Medical review by Fallon Mumford, PharmD
Lemon balm is part of the mint plant family. Its botanical name is Melissa officinalis. Lemon balm plants are native to Iran, Europe and Central Asia and are now cultivated around the world.
People have used lemon balm leaves for centuries for the plant’s supposed digestive, antimicrobial, metabolic, and mental health benefits. Lemon balm is generally considered safe and has few reported side effects. It is often used as an ingredient in teas, skin ointments, lip balms, and various herbal supplements.
Research is limited regarding the benefits of lemon balm, but there are some promising studies.
Dietary supplements are loosely regulated by the FDA and may or may not be right for you. The effects of supplements vary from person to person and depend on many variables, including type, dosage, frequency of use, and interactions with current medications. Please consult your health care provider or pharmacist before starting any supplement.
May improve mental health
Many people believe that lemon balm is able to calm the mind and provide mental clarity. Research has found some truth to these claims.
One study looked at how participants’ moods changed after consuming lemon balm mixed with yogurt or mixed with a drink. Researchers found that lemon balm consumption was linked to improved mood and cognitive function.
A review of previous studies found that lemon balm significantly improved anxiety and depression compared to a placebo. However, these results were based on small studies. Larger studies are needed to confirm that lemon balm may have a positive effect on mental health.
May help with cold sores
Lemon balm has antioxidant, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. Because of these properties, some research has looked at lemon balm’s ability to treat or prevent herpes simplex virus, the virus that causes cold sores. Studies have found that lemon balm can shorten the duration of cold sore infections, prevent repeat infections, and reduce redness and swelling.
May reduce insomnia
Lemon balm is often used in teas and other herbal preparations to aid in falling asleep. There is evidence that shows a link between lemon balm and better sleep.
For example, one study found that people who had heart surgery had improved sleep when taking lemon balm capsules compared to a group given a placebo.
However, more research needs to be done to determine the impact of lemon balm on sleep.
May reduce PMS symptoms
Lemon balm may provide benefits for people with premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
One study looked at the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome in teenage girls. The study found that a daily dose of 1,200 milligrams of lemon balm in capsule form reduced the intensity of PMS symptoms compared to participants who received a placebo.
The researchers noted that more research is needed using more diverse populations and larger numbers of participants.
May improve digestion
Lemon balm is often used to relieve digestive symptoms, such as bloating and gas. It has also been used to help infants with colic, crying which can sometimes be triggered by gas or other digestive pain.
Some research has found positive links between lemon balm and improving indigestion and colic. However, many of these studies used various herbal blends containing lemon balm rather than lemon balm alone. For this reason, it is difficult to determine which herb gave the benefit.
One animal study looked at lemon balm alone and found that the herb calmed the small intestines in mice. However, human-based research is needed to confirm this benefit for people.
How to take lemon balm
Lemon balm can be consumed in several ways. People often drink it as a tea or as an ingredient in a tea blend. You can eat the herb fresh, chopped in a salad, added to a cold drink, or even as an ingredient in baked goods. You can find it in supplement form in capsules or tablets or as an herbal tincture. Many cosmetic products also contain lemon balm, including lipsticks, balms, ointments, and soaps.
There are no evidence-based dosage recommendations for lemon balm.
Different lemon balm preparations can be more concentrated than others. For example, lemon balm teas are generally less potent than tinctures or extracts. When using lemon balm as a supplement, it is best to follow the manufacturer’s recommended usage and dosage.
If you are unsure of the safe dose of lemon balm for you, speak to a healthcare professional.
Is lemon balm safe?
The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) places lemon balm on its “generally considered safe” list.
But lemon balm may not be as safe for everyone. There is some evidence that lemon balm may not be safe for people with thyroid disorders. Also, not much is known about the safety of using lemon balm while pregnant or breastfeeding, so it’s best to speak with your health care provider before consuming it during these times.
Potential Drug Interactions
Lemon balm is considered safe in most cases. However, there is very little information about the safety of taking lemon balm with other medications.
There is evidence to suggest that lemon balm may interact negatively with sedatives.
Speak to a health care provider before taking lemon balm with other medications, especially if you plan to consume concentrated amounts, such as in a capsule, extract, or tincture.
What to look for
When purchasing lemon balm supplements, such as capsules, tablets, extracts, and tinctures, it is important to keep in mind that herbal supplements are not regulated by the FDA. The benefits listed on the product, as well as the quality of the product itself, may or may not be accurate.
The FDA recommends that you purchase products that have been third-party quality tested by organizations such as consumerLab.com, NSF International, and US Pharmacopeia.
Can you take too much lemon balm?
There is no standard dosage for lemon balm, so the limit of how much lemon balm you can safely have is unclear.
Consuming the amount of lemon balm you enjoy as a food ingredient should be safe.
Concentrated forms of lemon balm, such as in tincture, extract, or capsule form, have much higher doses of the herb. When taking these forms of lemon balm, it is best to follow the dosage recommended by the manufacturer.
Stop taking a supplement if you experience side effects.
Side effects of lemon balm
Most people do not experience any side effects when consuming lemon balm.
Research has shown that consuming lemon balm at the manufacturer’s recommended doses topically or orally for up to 30 days generally does not produce side effects. The same is true when eaten as food.
Rarely, side effects like headache, increased body heat and burning during urination have been reported. Oral use of lemon balm can also increase your appetite.
A quick review
Lemon balm is a popular ingredient in foods and beverages, as well as an herbal supplement. There is evidence that the plant can help improve mental health, sleep, digestion, PMS and cold sores. Lemon balm is generally considered safe, especially when consumed in tea or food form. However, more information is needed on how to safely take higher doses and how lemon balm may interact with other medications. It’s always best to contact your health care provider before starting an herbal supplement like lemon balm.
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