Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is a lemon-scented herb that comes from the same family as mint. The herb is native to Europe, North Africa, and West Asia, but it’s grown around the world.

Lemon balm has traditionally been used to improve mood and cognitive function, but the potential benefits don’t stop there. Read on to learn more about this plant’s possible healing powers.

Lemon balm is said to soothe symptoms of stress, help you to relax, and boost your mood.

A 2004 study found that taking lemon balm eased the negative mood effects of laboratory-induced psychological stress. Participants who took lemon balm self-reported an increased sense of calmness and reduced feelings of alertness.

Although this was a double-blind, placebo-controlled study, it had a small sample size of 18 people. Further research is needed to elaborate on these findings.

How to use: Take 300 milligrams (mg) of lemon balm in capsule form twice a day. You can take a single dose of 600 mg in acute episodes of stress.

Lemon balm may also be used to help reduce symptoms of anxiety, such as nervousness and excitability.

Research published in 2014 examined the mood and cognitive effects of foods containing lemon balm. The supplement was mixed into a beverage and into yogurt along with either natural or artificial sweeteners. Participants in both groups reported positive effects on various aspects of mood, including reduced levels of anxiety.

Although this is promising, more research is needed to truly determine its efficacy.

How to use: Take 300 to 600 mg of lemon balm three times per day. You can take a higher dose in acute episodes of anxiety.

The same 2014 study also looked at the effects of lemon balm in improving cognitive function.

Participants were asked to do cognitive tasks involving memory, mathematics, and concentration. The results of these computerized tasks suggest that participants who ingested lemon balm performed better than those who didn’t.

Although these participants did experience an increase in levels of alertness and performance, it’s still possible for fatigue to set in over time. Combining lemon balm with food also affects its absorption rate, which may have had an impact on its efficacy. Additional research is needed.

How to use: Take 300 to 600 mg of lemon balm three times a day.

Combining lemon balm with valerian may help relieve restlessness and sleep disorders such as insomnia.

Researchers in one 2006 study found that children who took a combined dose experienced a 70 to 80 percent improvement in symptoms. Both the researchers and parents regarded lemon balm as being a good or very good treatment. Still, more research is needed to validate these findings.

How to use: Drink a cup of tea brewed with valerian and lemon balm before bed. You can find loose-leaf or bagged options at your local grocery store or online.

You can even apply lemon balm topically at the first sign of a cold sore.

Participants in a 1999 study applied either a lemon balm or placebo cream on the affected area four times per day for five days. The researchers found that the participants who used the lemon balm cream experienced fewer symptoms and healed faster than those who didn’t.

The researchers also suggested that using lemon balm cream may help prolong the intervals between cold sore outbreaks. Further studies are needed to expand on these findings.

How to use: Apply a lemon balm cream to the affected area several times per day. Be sure to patch test the cream on the inside of your forearm before applying it to the cold sore. If you don’t experience any irritation or inflammation within 24 hours, it should be safe to use.

If you experience frequent abdominal pain and discomfort, lemon balm may have a positive effect on your digestion.

A small study from 2010 assessed the effects of a cold dessert containing lemon balm on functional dyspepsia. Participants ate a sorbet, with or without the herb, after a meal. Although both types of desserts lessened the symptoms and their intensity, the dessert containing lemon balm intensified this effect. More research is needed.

How to use: Add 1 teaspoon (tsp) of lemon balm powder to a bowl of ice cream or smoothie and enjoy.

Given its potential impact on your digestive system, lemon balm may also help relieve feelings of nausea.

A 2005 review assessing the results of several studies on lemon balm found the herb to be useful in treating gastrointestinal symptoms such as this. Although this is a promising development, it’s important to recognize the study limitations.

Many of the studies looked at lemon balm used in conjunction with other herbs. Further research is needed to determine the efficacy of lemon balm when used alone.

How to use: Drink a cup of lemon balm tea at the first sign of nausea. You can find loose-leaf or bagged options at your local grocery store or online.

There’s also research to suggest that lemon balm can be used to relieve menstrual cramps and premenstrual syndrome (PMS).

A 2015 study researched the effect of lemon balm in reducing the intensity of cramps in 100 high school girls. The girls took either a lemon balm essence or a placebo for three consecutive menstrual cycles. The intensity of PMS symptoms was analyzed before and one, two, and three months after the trial. The group who took the lemon balm reported a significant reduction in symptoms. Further research is needed to confirm these findings.

How to use: Take 1200 mg of lemon balm daily for optimal results. This will allow the herb to get into your system long before it’s time for PMS symptoms to appear. Continued use is thought to reduce your symptoms over time.

Lemon balm may also be useful in treating headaches, especially if they’re happening as a result of stress. Its relaxing properties can help you to unwind, release tension, and relax your muscles. It’s also though that ingesting the herb can help to open up and relax tight blood vessels, which can contribute to headaches.

How to use: If you experience recurrent headaches, you may find it beneficial take 300 to 600 mg of lemon balm up to three times per day. This will allow the herb to get into your system well before a headache develops. You can take a higher dose if you feel a headache developing.

Lemon balm’s pain-relieving properties may make it an ideal choice for relieving toothache pain. In addition to drawing on its relaxing properties, this home remedy is thought to target inflammation in the body. More research is needed to confirm these findings.

How to use: Use a cotton swab to apply lemon balm oil to the affected area as needed. Be sure to select an oil that has already been diluted by a carrier oil, such as jojoba. If you purchase pure lemon balm oil, you should dilute it. Essential oils should not be applied directly to the skin until they are diluted in a carrier oil.

Lemon balm has the potential to cause the following side effects:

  • headache
  • painful urination
  • increased body temperature
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • stomach pain
  • dizziness
  • wheezing
  • skin irritation
  • allergic reaction

You may be able to minimize side effects, such as stomach upset, by ingesting lemon balm alongside food. You can also reduce your risk for side effects by consuming fewer than 2 grams of lemon balm per day.

Lemon balm should only be used for a short period of time. A general rule of thumb is to take one week off after every three weeks of use. You shouldn’t take lemon balm for longer than four months at a time without a break.

You should talk to your doctor before use if you’re taking:

  • glaucoma medications
  • thyroid medications
  • barbiturates
  • sedatives
  • drugs that affect serotonin

You should also talk to your doctor before use if:

  • you’re pregnant
  • you’re breastfeeding
  • you want to administer lemon balm to an infant or child under the age of 12
  • you have a scheduled surgery

Lemon balm can’t replace any doctor-approved treatment plan that you’re currently following, but it may be an effective complementary treatment. Talk to your doctor about your individual case and the potential benefits and risks involved.

If you’re growing your own lemon balm, or using dried leaves for tea, there is little risk. But if you’re taking capsules, powder, or other commercially prepared supplements or herbs choose a reputable company. Herbs and supplements are not monitored by the Food and Drug Administration and there may be issues with purity, quality, or safety.

If you begin using lemon balm, you may find it beneficial to keep a journal about your experience. You should make a note of any improvements you notice or side effects. It may also be helpful to keep track of what time you take lemon balm, the amount taken, and the way you ingest it.

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