The Many Uses of Lemon Balm

What you need to know about this mint-family herb

Lemon balm plant, close-up
Vincenzo Lombardo/Photodisc/Getty Images

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is a herb in the mint family. Often used for stress and anxiety, this herb contains terpenes (chemicals thought to produce a relaxing effect).

Available in capsule and tincture form, lemon balm can also be consumed as a tea or used in cooking. When brewing lemon balm tea, make sure to keep the teapot or cup covered at all times in order to hold in the steam, which is thought to contain the herb's therapeutic aromatic oils.


In herbal medicine, lemon balm is sometimes used for the treatment and/or prevention of these conditions:


To date, few scientific studies have focused on the health effects of lemon balm. However, findings from available research suggest that the herb shows in inducing calmness. 

1) Anxiety

In a 2006 study of 24 healthy volunteers, scientists discovered that taking a combination of lemon balm and valerian helped reduce participants' anxiety levels during a stress-inducing lab experiment.

2) Insomnia

In a research review published in 2005, investigators found that lemon balm "may have some effect on sleep" but cautioned that "reports are too scanty to form any opinion about this."

A study published in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice in 2013 indicates that lemon balm in combination with the herb valerian may help to ease insomnia during menopause.

For the study, 100 women between the ages of 50 and 60 with sleep disorders were given either a valerian/lemon balm combination or a placebo. The researchers observed that the lemon balm/valerian supplement appeared to have a beneficial effect in reducing the symptoms of sleep disorders.

Related: 5 Mind/Body Practices to Sleep Better Naturally

3) Cold Sores

Shown to possess antiviral properties, lemon balm has been found to promote the healing of cold sores (small, painful blisters caused by the herpes simplex virus-1) in several studies. In the treatment of cold sores, lemon balm is typically applied topically (in the form of a cream or ointment).

Preliminary research indicates that topical application of lemon balm may also be useful in the treatment of genital herpes (a condition caused by the herpes simplex virus-2).

Related: 8 Cold Sore Remedies

4) Alzheimer's Disease

Lemon balm may benefit people with Alzheimer's disease, according to a 2003 study. For four months, 42 older adults with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease took a daily dose of lemon balm or a placebo. At the end of the treatment period, those taking lemon balm showed a significantly better outcome on cognitive function. In addition, agitation (a problem prevalent among Alzheimer's patients) was found to be less common in the lemon balm group.

Possible Side Effects

Lemon balm may cause sedation. It may interact with supplements and medications that have a sedative effect and with thyroid medication. Pregnant women, nursing mothers, and children shouldn't take lemon balm supplements.

You can get additional tips on using supplements here, but keep in mind that self-treating and avoiding or delaying standard care can have serious consequences. 

The Takeaway

Although a cup of lemon balm tea once in a while may help to promote calmness, more research is needed before the herb can be recommended as a treatment for Alzheimer's disease or other conditions. If you're still considering using it, talk with your healthcare provider first to weigh the pros and cons and discuss whether it's appropriate for you.


Akhondzadeh S, Noroozian M, Mohammadi M, Ohadinia S, Jamshidi AH, Khani M. 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(7):863-6.

Burns A, Perry E, Holmes C, et al. A double-blind placebo-controlled randomized trial of Melissa officinalis oil and donepezil for the treatment of agitation in Alzheimer's disease. Dement Geriatr Cogn Disord. 2011;31(2):158-64. doi: 10.1159/000324438. Epub 2011 Feb 19.

Kennedy DO, Little W, Haskell CF, Scholey AB. Anxiolytic effects of a combination of Melissa officinalis and Valeriana officinalis during laboratory induced stress. Phytother Res. 2006 20(2):96-102.

Mazzanti G, Battinelli L, Pompeo C, et al. Inhibitory activity of Melissa officinalis L. extract on Herpes simplex virus type 2 replication. Nat Prod Res. 2008;22(16):1433-40.

Schnitzler P, Schuhmacher A, Astani A, Reichling J. Melissa officinalis oil affects infectivity of enveloped herpesviruses. Phytomedicine. 2008 15(9):734-40.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

Continue Reading