The official name is Melissa officinalis but it is better known as lemon balm, bee balm, sweet balm, Melissa, and cure-all. Lemon balm is a mint plant originated in the Mediterranean region. This hardy perennial grows into a bush about 24 inches around. You can cut the leaves two or three times during a growing season. When lemon balms light green, ridged leaves are rubbed, they give off a strong lemon scent.
Lemon balm is mentioned in literature as far back as the 1600s. Almost miraculous results are promised for this herb. Today lemon balm is found growing throughout the world. It is recognized by its pretty white flowers and stiff aromatic leaves.
Lemon balm extracts contain tannins and polyphenols. These are both antibacterial and antiviral. This makes it effective to help treat strep, mumps, and most notably, herpes. Creams and ointments that use lemon balm have been used to heal cold sores or genital sores induced by the herpes virus. However, the herb does not cause nausea, vomiting, and irregular menstruation the way prescription drugs might. The caffeic acid and rosmarinic acid compounds in lemon balm may be responsible for its antivital properties.
Lemon balm both helps speed the healing of wounds and also relieves pain. A traditional use of lemon balm is for treatment of nervous disorders such as chronic nervousness, anxiety, and slight insomnia. Like mint, lemon balm has a soothing effect on the stomach and digestive system. The volatile oils, including citronellal and citrals A and B are responsible for this.
Lemon balm extract has been administered intravenously to help normalize overactive thyroid function, particularly in those who have a hyperactive condition called Graves disease. Phytochemicals in lemon balm are thought to keep the antibodies that cause Graves disease and thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) from attaching to thyroid gland receptors. Lemon balm may also help to block some of the secretion of the thyroid gland and its ability to release hormones in the body. Note: If you are currently on thyroid medication, taking lemon balm may cause interaction problems with your prescribed medications.
Lemon balm has been shown to help relax spasms affecting the bronze bush uterus and intestines. Therefore it is used to treat premenstrual syndrome and irritable bowel syndrome. Lemon balm may improve memory and lengthen attention span in Alzheimer's patients. The aroma has been used to affect the mood of a patient. One person made floor cleaner by mixing three-parts water to one-part white vinegar. Then she added a few sprigs of crushed lemon balm. The fragrance both masks the vinegar smell and adds some antiseptic qualities.
Lemon balm is available in creams, tablets, capsules, teas, tinctures, and extracts. The typical dosage is 1 teaspoon of lemon balm extract daily, or 1½ teaspoons of tincture. You can also add 1 to 3 teaspoons of the dried lemon balm leaves to a cup of hot water to make a homemade tea. You can also add dried lemon balm leaves to the bath. Use it if you have difficulty sleeping or to reduce stomach problems such as flatulence, or bloating. For children, lemon balm may be used topically on cold sores. The dosage would be the same as the recommendations for this use in adults. For internal use, adjust the recommended adult dose to account for the child's weight (above based on 150 lb. adult).
Beekeepers have loved lemon balm for centuries. It has the ability to attract and nurture swarms of bees, as well as to provide a remedy for bee stings. Lemon balm may increase the effects of other sedatives so do not take them together without checking with your doctor.