Herbal Spotlight: Lemon Balm
If I had to pick one herb as my favourite, it would have to be lemon balm (Melissa officinalis). This member of the mint family has a delightful lemon fragrance, grows readily in most climates and has a host of benefits. The name Melissa comes from the greek word for honeybee, as it has an abundance of nectar and attracts bees, so it's a great plant to grow to support local pollinators. I was introduced to lemon balm at an early age as my Omas and Mom would always have a bottle of Klosterfrau Melissengeist (literally translated as "Nun's Spirit of Melissa") in the kitchen cupboard. You can take it both internally and externally; in english it is sometimes known as Carmelite Water, the recipe for which goes back to the 1300s.
Lemon balm has a long history of use, traditionally used for its calming and sedative qualities, as well as for helping the digestive system. Some of the conditions that lemon balm can help alleviate include:
Insomnia and Anxiety - several studies have shown that lemon balm can reduce stress and anxiety, helping to relax and improve mood as well. Participants reported an increased sense of calmness and a decrease in alertness (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15272110 , https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/6/11/4805/htm). Other studies have shown that lemon balm by itself or combined with valerian improved sleep disturbances, insomnia and restlessness in many (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0944711306000250?via%3Dihub, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24199972). The mechanism of action by which lemon balm works in these instances seems to be by increasing GABA (Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid) in the brain, by inhibiting an enzyme that breaks it down. GABA is a neurotransmitter that produces a calming, relaxing effect and can boost mood.
Indigestion and Nausea - there is some evidence that lemon balm can help treat symptoms of dyspepsia (upset stomach), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and acid reflux. Lemon balm contains rosmarinic acid, citral, citronellal, linalool, geraniol, and beta-caryophyllene, each of which has anti-spasmodic and anti-gas properties. In 2013, a review of studies from Germany showed that a remedy containing lemon balm and eight other therapeutic herbs was consistently more effective in treating dyspepsia and IBS than a placebo (https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10354-012-0169-x).
Cold Sores - the rosmarinic acid contained in lemon balm has potent antiviral properties, which may help in the treatment of viral infections. Rosmarinic acid appears most effective in inhibiting herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1), associated with cold sores and some cases of genital herpes. In one study, people affected by cold sores applied a cream to the sores had significant improvement in redness and swelling in just 2 days, reducing the healing time of the sores (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23195812, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10589440).
Personally, I've always found that when I take lemon balm, it makes me feel like someone is wrapping me in a warm blanket, as it brings me a feeling of great relaxation and a lessening of anxiety and stress.
Lemon balm tea can easily be made by using dried lemon balm at the ratio of 1 teaspoon per cup of boiling water, cover and steep about 10 minutes. Fresh lemon balm can be used as well, use about 2-3 teaspoons per cup of water. You can use lemon balm as well in salads, as a jelly and in many other dishes. For more ideas check out this website: https://www.mnn.com/food/recipes/blogs/10-culinary-uses-for-lemon-balm.
As with any herb, it's always best to check with your qualified health care practitioner to see if lemon balm is safe for you to use, especially if pregnant, nursing or have any health concerns. It's also a good idea to leave at least 3 hours between taking any medications and consuming herbs. As lemon balm is sedating, don't combine it with sedatives (prescription or otherwise), alcohol or drugs that affect serotonin.
So enjoy a lovely cup of lemon balm tea, relax and enjoy the benefits of this wonderful herb. Better yet, plant some in your garden for your own and the bees enjoyment for years to come!