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Lemon balm

General Information

Lemon balm is a perennial, lemon-scented herb with pointed, heart-shaped or oval leaves and small white or yellow flowers. It is from the same family as mint and sage. It is native to the Mediterranean region and western Asia but is now grown in Europe, Asia, and North America. It is also known as melissa, which is a Greek word for "bee." The active ingredients of lemon balm that give its medicinal properties come from the arieal parts (above ground) of the plant.

Historically, lemon balm was said to have sedating/tranquilizing, anti-gas, blood-pressure-lowering, memory-enhancing, fever-reducing, menstruation-inducing, and thyroid-related effects. People have been using lemon balm medicinally since the times of the Ancient Greeks and Romans.

Common Name(s)

lemon balm, melissa

Scientific Name(s)

Melissa officinalis L. (Lamiaceae)

Scientific Name(s)

Lemon balm can either be taken orallyorallyto be taken by mouth (swallowed) or used topicallytopicallyto be applied on the skin. The leaves of lemon balm are used to make oral supplements, including tea, tincturetincturea desired active ingredient that is extracted from alcoholic solution, and liquid extractextractto get, separate, or isolate a desired active ingredient. People have also used creams and teas containing lemon balm to apply to the skin.

Lemon balm is also commonly combined with other herbs and supplements, such as valerian extract, orange peel, and cinnamon.

The usual oral dose ranges from 0.4 g to 13.5 g per day of the dried aerialaerialplant parts appearing above ground parts (leaves, flowers, stems), divided into 1 to 3 doses.

Your health care provider may have recommended using this product in other ways. Contact a health care provider if you have questions.

What is this product used for?

Lemon balm is used in traditional herbal medicine as a sleep aid, especially in cases of difficulty sleeping or restlessness due to mental stress. It has also been used traditionally to help with digestive problems such as stomach upset and heartburn or indigestion.

Studies showed promising effects of topical 1% lemon balm extractextractto get, separate, or isolate a desired active ingredient cream in the treatment of herpes simplex virus infections. People have also used it to treat agitation in dementia, anxiety, infant colic, irritable bowel syndrome, and restlessness, and to improve mental performance. However, there is insufficient data to confirm the effectiveness of lemon balm for these conditions and more research is needed to confirm its benefits.

Your health care provider may have recommended this product for other conditions. Contact a health care provider if you have questions.

What else should I be aware of?

Taken by mouth, lemon balm is usually well tolerated in recommended doses up to 30 days in otherwise healthy adults. Side effects can include drowsiness, sedation, headache, nausea, vomiting, abdominalabdominalrelating to the stomach and intestines pain, dizziness, sleep disturbances, and wheezing. When it is applied to the skin, it can cause local skin reddening, irritation, pigmentation, tingling, and a burning sensation. 

Lemon balm can cause drowsiness. Do not drive or engage in other activities requiring alertness if the product affects you in this way.

Lemon balm may lower your blood pressure and therefore should be used with caution if you are taking medications with similar properties. It can also lower your blood sugar levels and people with diabetes should use lemon balm with care.

Do not take lemon balm with alcohol or other medications or health products with sleep-inducing properties (e.g. antidepressants, lorazepam). Using these products together can cause excessive drowsiness and sleepiness. Lemon balm may also interact with the following agents:

  • thyroid replacement therapy (e.g., levothyroxine)
  • diabetic medications
  • medications that can lower blood pressure
  • other agents that are metabolized by the liver’s cytochrome P450 enzyme system

Do not use lemon balm if you are allergic to it. If you experience a severe allergic reaction (swelling of the face and throat, difficulty breathing), stop using the supplement and seek medical attention.

If your symptoms persist or worsen, contact your heath care provider.

If you are taking lemon balm to help sleep, consult your health care provider if you still have trouble sleeping after using lemon balm for more than 3 weeks.

It is not known whether lemon balm is safe for in pregnant and breast-feeding women to use. Talk to your doctor if you are pregnant or breast-feeding before using this supplement.

Before taking any new medications, including natural health products, speak to your physician, pharmacist, or other health care provider. Tell your health care provider about any natural health products you may be taking.

Source(s)

  1. Natural Standard – the Authority on Integrative Medicine.  Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis L.).  www.naturalstandard.com.myaccess.library.utoronto.ca/databases/herbssupplements/all/lemonbalm.asp#precautions, accessed 2 July 2014.
  2. Health Canada. Drug & Health Products.  Monograph - Lemon balm.  http://webprod.hc-sc.gc.ca/nhpid-bdipsn/monoReq.do?id=125&lang=eng , accessed 2 July 2014.
  3. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. Lemon Balm full monograph. http://naturaldatabase.therapeuticresearch.com/nd/Search.aspx?cs=&s=ND&pt=100&id=437&ds=, accessed 20 September 2012.
  4. Lexicomp. Lemon balm monograph. http://online.lexi.com.myaccess.library.utoronto.ca/lco/action/doc/retrieve/docid/fc_rnp2/3750232#adr-nested, accessed 2 July 2014

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