Lemon balm (melissa officinalis) is a perennial herb from the mint family. Herb part used is leaf and leaf oil. The volatile oil contains citral, citronellal, geraniol and eugenol acetate. Lemon balm’s lemony flavor and aroma are due largely to citral and citronellal, although other phytochemicals, including geraniol and linalool also contribute to lemon balm’s scent. Melissa officinalis essential oil is extracted from the leaves and flowering tops by steam distillation. Oil yield is usually less than 0.5 ml oil/kg herb.
Lemon Balm Pharmacological Effects and Benefits
Melissa officinalis is a traditional herbal medicine, which enjoys modern usage as spasmolytic, sedative and antibacterial remedy. M. officinalis has proved antiviral properties. Some studies have shown that topical preparations of melissa are effective against herpes simplex (HSV). ESCOP (European Scientific Cooperative On Phytotherapy) lists its internal use for tenseness, irritability, and symptomatic therapy of digestive problems, such as minor spasms; externally, for herpes labialis. Melissa officinalis is approved by the German Commission E (an official government agency similar to the FDA) for nervous sleep disorders and functional gastrointestinal complaints.
Melissa is high in flavonoids, which can have an antioxidant activity. Other phytochemicals in melissa which may provide antioxidant effect include phenolic acids, terpenes, caffeic acids and rosmarinic acid.
Lemon balm used as an anxiolytic, mild sedative or calming remedy. Melissa extract was identified as a strong in vitro inhibitor of GABA transaminase, which explains anxiolytic activities. The important compound responsible for GABA transaminase inhibition activity in melissa officinalis was then found to be rosmarinic acid. Some studies show that melissa officinalis combined with other herbs (as hops and valerian) helps decrease anxiety and promote sleep. In one study of participants with mild sleep problems, 81% of those who took an herbal combination of lemon balm and valerian reported sleeping much better than those who took placebo. In a other double blind, placebo controlled study, 18 healthful participant received 2 separate single doses of a standardized melissa extract (300 mg and 600 mg) or placebo for 7 days.The 600 milligrams dose of melissa increased mood and significantly increased calmness and alertness.
A study reported in 2004 in “Psychosomatic Medicine” involving participants demonstrated that a 600 mg dose of standardized lemon balm extract improved mood, calmness and alertness, and a 300 mg dose increased the subjects’ mathematical processing speed. Taking a standardized extract of melissa officinalis (60 drops per day of a standardized melissa extract, prepared 1:1 in 45% alcohol) by mouth daily for four months seems to decrease agitation and improve symptoms of mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease. It has been suggested, in light of in vitro cholinergic binding effects, that lemon balm extracts may effectively ameliorate the cognitive deficits associated with Alzheimer’s disease. A study reported in 2003 demonstrated that 1600 mg of dried leaf improved memory and calmness. The researchers suggest that the effect on mood and cognitive performance may make M. officinalis beneficial in the therapy of Alzheimer’s disease. A study addressing the use of M. officinalis for Alzheimer’s Disease was reported in the “Journal of Ethnopharmacology” in 2006. The researchers of this study concluded that lemon balm is one of several herbs which may be helpful in the prevention and therapy of Alzheimer’s disease due to its ability to inhibit acetylcholinesterase and its antioxidant activity.
Both oil and hot water extracts of the leaves have been shown to possess powerful antiviral and antibacterial properties. A hydro-alcoholic extract of melissa demonstrated antibacterial effect against Salmonella choleraesuis, Staphylococcus aureus, and the resistant bacteria Klebsiella pneumoniae. The essential oil is also reportedly antibacterial against Streptococcus hemolytica and Mycobacterium phlei and has shown antimicrobial effect against some mold and yeasts, as well as microbes that cause fungal skin infections in animals and humans.
M. officinalis extract has showed antiviral activities against HIV-1, and aqueous extracts are reportedly antiviral against the influenza virus. A research in the Sep 2008 edition of Phytomedicine shows that when melissa is applied as part of a topical ointment, it exhibits antiviral effects against both the HSV-1 and HSV-2. M. officinalis was found to be extremely effective against HIV in 3 different types of tissue cultures in a study reported in the March 2008 Retrovirology. In one study of 116 participant with HSV, those who applied melissa cream to their lip sores experienced important improvement in redness and swelling after just 2 days. Another large study involving three German hospitals demonstrated that, when melissa was used to treat the primary infection of HSV I, not a single recurrence was noted.
M. officinalis may block some of the activity of thyroid hormone in the body. In vitro studies has shown effect of melissa officinalis against thyroid antibodies present in Grave’s disease patients from stimulating thyroid activity. Graves’ disease is an immune system disorder that results in the overproduction of thyroid hormones. Graves disease is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism. In lab studies, melissa freeze-dried aqueous extracts have been shown to interfere with thyroid hormones and, more specifically, inhibit the effect of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH).
Take 300 mg – 500 mg dried lemon balm, 3 times daily. A dosage of 2 to 3 mL (which is equivalent to 40 to 90 drops) of melissa tincture can be used up to 3 times per day. A standardized extract of melissa (80 mg) and valerian extract (160 mg) has been given 2 or 3 times/day as a sleep aid. For cold sores the cream containing 1% of a 70:1 freeze-dried water-soluble extract is generally applied 2 to 4 times daily from first sign of symptoms to a few days after the cold sores have improved.
M. officinalis is considered a safe herb. This plant may interfere with other sedatives and drugs used to treat thyroid problems. Melissa may decrease the overstimulation of the thyroid associated with Grave’s disease but can also interfere with thyroid drugs. You should consult with your physician before using melissa if you are using these types of drugs.