Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is a lemon-scented herb in the mint family. It is native to southern Europe.
Possible uses for lemon balm include sleep, anxiety, and health conditions like cold sores. Lemon balm can be made into tea, taken as a supplement or extract, or rubbed on the skin in lotions. Lemon balm essential oil is also popular in aromatherapy.
This article discusses the potential uses of lemon balm. It also covers the risk factors and possible side effects of using lemon balm.
Dietary supplements are not regulated in the United States, meaning the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not approve them for safety and effectiveness before products are marketed. When possible, choose a supplement that has been tested by a trusted third party, such as USP, Consumer Labs, or NSF. However, even if supplements are third-party tested, that doesn't mean they are safe for all or effective in general. Therefore, it is important to talk to your healthcare provider about any supplements you plan to take and check in about potential interactions with other supplements or medications.
- Active Ingredient(s): Flavonoids, terpenes, phenolic compounds (e.g., rosmarinic acid), nitrogen compounds
- Alternate Name(s): Lemon balm, bee balm, honey balm
- Legal Status: Lemon balm has been assigned Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) status in the United States with a maximum level of 0.5% in baked goods.
- Suggested Dose: More research is needed for dosing for health condition.
- Safety Considerations: Current research suggests that glaucoma, or thyroid medications or other types of sedatives should not be taken with lemon balm. Although the research is not definitive, antiretrovirals may also interact with lemon balm.
Uses of Lemon Balm
Supplement use should be individualized and vetted by a healthcare professional, such as a registered dietitian nutritionist, pharmacist, or healthcare provider. No supplement is intended to treat, cure, or prevent a disease.
Lemon balm contains a compound known as rosmarinic acid that appears to have antioxidant and antimicrobial properties. Antioxidants help prevent cell damage. Antimicrobials kill infection-causing organisms like bacteria and viruses.
Research on the potential uses of lemon balm is limited. While lemon balm has been researched in labs and in animal studies for certain health conditions (e.g., cold sores, stomach upset, Alzheimer's disease), there isNOTenough evidence to support its use because it has not been studied enough in humans.
It’s also important to note that some research used a combination of herbal supplements that included lemon balm. Therefore, it is not known if lemon balm itself could produce the same results.
Below are some findings from current research on lemon balm.
Lemon balm might help reduce anxiety, according to a small pilot study.
The study found that consuming a sweetened water-based drink containing 0.3 grams of lemon balm extract reduced stress and improved mood in a group of 25 healthy young adults compared to a drink with no active substance in it(placebo).
The researchers confirmed the results by repeating the test with yogurt instead of water. The participants reported feeling the anxiety-reducing effects within one to three hours after eating the yogurt. However, more human research is needed to confirm the effects of lemon balm on anxiety in humans.
A compound in lemon balm called rosmarinic acid is thought to improve sleep in people withinsomnia.
According to a 2013 study, using lemon balm combined with valerian root significantly improved sleep quality in 100 people in menopause compared to taking a placebo.
Another study looked at 918 children younger than age 12 who had restlessness and dyssomnia (a collection of sleep disorders). The children got a combined preparation with valerian and lemon balm. Over 80% of the children with dyssomnia showed improvement in their sleep symptoms.
It’s important to note that these studies and others used a combination of lemon balm with another herbal supplement (valerian).Therefore, more research is needed just to look at lemon balm to see if it could produce these effects on sleep without being combined with something else.
What Are Hops?
Most of the research on lemon balm for cold sores was done using lab test-tube studies.
In the studies, it appeared that lemon balm could kill a broad range of common viruses such asherpes simplex virus type 1(HSV-1). HSV-1 is associated with cold sores and some cases of herpes.
More randomized controlled trials in humans would need to be done to find out if lemon balm can really help with cold sores.
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What Are Side Effects of Lemon Balm?
Consuming a supplement like lemon balm may have side effects. These side effects could be mild and common or severe.
Common Side Effects
Common side effects of lemon balm may include:
- Stomach pain
The risk of side effects tends to increase as higher doses are used.
Severe Side Effects
The long-term use or overuse of lemon balm is not recommended.
People who have thyroid problems such asGrave's diseaseshould not take lemon balm. High doses can potentially affect thyroid function by slowing the production ofthyroid hormones, which control metabolism and other body functions. Stopping treatment suddenly after long-term use can also cause worsening or returning of symptoms (rebound anxiety).
Some people may develop a form of allergy known ascontact dermatitiswhen using a lemon balm preparation on the skin. To be safe, apply a little to your forearm and wait for 24 hours to see if any redness, rash, or irritation develops.
Serious allergic reactions to lemon balm could be possible but are rare.Contact a healthcare provider if any side effects occur while you’re using lemon balm.
Children, pregnant people, and lactating people should not use lemon balm extracts and supplements until more safety research is conducted.
Lemon balm is claimed to be a substance that helps with milk supply (galactagogue). However, more research is needed to support this claim.
Combining lemon balm with other herbal supplements that have a calming or sleepy effect (sedative) may make these effects more intense and could be dangerous.
If you are scheduled for surgery, talk to your healthcare provider about when to stop taking lemon balm.
It is recommended to avoid using lemon balm if you:
- Drink alcohol
- Use sedatives
- Take glaucoma (e.g., travoprost) and/or thyroid (e.g., levothyroxine) medications
- Take antiretroviral medications
Dosage: How Much Lemon Balm Should I Take?
Always speak with a healthcare provider before taking a supplement to ensure that the supplement and dosage are appropriate for your individual needs.
Lemon balm comes in several different formulations, and there are no set doses or standard courses of treatment.More research is needed on dosages for specific health needs and populations.
What Happens If I Take Too Much Lemon Balm?
Never take more lemon balm than the manufacturer's recommended dosage on the package.If you have side effects, stop taking lemon balm and call your healthcare provider.
Carefully read a supplement's ingredient list and nutrition facts panel to know which ingredients and how much of each ingredient is included.
Review this supplement label with your healthcare provider to discuss any potential interactions with foods, other supplements, and medications that you use.
Lemon balm may make you feel sleepy and calm. The effect can be more intense if you use it with alcohol or other herbal supplements that act like a sedative, such as:
- St. John's wort
- Over-the-counter sleep medications
- Prescription sedatives like Klonopin (clonazepam), Ativan (lorazepam), and Ambien (zolpidem)
Lemon balm could possibly interact with antiretroviral medications, although the research is unclear. Other potential drug interactions include:
- Thyroid medications like Synthroid (levothyroxine)
- Glaucoma medications like Travatan (travoprost)
How to Store Lemon Balm
Each form of lemon balm will be different. Store lemon balm according to the manufacturer's directions. Discard as indicated on the packaging.
Sources of Lemon Balm & What to Look For
Research has not indicated that one form of lemon balm is better than the others.Lemon balm supplements are available in the following dosage forms:
Remember there are safety concerns when taking this or any supplement. Talk to a healthcare provider before starting any product.
Some lemon balm preparations may have traces of lead.
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is an herb in the mint family. It can be made into tea, taken as a supplement or extract, or rubbed on the skin in balms and lotions.
Lemon balm has been studied for its potential uses in anxiety and sleep disorders, but the research is limited.More human studies to look at lemon balm as a single supplement, rather than in combination products, are needed.
It's important to remember that lemon balm cannot replace any treatment plan prescribed by your healthcare provider.Remember that supplements are not regulated by the FDA, so be cautious when purchasing any supplement. Like most supplements, it is important to talk with your healthcare provider if you are considering using lemon balm for any health purpose.
Frequently Asked Questions
I take a medication for thyroid disease. Can I take lemon balm?
It is not recommended for you to take lemon balm as it may make your medication not work as well. Instead, talk to your healthcare provider for further guidance.
Can I grow my own lemon balm?
Yes! Lemon balm can be grown at home in almost any location.
Can I drink alcohol while using lemon balm?
It is not recommended to drink alcohol and use lemon balm as they are both sedatives (substances that cause sleepiness). Please talk with your healthcare provider before starting any supplement.