"Natural Healing with Herbs for a Healthier You"
THE BENEFITS OF THE USE OF LEMON BALM
IN HERBAL PREPARATIONS
King’s American Dispensatory-1898” states lemon balm is moderately stimulant, diaphoretic, and anti-spasmodic. King’s continues saying lemon balm”…has been serviceable as a diaphoretic in febrile diseases and painful menstruation, and to assist the operation of other diaphoretic medicines. It is also occasionally used to assist menstruation…the infusion maybe taken ad libitum.” (1)
“Potter’s New Cyclopedia of Botanical Drugs and Preparations” seems to dismissively list lemon balm as a carminative, diaphoretic, febrifuge; then give instructions to make a tea. The preceding examples are given so the reader may get a very small understanding of lemon balm’s medicinal standing in the nineteenth and early twentieth century; a very far cry from early herb medical history when lemon balm was used to heal all maladies. Recent times are finding a resurgence of interest in lemon balm’s medicinal potential and by means of scientific studies there is potential that Melissa officinalis could once again lay claim to it’s rightful place in every herbalist material medica.
As seen in the prior section “Chemical Constituents of Lemon Balm”, there is much in the medical qualities we can speak of. Lemon balm seems to be particularly specific to the nervous system, the digestive organs and a powerful supportive agent for the functionality of the immune system. But as with all herbal foods and medicines it works in a supportive manner for the whole biological mechanism that is the human body.
Let us begin with the nervous system and Melissa officinalis’ action upon it. The nervous system is the great conductor of the human body’s organs and systems. If the nervous system is not functioning in an efficient and balanced manner: because of abuse, damage, incessant stimulation, or deterioration; everything that is the body proper suffers in some form or another. According to Dr William .A .Mitchell in his book “Plant Medicine in Practice- Using the Teachings of John Bastyr” the volatile oils of lemon balm act on the mid-brain, or limbic system. Dr Mitchell recommends using lemon balm to treat the autonomic nervous system, especially when there is distress, nervousness, and irritation of the patient. He also uses Melissa for cases of gastric dyspepsia and states his mentor Dr John Bastyr used it for female reproductive system complaints.
Some herbalist and naturopaths are using lemon balm in the treatment of anxiety disorders, especially when the anxiety is associated with hyperthyroid conditions in the patient. (2)
As an aside, Dr James Duke in his book “The Green Pharmacy” states in Europe lemon balm is often recommended along with bugleweed for treating Grave’s disease, an immune disorder of the thyroid causing hyperthyroid type of symptoms. In this particular disease Dr James Duke refers to studies done using a single injection of lemon balm extract causing a decrease in blood and pituitary levels of TSH, therefore reducing thyroid hormone production. Melissa officinalis is also recommended for use with St John’s Wort herb in the treatment of depression in association with viral infection and for SAD also known as seasonal affective disorder. (3)
Lemon balm has been historically used for treating anxiety and heart palpitations. Arabian physicians described it as a “gladdening “herb and lemon balm was a favorite remedy for headache and nervous disorders in the seventeenth century. (4) In the “Protocol Journal of Botanical Medicine Vol 2,No 1” , David Winston recommends lemon balm fresh plant extract for sadness, mild depression, and anxiety, especially for children. David Winston’s recommendation is in reference to the treatment of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). In this same publication David Hoffman suggest using lemon balm with lavender (Lavender officinalis) and tilia (Tilia spp) for the treatment of depression.
In his correspondence course text on phytotherapy “Therapeutic Herbalism” David Hoffman indicates the use of lemon Balm for dyspepsia associated with anxiety and depression. He writes “the volatile oil appears to act on the interface between the digestive tract and the nervous system…(lemon balm) has been described by some herbalist as being trophorestorative , (pertaining to the use of food/nourishment in restoring health) to the nervous system…”.
In studies on mice, a hydro-alcoholic extract of lemon balm resulted in a sedative effect, when applied in a dose dependent method. In low doses the herb extract induced sleep. When the essential oil of lemon balm was tested on guinea pigs it was found to produce a relaxant effect on the tracheal and ileal smooth muscles. (5) Studies are also being conducted in the use of lemon balm in the treatment of Alzheimer’s, but as of yet nothing definitive has been found. In another study, again on mice, rosmaric acid from lemon balm was found to have an analgesic effect in high doses. The analgesic effect was of a peripheral rather than central nature. (6) As the reader can see, lemon balm’s healing action has a clear influence upon the nervous system with a secondary effect upon other systems especially the digestive tract.
In his book “The English Physitian” Culpepper quotes Serapio “It (lemon balm) causeth the Mind and Heart to becom merry, and reviveth the Heart fainting to foundlings, especially of such who are overtaken in their sleep, and driveth away al troublesome cares and thought…”. Lemon balm was used in the Middle ages as a general heart tonic particularly if palpitations and fainting were present in the patient.
Culpepper in particular used lemon balm as a warming pectoral for cold lung conditions and gave a cordial of lemon balm for what he diagnosed as a hot, moist, easily appeased angry heart condition to sweat out the excess moisture from the heart and body. But Culpepper also used lemon balm cordial for a heart condition he judged to be cold and moist in a phlegmatic body, reasoning Melissa officinalis would help to bring needed heat into the body and therefore bring a healing response as well.
In his book “Medicinal Plants” Hans Fluck recommends the use of an infusion of lemon balm as an expectorant for bronchitis although in parentheses after he writes ‘action unknown’. According to David Hoffman in his book “Therapeutic Herbalism” lemon balm has a tonic effect on the heart and circulatory system causing mild vasodilation of the peripheral vessels, thus acting to lower blood pressure. Lemon balm’s influence on the vasodilation in the heart and circulatory system would be especially helpful in treating stress induced heart problems, tension headache, migraine, and possibly Raynaud’s Syndrome if is due to nervous tension on peripheral capillary circulation.
“ A Modern Herbal” author Mrs. M. Grieve gives a bit of lemon balm’s folk legend saying John Hussey, of Sydenham, who lived to the age of 116, breakfast for fifty years on Balm tea… and the herb (lemon balm) teas were the usual breakfast of Llewellyn, Prince of Glamorgan, who died in his 108th year. If we consider lemon balm’s proven beneficial influence upon the nervous system, heart/ circulatory system, and digestive system alone, we could easily hypothesize these two longevity stories to be true! What could be easier than drinking a cup of Melissa tea every day to give good health to our bodies and enjoy our life to its fullest and longest also?
We shall now look at lemon balm’s influence upon the immune system. From the chemical components that are found within lemon balm we know quite a few of them have anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-septic, and anti-microbial properties. But exactly how can it be applied to fully utilize lemon balm’s medicinal qualities to our fullest benefit? Let us start with lemon balm’s anti-viral uses.
In “The Green Pharmacy” by Dr James Duke he states that lemon balm has demonstrated anti-viral, anti-herpes properties that seem to result from compounds in the herb, including tannins, that are known as polyphenols. Dr Duke continues to explain how lemon balm’s chemical compounds have the ability to latch on to the body cell’s viral receptor sites therefore preventing the virus’ attachment to the body cell which inhibits the spread of infection. He recommends the use of aqueous extraction taken internally and applied topically upon the herpes sore or the use of a topical crème or ointment of lemon balm used externally. Dr James recommends the use of lemon balm for treatment of Herpes simplex and Herpes zoster, a viral cousin to H. simplex that is the cause of chicken pox in children and shingles in adults.
It is interesting to note that an aqueous extract of lemon balm has shown anti- HIV activity by inhibiting HIV-1 reverse transcriptase in vitro. (8) What this means, in common terminology, is that in this study lemon balm has demonstrated in vitro the ability to prevent the HIV-1 virus from mutating the normal genetic code of a healthy body cell into the HIV-1 viral cell. If this propensity of lemon balms is explored in further studies there could very well be hope for those suffering with HIV a possibly safer alternative to the devastating chemical treatments they are now subjected too.
One important aspect in the body’s immune system is the ability to prevent and fight cancer. The chemical components found in lemon balm’s leaves, caffeic acid and a glycocide(unnamed), have been found to have anti-tumor effects. The caffeic acid and unidentified glycocide were found to inhibit protein biosynthesis in cancer cells by preventing the cancer cell’s replication process. (9) Traditionally Melissa officinalis has been used for fighting colds, flu, and infection in wounds. As a cold and flu remedy it was made into an infusion to be drank copiously through the duration of the sickness. With its anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties lemon balm would have an effect on any outside biological invader of the body but with no side effects as experienced with allopathic antibiotics. Lemon balm also has diaphoretic properties which activates the secretion of sweat aiding in the removal of toxic buildup from the body that may contribute to the duration of the illness. What an effective cold remedy lemon balm is, everything needed to cure the illness in one gentle herb!
As lemon balm is known for it’s aromatic qualities it would be remiss of this author to leave out the medicinal qualities of sweet Melissa’s essential oil. Lemon balm’s scent is a subject that has been mentioned in all the resources and historical tomes used in this paper’s research. Melissa’s scent seems to cause all literati to wax eloquent, coaxing a smile to come to the lips of the readers of their works. How beautiful that such an olfactory experience can be transferred so easily from one mind to another!
In “The Art of a Aromatherapy” author Robert Tisserand says lemon balm’s essential oil is tonic to the heart, nervous system, and digestive system. He states also that the oil seems to have an affinity for the female reproductive system; having a mild emmenagogue action and useful for painful periods in helping to remove tension and blockages. According to “Aromatherapy for Healing the Spirit” author Gabriel Mojay states oil of Melissa is indicated for stagnation of Qi- energy, for heat in the Liver and Heart and disturbance of the Mind (shen). Essential oil of lemon balm can be very expensive due to typically low yield in processing so it tends to get adulterated with other less expensive oils such as lemon, lemon grass, and citronella. Pure lemon balm oil is again available, due to some distillers in France, but at quite an expense because of the low yield factor.
Medicinally lemon balm essential oil is recommended for insomnia, migraine, nervous tension, neurasthenia, anxiety, cold sores, shingles, emotional shock, and grief. (10) As we can see the essential oil Melissa officinalis has much the same benefit as the herb itself. This is due to the fact that the essential oil in the herb easily releases into water when making tea; so not only do you receive medicinal benefit from the herb itself, you also get aromatherapy treatment while drinking your tea!
1.Online, “King’s American Dispensatory - 1898”, www.ibiblio.org <http://www.ibiblio.org>
2.Pg34, “The Protocol Journal of Botanical Medicine-Vol 1, No1”
3.Pg 65 & pg72, Ibid
4.Pg 174, “Growing & Using Healing Herbs” by Gaea & Shandor Weiss
5.Online, www.uspharmacist.com <http://www.uspharmacist.com>
7.Part 4, pg204 &205, “Culpepper’s Medicine-A Practice of Western Holistic Medicine” by Graeme Tobyn
8.Online, www.uspharmacist.com <http://www.uspharmacist.com>
10. Pg 85 & 86, “Aromatherapy Workbook” by Marcel Lavabre
by Melissa Morrison