Graduate of Longwood University in Virginia. Part-time sports journalist covering…
What is Lemon Balm Extract?
When life gives you lemons, take… lemon balm?
That might not have been the response you were expecting. In fact, we’re not even talking about actual lemons at all. We’re talking about lemon balm, a type of herb that’s part of the mint family.
You may be wondering why it’s called lemon balm when it’s an herb, and more so, a close relative to the mint leaf. The herb itself actually has a strong citrus scent, hence the mentioning of lemon in its name. Once native to the Mediterranean, the Middle East and Central Asia, it’s now present all over the world. But its invigorating scent is not the only reason why this herb is so widely known.
There are all types of physical and psychological lemon balm benefits. Its extract comes in the form of oil, tincture, tea and even powder. Each of these extracts come straight from lemon balm leaves, making it all the more easy to consume.
But what are some of the most popular lemon balm uses? Should you supplement with lemon balm extract and how can you get the most out of it?
Lemon Balm Extract Benefits
Stress & Anxiety Reliever
Lemon balm’s claim to fame is its ability to act as a calming agent. It can naturally improve mood, relieve stress and soothe anxiety. That’s why it’s not uncommon to hear someone suggest drinking lemon balm tea in times of stress.
In one study, 600 mg of lemon balm induced calmness among those under stress. Feeling more relaxed, these individuals reportedly felt less alert as well (x).
Even foods and beverages containing lemon balm can curb stress and anxiety. One study focused on the effects of beverages containing it. Researchers found that those who consumed the beverage felt less anxious after the study. Their memory improved as well (x). Another study looked at a beverage and yogurt containing lemon balm flavoring. These showed to improve mood, enhance cognitive function and alleviate anxiety (x). But even lemon balm extract on its own has an effect on memory, cognitive function and alertness (x).
With its calming effects, lemon balm can promote better wellness overall — even when it comes to sleep. That’s because it also functions as a natural sedative (x). When combined with other herbs, its sedative effects are all the more pronounced.
Valerian root is another common supplement used to promote relaxation. When combined with valerian root, lemon balm makes for a powerhouse calming agent. In one case, menopausal women slept better after taking valerian root and lemon balm. Researchers also found that their sleep patterns improved overall (x).
Valerian and lemon balm combinations can help young, severely hyperactive children. Many of these children are often susceptible to a sleep disorder known as dyssomnia. Those impacted by dyssomnia struggle to fall and stay asleep. They often struggle with concentration and suffer from severe fatigue as a result.
However, one study shows that hyperactive children benefited from a valerian-lemon balm combination. They experienced an improvement in symptoms by 70-80 percent (x). In another study, valerian and lemon balm alleviated symptoms of severe hyperactivity. Their symptoms of poor concentration decreased by 61 percent. This same group experienced a decrease in overall hyperactivity by 48 percent (x).
What about those who suffer from sleep troubles as a result of anxiety and depression? Lemon balm proves effective as well. When combined with Nepeta menthoides (a species related to catnip), it can ease insomnia. It can simultaneously improve symptoms of depression and anxiety as well (x).
Not only does lemon balm relieve stress, anxiety and promote better sleep, but it can also help put an end to restlessness, which so often ties in with these other ailments. The ultimate result? Those who supplement with lemon balm tend to feel better all around.
Of course, its benefits aren’t solely psychological.
Treats Cold Sores
If you’ve ever suffered from a cold sore, then you may be familiar with the gnawing pain they can cause. You’ve likely seen lemon balm creams and ointments marketed to treat them. But can lemon balm actually relieve cold sores?
It’s believed the best way to treat cold sores is to let them dry out. Eventually, they’ll go away. But the problem with this is that cracking can occur, making a cold sore much more painful. Because lemon balm is naturally derived from mint, it has the ability to soothe and cool. This means it can provide relief in the interim as a cold sore heals.
But lemon balm has strong anti-viral properties as well. It contains tannins, which are natural compounds found in things like berries, nuts and tea leaves (x, x). They have astringent properties, which means they can bind and constrict tissue. In the case of a cold sore, the tannins in it may be able to help the wound heal faster.
And that’s not all! It also contains eugenol, an antibacterial chemical compound (x). This means that when applying it on a cold sore, it can help to prevent infection as well.
Furthermore, lemon balm cream can reduce the size of cold sores. In one study, subjects applied the balm cream up to four times per day for five days. By the second day, their cold sores had reduced in size. They recovered faster than those who weren’t treated with it. Their symptoms of itching, tingling and pain decreased as well (x).
Some studies even suggest that lemon balm extract may be able to inhibit herpes simplex virus type 2 cells. In one study, researchers found that it slowed down the growth of HSV-2 cells by 60 percent (x).
This is not to suggest that it can cure cold sores or the herpes virus. However, it can act as a therapeutic supplement that soothes pain and speeds up recovery time.
Natural Digestive Aid
It’s no secret that herbal teas can relieve the symptoms of dyspepsia, otherwise known as indigestion. These symptoms include heartburn, bloating, belching and nausea. It works like other herbs, like chamomile and peppermint, in treating dyspepsia (x).
But lemon balm may be more effective than previously believed. In one study, participants indulged in sorbet after a meal. Some of the sorbet contained lemon balm while some did not. Both sorbets mixed with and without it helped reduce indigestion. But those who consumed the balm infused sorbet felt more relief than those who did not (x).
When supplemented with other herbs, it can further ease nausea (x). So, if anyone has ever told you to drink lemon balm tea for an upset tummy, these are all good reasons why.
Pain Relief, Anti-inflammatory & Other Uses
Did you know that it is one of the oldest remedies for menstrual cramps?
You may be wondering how it has an effect on menstrual cramps, and there are a few reasons behind this. Because it functions as a sedative, it can relax the muscles and ease mood swings. It also has analgesic and antispasmodic properties. This means it has the potential to relieve muscle cramps (x).
In one study, lemon balm oil did show to reduce cramping over the course of three menstrual cycles. In fact, those who supplemented with it experienced significant differences. The reduction of their PMS and cramping were far more pronounced than the placebo group (x).
Menstrual cramps aren’t the only ailment it can relieve. It also functions as an anti-inflammatory and can alleviate stress-related headaches. When applied to an affected area, it can relieve tooth pain (x). It can alleviate pain related to arthritis as well (x).
Lemon balm also has antioxidant properties, making it effective against free radical damage (x). High levels of free radicals can cause excessive oxidative stress and damage. The body is then more susceptible to cardiovascular disease, arthritis and diabetes.
In the case of diabetes, the antioxidant properties of it prove effective. In low concentrations, it can help to reduce high blood sugar levels. Furthermore, it can help to regulate insulin production as well (x).
Did You Know?
Lemon balm actually comes from an herb that’s part of the mint family. It grows in the Mediterranean pockets of Southern Europe and the Middle East. It even grows in North Africa, the Caucasus and even in Pakistan and India (x).
But it’s not hard to find it in other places of the world. In fact, you may have come across it at your local markets or in someone’s garden.
It’s traditionally used to attract bees and promote honey production (x). It’s used as a flavoring and perfume ingredient as well.
Lemon Balm Extract Side Effects
With any supplement, users always run the risk of experiencing certain side effects, so you may be wondering what any possible lemon balm side effects may entail.
Though rare, it can cause an upset stomach, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting. Dizziness, skin irritation, wheezing and increased appetite can also occur (x).
Other Side Effects & Warnings
Who is most susceptible to experiencing some of these side effects? For starters, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should avoid using it. There is not enough research to show that it is safe to use during pregnancy or while breastfeeding.
Because it can induce drowsiness, it may interact with certain drugs. It’s recommended to stop taking it at least two weeks prior to surgery.
Those with hypoglycemia should be cautious when taking it. If blood sugar levels dip too low, this could be dangerous, so it’s important to monitor your levels.
Interactions with Lemon Balm
Because lemon balm induces sleepiness, it’s not recommended to take it with sedatives. It’s also not recommended to use it if you’re on any medications that cause drowsiness. These include (but aren’t limited to):
- Clonazepam (Klonopin)
- Zolpidem (Ambien)
- Lorazepam (Ativan)
There are no known interactions with over-the-counter medications that may cause drowsiness. Be cautious and avoid taking it with any medication known to make people sleepy (x).
Talk to your doctor before taking it if you are on any prescription medications.
Lemon Balm Extract Supplement
When sticking to the recommended dosage, it is usually safe to use in short periods of time. Before supplementing with any type of lemon balm extract, consult with your doctor.
You may be wondering how much a typical lemon balm dosage yields. Generally speaking, dosages vary and depend on the type of extract and purpose of use.
Lemon Balm Extract Dosage & Instructions
If you were to supplement with lemon balm powder, for example, a recommended daily dose would be 1,000 mg. You could mix this powder in protein shakes, smoothies, juice or water. You can use lemon balm powder as a dietary supplement to promote general well-being. Should you experience nausea or dizziness at 1,000 mg, it’s recommended to lower the dosage (x).
When treating cold sores, stick to ointments and creams containing 1 percent lemon balm. You can apply these products generally 2-4 times per day at the first sign of symptoms. Products vary, so be sure to follow any specific instructions (x, x).
There is not enough research to support long-term use of it, so talk to your doctor about supplementing with it in this regard.
The Bottom Line
Life can give us all types of “lemons” that can disrupt our health and general well-being. Lemon balm may not be a cure for anxiety, cold sores, insomnia and poor digestion, but it certainly can soothe and alleviate these types of ailments — and so much more.
Graduate of Longwood University in Virginia. Part-time sports journalist covering the Vegas Golden Knights.