has been found to reduce pain by blocking the arginine-nitric oxide pathway and by increasing acetylcholine levels in mice.
Additionally, studies show that Lemon Balm reduces inflammation in mice caused by injury by reducing inflammatory proteins TNF-alpha, IL-1, and IL and by lowering oxidative stress.
Lemon Balm Benefits – Natural Treatment of Cancer
Lemon Balm can prompt cancer cells to commit suicide, a process known as apoptosis.
Citral in Lemon Balm (and about 6 times more in lemon grass) activates the proteins caspases-3 and-7, causing cancer cells to self-destruct while increasing the cancer’s sensitivity to chemotherapy by inhibiting the drug-resistant gene MRP1.
Other studies have shown that Lemon Balm:
- Induced the self-destruction of breast cancer cells and reduced the size of breast tumors in rats by decreasing antigen KI-67 (a protein that is associated with cell growth and reproduction).
- Stopped the expansion of leukemia cancer cells and activated cellular self-destruction (Fas, Bax, and Bcl-2).
- Extract prevents the growth of colon cancer cells by stopping the cell cycle in cell model studies and also induced cellular self-destruction.
- Prevents the growth of prostate cancers in cell models by inhibiting the growth of blood vessels that feed the tumors (VEGF-A).
- Decreases the activity of the enzyme human telomerase reverse transcriptase (hTERT). Telomeres are added on to ends of chromosomes by telomerases, but as aging occurs, telomerase activity decreases. hTERT is overactive in cancer cells and necessary for tumor growth.
Lemon Balm Benefits – Active Principles
Although the actions of Lemon Balm are facilitated by dozens of compounds in the leaves acting in concert, and in interactions we have yet to fully understand, the main active principles are:
- Volatile compounds – geranial, neral, citral, citronellal, and geraniol
- Triterpenes – ursolic acid and oleanolic acid
- Phenolics – rosmarinic acid, caffeic acid, luteolin, naringin, and hesperidin