Lemon Balm: For More Than Just Depression


The renowned 16th century English herbalist, Nicholas Culpeper, described the use of lemon balm for depression by quoting Serapio who said the herb  “caus(es) the mind and heart to become merry, and reviveth the heart, faintings and swoonings of such who are overtaken by sleep, and driveth away all troublesome cares and thoughts out of the mind, arising from melancholy and black choler: this being confirmed by Avicenna.“  Culpeper stated the use of the preparation as an electuary. An electuary is made by using fresh dried lemon balm leaves, powdered and mixed with melted honey to form a paste. The dose is ½ to 1 teaspoon taken daily or as needed. It’s an excellent way of taking herbs without losing any of their properties to volatilization when cooking.

The influence of lemon balm is primarily on the digestive system and nerves. It has a pleasant lemony flavor and a cooling, anti-inflammatory energy.

Lemon Balm for Children

In ancient times depression was described as melancholy for which lemon balm was considered a remedy. I first learned of the gentle healing power of lemon balm as an herb ideally suited for children from infancy to adolescence from my first herb teacher, the late Dr. Raymond Christopher. As such it can be used for the most common childhood problems ranging from colds, flu, digestive complaints, and mood and cognitive disorders. I combine lemon balm leaves with chamomile flowers which can be used as a pleasant tea and administered even to persistently crying infants in teaspoonful doses. In proportionally larger doses the combination works well for older children to treat cognitive disorders and symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).[1] This combination is available and sold as a Planetary Herbal as Calm Child.

Lemon Balm for Depression

Lemon balm combined with St. John’s wort and albizzia flowers and bark can be used for the treatment of depression associated with SAD (seasonal affective disorder. Another combination for depression is with lavender or linden flower (Tilia spp.) and St. John’s wort. Lemon balm treats the mind, nervous system and gastrointestinal tract suggesting its effect on serotonin, a neurotransmitter manufactured in the brain of which 90% is stored in the digestive tract. This exemplifies the physiological relationship of the mind and gut, which is asserted in both TCM and Ayurvedic herbal medicine.

The late Dr. James Duke describes how lemon balm lowers blood and pituitary levels of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), making it useful for the treatment of Grave’s or hyperthyroid disease, a condition associated with a tendency towards hyperactive states. This relationship of lemon balm inhibiting TSH makes it theoretically contraindicated for the reverse condition, hypo or low thyroid. In Europe lemon balm is combined with bugleweed (Ajuga) for Grave’s disease.

Lemon Balm for Alzheimer’s?

Recent human randomized placebo-controlled, double blind studies suggest that single doses ranging from 600- to 1600 mg of encapsulated dried leaf of lemon balm given to 20 healthy adults had increasing cognitive and mood effects. This, and other studies suggest that lemon balm may be valuable in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease[2] and other conditions associated with high stress and anxiety.

Another common use for lemon balm is as a diaphoretic, antiviral warm infusion for colds and flues. Simply steep one or two teaspoons of the dried leaves in a cup of hot water. Cover until cool enough to drink. While lemon balm has a pleasant lemony flavor, lemon balm tea would benefit with the addition of a teaspoon of honey for each cup. Besides treating colds and flu, this tea can be taken before bed to calm the mind and induce a sound, restful sleep.

Lemon Balm in Gynecology

Another use for Lemon balm tea and widely prescribed by the late John Bastyr, the founder of Bastyr College of Naturopathy, is for the relief of menstrual pains.

Lemon Balm: Antiviral Against Herpes

Finally, the most recent popular use for lemon balm oil or salve is its antiviral properties as a non-toxic prevention and treatment of herpes 1 and 2 lesions as a direct application.[3] Lemon balm is rich in a host of antiviral constituents including rosmarinic acid, flavonoids and phenolic acid. When applied regularly as an oil, tincture or salve it greatly reduces associated herpes outbreaks and cuts the time needed to heal cold sores in half. [4]

The list of benefits that lemon balm offers goes on extending to its possible uses for treating HIV and cancer. In fact, after writing nine books and a huge syllabus (with my wife, Lesley Tierra) I can only say that it is virtually impossible to list all the things for which a humble herb such as lemon balm can be used. Herbs are tools and describing all their uses is like trying to describe all the uses for pliers. One can only count on the fact that once one knows what the tool is, the sky is the limit in terms of describing all the ways it can be used.

Lemon balm is practically a weed in my garden. It’s nevertheless a beautiful plant with a very friendly spirit. Composing this article has inspired a renewed appreciation for it especially for depression, anxiety, cognitive and mood disorders – and who is not at some time one way or another not plagued with that?  As a member of the mint family (Lamiaceae), it is closely related to skullcap, which I also grow in abundance and I consider the combination of lemon balm and skullcap a dual combination (known in traditional Chinese medicine as ‘dui yao’) where the possibility of two herbs working synergistically might be better than just one. I also have a large patch of Bacopa monnieri called “Brahmi” which is traditionally used in Ayurveda for promoting cognitive ability, relieving anxiety and stress makes it a good candidate to combine with lemon balm.  Consider how even these two herbs, bacopa and lemon balm used together affords the best of several continents,  lemon balm naturalized in the Americas and native to south-central Europe, the Mediterranean Basin, Iran, and Central Asia, and elsewhere; Brahmi Bacopa, an herb native to the wetlands of Southern and Eastern India, Australia, Europe, Africa, Asia, and North and South America. This is a wonderful example of Planetary Herbalism which is what we teach in our East West Course of Planetary Herbology.

 

[1] Modulation of mood and cognitive performance following acute administration of Melissa officinalis (lemon balm).  https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0091305702007773

[2] The Use of Herbal Medicine in Alzheimer’s Disease—A Systematic Review

https://www.hindawi.com/journals/ecam/2006/429564/abs/

[3] Antiviral activity of the volatile oils of Melissa officinalis L. against Herpes simplexvirus type-, N.DuranbM.OzguvencS.Koltasd

[4] How to Use Lemon Balm for Herpes by Sue Sierralupe, https://www.livestrong.com/article/105847-use-lemon-balm-herpes/

 

 



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