Common Names

Lemon Balm , Melissa
Botanical Name
Melissa officinalis

Our Pages

- Herbal Medicine
- The Clinic
- Richard Whelan

- Alphabetically

- By Group
- Alphabetical

- Clinic Hours
Clinic Location

- Ancient wisdom in the modern world


What is it?

The leaves are the parts that are used in herbal medicine from Lemon Balm; a bushy, leafy herb that grows prolifically in diverse climates and is well known for its fresh, distinctive aroma.




How has it been used?

Lemon Balm has been extremely popular in all the old European traditional medicine systems. It has been seen to be equally beneficial to digestive disorders as it is helpful to conditions involving the nerves. Traditional uses include migraines, headaches, stomach cramps, urinary infections, feverishness in children, shingles, vaccine reactions and sleeplessness.

Children seem to respond particularly well to Lemon Balm tea when they are anxious, upset or they are experiencing internal pain. Lemon Balm has been used as a traditional treatment for overactive thyroid conditions.

400 hundred years ago, the English herbal physician John Evelyn wrote “Lemon Balm is sovereign for the brain. It strengthens the memory and powerfully chases away melancholy”.

Culpeper said "Let a syrup be made of the juice of it and sugar and let it be kept in every gentlewoman's house as it hath so much purging quality in it as to expel those melancholy vapours from the spirits and blood which are in the heart and arteries"

WM Cook writes 'This herb forms a pleasant and slightly aromatic drink, which may be used without hesitation by all classes of fever patients, in preference to cold water. It favors the flow of sweat and urine, soothes the nerves, and moderately promotes the menstrual flow. It is a popular family remedy in recent colds, and an adjunct to less pleasant diaphoretics'

TJ Lyle writes '...it forms a pleasant beverage for convalescence. It is a strong and soothing, toning nervine. In infusion it is somewhat diaphoretic, carminative, febrifuge, and may be used for the removal of colds, and for the restoration of the menstrual flow stopped by recent cold'

Lemon balm was apparently the favourite herb of the mad genius Paracelsus who believed it would 'revivify a man'. It was also the subject of some extraordinary visions of Saint Hildegard, who said that Lemon balm came to her in a vision and she saw that it had seven different ‘faces’ or personalities, with the centre of them at the heart.

David Hoffmann writes that 'the volatile oil appears to act on the interface between the digestive tract and the nervous system. The herb has been described by some herbalists as a trophorestorative for the nervous system, similar in some ways to Oats. Lemon Balm is appropriate for neuralgia, anxiety-induced palpitations, insomnia and migraine associated with tension. Lemon Balm has a tonic effect on the heart and circulatory system and causes mild vasodilation of peripheral vessels, thus lowering blood pressure. It may be used for feverish conditions, such as influenza'

The British Herbal Pharmacopoeia (BHP) describes the actions of Lemon Balm as 'carminative, antispasmodic, diaphoretic & sedative'. It says it is indicated for 'flatulent dyspepsia, neurasthenia & depressive illness and that it is 'specifically indicated for dyspepsia associated with anxiety or depressive states'. The BHP suggests combining it with Hops and Meadowsweet for gastric dyspepsia and recommends a dose of 2-4 grams or by infusion and the tincture at 1:5 in 45% ethanol at a dose of 2-6 mls daily.


Lemon Balm in History

In times gone by Lemon balm was a great favourite for all complaints believed to proceed from a disordered nervous system. The London Dispensatory (1696) wrote 'an essence of Balm every morning, will renew youth, strengthen the brain and relieve a languishing nature'.

The great 10th century Arab physician Avicenna wrote 'Balm causeth the heart and mind to become merry' and in Europe for many centuries it was a common adage that Balm 'will 'comfort the heart and drive away melancholy'.

In even earlier times Lemon balm was widely used as a healing herb for wounds and skin diseases. The ancient Greek physician Dioscorides recommended to put Lemon balm leaves on skin wounds and the Roman physician Pliny highly regarded its ability to help stop bleeding.


Science on Lemon balm

~ There are a number of further clinical trials with people taking herbal formulae that included Lemon balm. These studies showed positive results for dyspepsia, colic, sleeplessness and anxiety but they all had the Lemon balm as part of a formula with other herbs. Whilst this means it's difficult to be precise about scientific tests of Lemon balm by itself it does illustrate what herbalists from ancient times knew as well; that this is a herb that well-potentiates the actions of other herbs.

~ One study showed that a lemon balm extract by itself reduced anxiety-associated symptoms and anxiety manifestations in patients with anxiety disorders and reduced insomnia by 42% in patients with sleep disorders (Cases J. Leaf extract in the treatment of volunteers suffering from mild-to-moderate anxiety disorders and sleep disturbances. Mediterr J Nutr Metab. 2010;4(3):211-218)

~ Further clinical research showed that a single dose of lemon balm extract 600 mg increases calmness and alertness in adults during a stress test. In this double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized, balanced crossover experiment, 18 healthy volunteers received two separate single doses of a standardized M. officinalis extract (300 mg, 600 mg) and a placebo, on separate days separated by a 7-day washout period. Modulation of mood was assessed during predose and 1-hour postdose completions of a 20-minute version of the Defined Intensity Stressor Simulation (DISS) battery. Cognitive performance on the four concurrent tasks of the battery was also assessed. The results showed that the 600-mg dose of Melissa ameliorated the negative mood effects of the DISS, with significantly increased self-ratings of calmness and reduced self-ratings of alertness. In addition, a significant increase in the speed of mathematical processing, with no reduction in accuracy, was observed after ingestion of the 300-mg dose. (Kennedy DO, Little W, Scholey AB. Attenuation of laboratory-induced stress in humans after acute administration of Melissa officinalis (Lemon Balm). Psychosom Med. 2004 Jul-Aug;66:607-13)

~ Another study tested Lemon balm taken internally by itself. Volunteers were given a single large dose of Lemon balm and had their brain waves tested before and after (via an EEG). The herb clearly affected brain activity compared to the placebo that was used to ensure this test was done rigorously (Schulz H, Jobert M, Hubner WD: Phytomed 5(6):449-458, 1998)

~ Preliminary clinical evidence suggests that a single dose of lemon balm 1600 mg increases memory accuracy but may slow performance on timed memory tasks (Kennedy DO, Wake G, Savelev S, et al. Modulation of mood and cognitive performance following acute administration of single doses of Melissa officinalis (Lemon balm) with human CNS nicotinic and muscarinic receptor-binding properties. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2003 Oct;28:1871-81)

~ Lemon balm has also been evaluated in combination with valerian. Clinical research shows that a taking a combination product containing lemon balm and valerian, 600 mg, reduces anxiety during a stress test. However, a higher dose of 1800 mg increased anxiety (Kennedy DO, Little W, Haskell CF, et al. Anxiolytic effects of a combination of Melissa officinalis and Valeriana officinalis during laboratory induced stress. Phytother Res. 2006 Feb;20:96-102)

~Some clinical research shows that taking a standardized extract of lemon balm daily for 4 months reduces agitation and improves symptoms of mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease (Akhondzadeh S, Noroozian M, Mohammadi M, et al. Melissa officinalis extract in the treatment of patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease: a double blind, randomised, placebo controlled trial. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry 2003;74:863-6)

~ Lemon Balm helped to significantly reduce heart palpitations and associated anxiety in a placebo-controlled, double blind study. Eligible volunteers were randomly assigned as outpatients to a 14 day treatment with 500 mg twice a day of lyophilized aqueous extract of M. officinalis leaves (or placebo). Participants in the tests, physicians and researchers were blind to group assignments. Both primary and secondary outcomes were patient-reported. Primary outcomes were obtained from two measures: mean frequency of palpitation episodes per week, derived from patients׳ diaries, and mean intensity of palpitation estimated through Visual Analogue Scale (VAS) in a self-report questionnaire. Psychiatric symptoms (somatization, anxiety and insomnia, social dysfunction and severe depression) were evaluated as secondary outcomes by General Health Questionnaire-28 (GHQ-28), before and after intervention. The results were that fifty-five volunteers out of 71 recruited study subjects completed the trial and that the 14-day of treatment with lyophilized aqueous extract of M. officinalis leaves reduced frequency of palpitation episodes and significantly reduced the number of anxious patients in comparison to the placebo (P=0.0001, P=0.004 resp.). Also, M. officinalis extract showed no indication of any serious side effects (Alijaniha F, et al. Heart palpitation relief with Melissa officinalis leaf extract: double blind, randomized, placebo controlled trial of efficacy and safety. J Ethnopharmacol. 2015;164:378-384. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2015.02.007. Epub 2015 Feb 11)

~ Laboratory studies on Lemon balm by itself have shown some intriguing possibilities for understanding it better. It has been demonstrated to have actions on the binding of thyroid hormones, on the hormone prolactin, and on the brain chemistry of sleep and excitation (Sourgens H et al: Planta Med 45:78-86, 1982)

~ Lemon balm has also been shown to possess some potent anti-viral activity in the laboratory, including on the herpes simplex virus. This was put to the test in a clinical trial where Lemon balm was used externally in a concentrated form for cold sore lesions where using it 2-4 times daily for 5-10 days yielded conclusive results that it was an effective treatment (Wolbling RH, Milbradt R; Therapiewache 34:1193-1200, 1984)

~ There are nearly 150 published studies and articles on Lemon balm, a PDF showing their titles, authors and when and where they were published can be found here

Safety of Lemon balm

No adverse effects are expected from taking Lemon balm, even in high or frequent doses. It may be confidently taken during pregnancy or whilst breastfeeding (there may be a mild relaxing effect on the baby as the essential oil of Lemon Balm will pass through the breast milk) and it can be used by the young or old with safety.

Due to its use for overactive thyroid conditions, there are concerns that Lemon Balm might be contraindicated for people with low thyroid function, In the test-tube, constituents of lemon balm extract have been shown to bind to TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) and in animals, lemon balm extract has been shown to decrease levels of circulating thyroid-stimulating hormone (Sourgens H, Winterhoff H, Gumbinger HG, et al. Antihormonal effects of plant extracts. TSH- and prolactin-suppressing properties of Lithospermum officinale and other plants. Planta Med. 1982 Jun;45:78-86)

Theoretically, Lemon Balm may alter thyroid function, reduce thyroid hormone levels, and interfere with thyroid hormone-replacement therapy. However, note that, as a common and popular herb, Lemon Balm has been used extensively and frequently with no historical cautions or reported adverse reactions in this regard and, if there is an inhibitory effect on thyroid hormone production, it is likely to be mild and dose-dependent.

General comment on herbal safety

All medicinal herbs that have the power to do good have the potential to do harm. The old maxim 'the poison is in the dose' precisely describes how too much of anything can be bad for us. The ancient rule to 'firstly, do no harm is, to this day, held as the core directive by all practitioners of traditional herbal medicine. Not only are we careful to do our best to use the right herbs, but equally we take care to not give too much of them or use them overlong.

For some years now, against this proven and safe way of herbalism, there has been a rising tide of excessive caution and scare-mongering in many parts of the world. The same authorities that, not so long ago, decried herbal medicines as ineffectual, have now taken up a different adversarial position; that they are dangerous substances that should only be prescribed by Doctors, who of course have zero training in them.

Lists of '10 popular herbs and why you should avoid them' include things like Garlic and Ginger that might 'thin your blood'. Such cautions are absurd to the point of the ridiculous, but fear is a universal driver that has long been proven to be effective at manipulating people.

Unfortunately, the same unnecessary fear and worry has crept into many natural health websites and popular publications on herbs. Herbs that we have safely used for thousands of years, that have no reports of adverse reactions in the medical literature despite widespread use by millions of people, are suddenly described as contraindicated because of something that should have been seen as completely unimportant, or at the utmost a merely theoretical concern, such as a laboratory study on one of the herb's constituents to use an all too common example.

I wonder sometimes if the writers of such articles feel that the herb will be more deserving of respect if it is thought to be a little bit dangerous, in other words more like a drug than something that has simply come out of the earth and been used by ordinary people for generations beyond count.

There is just so much misinformation about herbal medicine on the internet now. Ludicrous claims and cautions abound in equal measure; it seems like one group are trying to make money out of the public whilst the other are busily trying to scare them off.

I have to believe that the kind of reader who takes the time to read pages on herbs that are as extensive as this one is much less likely to be swayed by marketers or misinformers. I hope that you will keep your wits about you if you get conflicting opinions from people who have never really got to know these herbs, who have never worked with them, or learned how to use them safely and effectively.

I want to remind you that the reason that herbs can never be patented and owned by any individual or corporation is because they are, and always will be, the People's medicine. They belong to all of us and it is my great hope in sharing this work that you will learn how to use them wisely for yourself, and the people you care for. Be safe, but do not be afraid.


Personal experiences

For the right person Lemon balm can have a marvellously healing effect. It calms and soothes in such a gentle but sure way; watching it melt away a person's tension is like seeing someone who has become chilled put a warm cloak around them.

If you who are reading this are studying herbal medicine or have your own reasons to want to understand this plant ally at a much deeper level then I urge you to take a dose of Lemon Balm tincture or a cup of its tea and then, with a quiet and attentive mind, observe how the herb makes you feel. This ancient method is how people have always understood the action of a herb in an experiential way and it can give an appreciation that transcends a purely abstract knowledge of these medicines. A person has to try this for themselves for it to really make sense but speaking for myself when I do this I feel Lemon Balm going straight to my heart! It is very relaxing and soothing, truly a gentle remedy and surely one that can only do good to a person.

Further to this, if you would like to learn more about the ancient art of pulse testing, a simple but powerful way to ask the intuitive intelligence of the body for its responses to a herb by feeling the pulse whilst giving a tiny dose by mouth, read here

I use a lot of Lemon balm in formulas of both dried herbs and liquid extract formulas. I often use Lemon balm in a similar way to how I use Licorice root in that I think Lemon balm helps to harmonise the formula, as well as making it taste better and be better absorbed. Fresh Lemon Balm tea, made with a few leaves from the garden in a cup of hot water is calming and refreshing.

Fresh Lemon Balm tincture (where you make the extract without drying the herb first) is vibrantly green and uplifting. Both dried Lemon balm tea and dried Lemon balm tincture are nourishing, tonic, and well suited to longer term use.

You cannot overdose with it but there is no point in taking more than you need for a therapeutic effect. In a cup of hot water a few leaves of fresh Lemon balm are ample to get its benefits. As a dried herb a teaspoon is enough for most and as a tincture just 1 or 2 mls should be more than ample for it to bring its lovely presence to the mind and body.

In our clinic we make and provide a combination of herbs we call, simply enough, 'Balm tea'. The recipe is as follows

Balm Tea

Lemon balm 80gms
Chamomile 60gms
Skullcap 40gms
Motherwort 20gms

If we cannot get good fresh and vibrantly green Skullcap then we use Oatstraw instead. We can usually get all of these herbs organically these days. The recipe above shows the proportions and this amount would add up to 180gms of herbs, which is 2 or 3 two large jar-fulls.

Of course you can make more or less according to your desire. I recommend a therapeutic dose of this as 1 cup of boiling water over 2-3 heaped tsps of the herbs. It is ok to add honey if you wish. Steep for a good 10 minutes then strain and drink hot or cool as you prefer. Our label describes it as being for 'digestive upsets, stress and nervous tension'

Lemon Balm combines perfectly with Skullcap for anxiety, with Elder for childhood illness and with Hawthorn for irregular and stressed heart rhythms.


Constitutional note

Much of the information here about the traditional uses of Lemon balm is consistent with the model of thinking whereby one may treat problem A with plant B. There is value in this approach, especially in how it helps us pass on useful knowledge to one another, but it falls short in one vital area; and that is that people are not all cut from the same cloth! Something that works brilliantly for one person may do less for another -- why is this?

Part of the reason is that people vary in their constitutions as to whether they are either hotter or cooler and, at the same time, either dryer or damper. This useful and rather fascinating subject is introduced further here

Anyone can enjoy and appreciate this herb but I have seen that Lemon balm may be particularly well-loved by the hotter constitutions. As a potent member of the mint family it may have some much welcome cooling benefits to an overheated head, heart or belly.

Another big part of using the right herb when it is most needed comes from understanding the need to treat what is going wrong for the person that had led up to their getting a health condition. In this light,Lemon balm can particularly offer its benefits when a nourishing action is needed in the 'cycle of healing', more about this here

Please understand that I cannot advise you, including on products or dosage, without seeing you in person in my clinic but for ideas on how you might find a good herbalist in your area read here

This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!



© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd