Lemon balm is a perennial herb from the mint family. The leaves, which have a mild lemon aroma, are used to make medicine. Lemon balm is used alone or as part of various multi-herb combination products.
Lemon balm is used for digestive problems, including upset stomach, bloating, intestinal gas (flatulence), vomiting, and colic; for pain, including menstrual cramps, headache and toothache; and for mental disorders, including hysteria and melancholia.
Many people believe lemon balm has calming effects so they take it for anxiety, sleep problems, and restlessness. Lemon balm is also used for Alzheimer's disease, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), an autoimmune disease involving the thyroid (Graves' disease), swollen airways, rapid heartbeat due to nervousness, high blood pressure, sores, tumors, and insect bites.
Lemon balm is inhaled as aromatherapy for Alzheimer's disease.
Some people apply lemon balm to their skin to treat cold sores (herpes labialis).
In foods and beverages, the extract and oil of lemon balm are used for flavoring.
How does it work?
Lemon balm contains chemicals that seem to have a sedative, calming effect. It might also reduce the growth of some viruses.
Possibly Effective for:
- Anxiety. Some research shows that taking a specific lemon balm product (Cyracos) reduces symptoms in people with anxiety disorders. A product containing lemon balm plus 12 other ingredients has also been shown to reduce symptoms of anxiety such as nervousness or edginess.
- Cold sores. Applying a lip balm containing 1% lemon balm extract seems to shorten healing time, prevent infection spread, and reduce symptoms of recurring cold sores.
- Colic in breast-fed infants. A clinical trial shows that breast-fed infants with colic who are given a specific multi-ingredient product containing fennel, lemon balm, and German chamomile (ColiMil) twice daily for a week cry for a shorter period of time than other breast-fed infants with colic.
- Dementia. Some research shows that taking lemon balm by mouth daily for 4 months seems to reduce agitation and improve symptoms of mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease. In one study, applying a lotion containing lemon balm oils to the face and hands reduced agitation in people with dementia. However, other research found no benefit.
- Upset stomach (dyspepsia), when a specific combination of lemon balm and peppermint leaf, German chamomile, caraway, licorice, clown's mustard plant, celandine, angelica, and milk thistle (Iberogast, Medical Futures, Inc) is used. This combination seems to improve acid reflux (GERD), stomach pain, cramping, nausea, and vomiting.
- Insomnia. Taking a lemon balm by itself or along with other ingredients might improve the length and quality of sleep in healthy people and in those with insomnia or sleeping disorders.
- Stress. Some research suggests that taking one 600 mg dose of lemon balm increases calmness and awareness in adults during a stress test. Other research suggests that larger lemon balm doses reduce anxious behavior in children, but not lower doses. Another study suggests that taking a combination product containing valerian and lemon balm might lower anxiety when taken at a lower dose, but might increase anxiety when taken at a higher dose. Other research found that taking a lemon balm product for 4 weeks lowered agitation and edginess in people with anxiety caused by stress.
- Mental performance. Early research suggests that taking one 1,600 mg dose of lemon balm improves mental performance.
- Colitis. Early research suggests that taking a combination of dandelion, St. John’s wort, lemon balm, calendula, and fennel for 15 days reduces pain and improves bowel function in people with colitis.
- Depression. Early research suggests that taking lemon balm with fertilized egg powder does not improve depression symptoms compared to taking fertilized egg powder alone.
- Restlessness (dyssomnia). Early evidence suggests that 1-2 tablets once or twice daily of a specific combination product providing 80 mg of lemon balm leaf extract and 160 mg of valerian root extract (Euvegal forte, Schwabe Pharmaceuticals) might decrease symptoms in children under age 12 whose restlessness is so extreme that it needs medical attention.
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Early evidence suggests that adding 30 drops of a product containing lemon balm, spearmint and coriander three times daily after meals for 8 weeks to standard treatment reduces stomach pain and discomfort in people with IBS.
- Mental illnesses that cause physical pain (somatization disorder). A product containing valerian, passionflower, and lemon balm seems to improve symptoms of depression and anxiety in people with mental illnesses that cause physical pain.
- Loss of appetite.
- Stomach and intestinal discomfort with bloating and gas.
- A thyroid condition called Graves' disease.
- Promoting menstrual flow.
- Female discomforts.
- Insect bites.
- Nervous stomach.
- Attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
- Other conditions.
Side Effects & Safety
Lemon balm is LIKELY SAFE when used in food amounts. It’s POSSIBLY SAFE in adults when used in medicinal amounts short-term. It’s been used safely in research for up to four months. Not enough is known about the safety of lemon balm when used long-term.
Some information suggests that lemon balm might be safe when taken in appropriate amounts by infants for up to a week and by older children under age 12 for up to one month.
When taken by mouth, lemon balm can cause some side effects including nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dizziness, and wheezing.
When applied to the skin, there is one report of irritation and one report of increased cold sore symptoms.
Special Precautions & Warnings:Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Not enough is known about the use of lemon balm during pregnancy and breast-feeding. Stay on the safe side and avoid use.
Children. Lemon balm is POSSIBLY SAFE when taken appropriately by mouth for short periods of time. Surgery: Lemon balm might cause too much drowsiness if combined with medications used during and after surgery. Stop using lemon balm at least 2 weeks before a scheduled surgery.
Moderate Interaction Be cautious with this combination
- Sedative medications (CNS depressants) interacts with LEMON BALM
Lemon balm might cause sleepiness and drowsiness. Medications that cause sleepiness are called sedatives. Taking lemon balm along with sedative medications might cause too much sleepiness.
Some sedative medications include clonazepam (Klonopin), lorazepam (Ativan), phenobarbital (Donnatal), zolpidem (Ambien), and others.
The following doses have been studied in scientific research:
- For mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease: 60 drops per day of a standardized lemon balm extract, prepared 1:1 in 45% alcohol.
- For improving sleep in healthy adults: a specific combination product providing 80 mg of lemon balm leaf extract and 160 mg of valerian root extract (Euvegal forte, Schwabe Pharmaceuticals) 3 times daily for up to 30 days has been used. This same combination product, given once or twice daily, has been used for improving sleep in children.
- For upset stomach (dyspepsia): a specific combination product containing lemon balm (Iberogast, Medical Futures, Inc) and several other herbs has been used in a dose of 1 mL three times daily over a period of 4 weeks. The combination includes lemon balm plus peppermint leaf, German chamomile, caraway, licorice, clown's mustard plant, celandine, angelica, and milk thistle.
- For colic in breast-fed infants: a specific multi-ingredient product containing 164 mg of fennel, 97 mg of lemon balm, and 178 mg of German chamomile (Colimil) twice daily for a week.
- For cold sores (herpes labialis): the cream or ointment containing 1% of a 70:1 freeze-dried water-soluble extract is usually applied two to four times daily from first sign of symptoms to a few days after the cold sores have healed.