Melissa officinalis – lemon balm – is all around us and its application is very wide. Most importantly, this wonderfully fragrant plant can restore our faith in life.
It has been known in southern Europe and northern Africa for more than two millennia. Lemon balm is a perennial herbaceous plant that grows along fences, in the woods and near towns and villages, it is often found near beehives because bees love its aromatic flowers that last throughout the summer. It was given its scientific name after the bees (melissa in ancient Greek means “honey bee”).
Remedy for tension
The Arabs were the first to use it medicinally, as infusions against tension. It was particularly popular in the Middle Ages and nuns of the Carmelite Order devised the famous recipe for Carmelite water which was believed to bring longevity, remove depression, palpitations, fear, fatigue and restore consciousness; it consisted of alcohol, lemon balm flowers, lemon zest, angelica root, coriander seed, nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves.
Maurice Mességué, a French herbalist and a pioneer of herbalism in North America, famous for his slogan “working with the patient, not with the disease”, had a particular affection towards lemon balm. He called Melissa officinalis “the queen of all stimulative herbs” and glorified its wide spectrum of effects.
In addition to its medicinal properties, lemon balm has a very pleasant smell reminiscent of citrus fruits and is used in the perfume and cosmetics industry and cooking. The Mediterranean cuisine would not be what it is without this herb which is used in stews, freshly cut in salads, pastries and drinks. This herb imbues everything with its special fresh lemony aroma.
Lemon balm: a long list of actions
What can lemon balm do? Information passed from generation to generation, proven by modern medicine, shows that lemon balm does the following wide range of action:
- it relieves stress, tension, disquiet, anxiety, irritability, depression, insomnia and hypochondria
- it soothes symptoms of menopause – palpitations, disquiet and insomnia
- it has a beneficial effect on cardiovascular problems, even on more serious heart diseases such as angina pectoris because it calms and strengthens the heart and cleanses the blood; phenolic alkaloids can prevent the synthesis of bad cholesterol and reduce the level of triglycerides in the blood
- it improves concentration, creativity and aids the thought process employed in the resolution of complex cognitive problems
- it is rich in antioxidants, protects the cells from damage caused by oxidation
- it helps patients with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, it improves memory and concentration
- it acts as an antispasmodic – it relieves cramps and disorders of the digestive tract: indigestion, bloating, nausea…
- it reduces menstrual pain and cramps and has a mild phytoestrogenic effect
- it soothes inflammation, herpes, reduces swelling
- it has antiviral properties, accelerates healing and acts preventatively in viral infections
- it prevents and stops bacterial and fungal infections, including candida
- it has a cytotoxic effect, it destroys tumour cells
- it has an analgesic effect, it reduces headaches, relieves migraines and a feeling of head tension, and generally helps with neuralgia
- it alleviates the effects of diabetes and improves glucose tolerance
- it reduces high temperature and helps relieve symptoms of colds and flu
- it helps with hyperthyroidism
- it is also useful for respiratory disorders; lemon balm syrup helps with asthma, chronic bronchitis, respiratory infections and soothes smoking cough
- it helps the body cleanse itself of toxins and protects the liver
- it helps those involved in increased mental activity, students and intellectuals
- it moisturises the skin, soothes dermatitis, eczema, acne and small skin abrasions
What turns lemon balm into a fearless fighter against bacteria and viruses is the medicinal ingredient found in lemon balm – rosmarinic acid, which has been shown to be effective also for herpes simplex virus, and there are even claims that it can help with HIV. When applied to the skin, rosemary acid helps with dermatitis and other skin disorders with its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory effects.
Folk medicine tested in the laboratory
That this plant is a natural sedative is also confirmed by clinical research. One study has found that lemon balm extract or emulsion added to food or drink, in this particular case to iced tea and yogurt, lifts the mood and improves cognitive abilities. Another study has confirmed the positive effect that lemon balm has on depression in combination with lavender.
There is concrete scientific evidence that lemon balm is a powerful antioxidant, i.e. that it prevents and helps in the treatment of diseases caused by oxidative stress and the negative effects of free radicals; additional research on this topic has found that the stem and leaf of lemon balm in ethanolic solution also have a cytotoxic effect, specifically on breast cancer cells. Although the whole plant has a cytotoxic effect, lemon balm leaves have been shown to be more effective in cell selectivity.
Another study states that lemon balm essential oil is effective in glioblastoma multiforme because it has the ability to lead to apoptosis – self-destruction of harmful cells. A study conducted in the Far East investigated apoptosis caused by lemon balm extract in colon cancer. And that is certainly not everything – future research will certainly continue to surprise us with finding numerous positive effects that this plant has on our health.
Even though it almost has no undesirable side effects, it should not be used in combination with chemical tranquillisers without prior consultation with a medical professional. It should not be used by pregnant and breastfeeding women.
If we have it to hand, we can put some fresh lemon balm in tea or lemonade, add it to a stew or a soup, or just bunch it and hang it to dry spreading its appealing fragrance around our home.
There is an easier way to improve our health with it – it can be found in Herbasvet products. In Femisan B, lemon balm soothes problems associated with menopause – anxiety, irritability, palpitations and insomnia; in Optima Forma it calms and soothes the symptoms of stress and gives mental strength. Lemon balm also helps with insomnia and other sleep-related issues, without causing drowsiness. In Leocardin, this herb calms heart rate and tachycardia. In Disan it prevents respiratory infections and eases breathing and expectoration.
With lemon balm and Herba Svet products we can live la vie en rose!
The following products contain this plant: