Calm Yourself With Lemon Balm6 months ago | Nutrition
By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder
I’m a big fan of herbs and spices, and one herb we have yet to discuss is lemon balm!
Lemon balm is in the mint plant family, along with basil, oregano, rosemary, sage, thyme and more. Said to be native to southern Europe and the Mediterranean, lemon balm has a medicinal history that dates back more than 2,000 years.
For example, some reports say that in ancient Greek and Roman medicine, lemon balm steeped in wine was used to make surgical dressings for wounds and was used to treat venomous bites and stings (both orally and topically).
And apparently, ancient Arabs used this herb to treat heart disorders.
“Lemon balm is high in flavonoids, which can have an antioxidant effect. Other phytochemicals in lemon balm which may provide antioxidant activity include phenolic acids, terpenes, rosmarinic acid and caffeic acids,” according to this source.
Antioxidants play a key role in protecting the body against oxidative stress and free radical damage (essentially inflammation) which are believed to be contributors to all types of illness, including cancer, heart disease, diabetes and a weakened immune system.
Rosmarinic acid has antimicrobial properties. Oil extracted from lemon balm is also said to have antiviral abilities. So nutrients in lemon balm may be great for boosting the immune system and soothing digestive issues.
I don’t plan on steeping lemon balm in wine anytime soon, but here are some additional potential health benefits of this herb and ways we can possibly incorporate lemon balm into our lives.
Lemon balm may help with symptoms of depression.
Reportedly, 300 million people globally suffer from depression. And although antidepressant medications help many people with depression, these medications may have a lot of unwanted side effects including loss of sexual interest, upset stomach, insomnia and more. And of course, medications may also cause nutritional deficiencies, and “[a]ny antidepressant may lose its effect after months or years, sometimes because the brain has become less responsive to the drug (tolerance),” according to Harvard Health.
This is why natural, alternative therapies for treating depression are attractive to many people, and lemon balm may be a great option. More research is needed, but a study with rodents suggested that when they were given lemon balm extract it produced antidepressant-like and anxiolytic-like (meaning it reduces anxiety) effects.
“These psychoactive properties, along with lemon balm's safety profile over a wide dose range, may provide a unique pharmacological alternative for specific psychiatric disorders,” reports the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
And another study, which involved healthy, young adults who were given “lemon balm extract administered as a water based drink,” found that doing this helped improve mood and cognitive function.
As mentioned, lemon balm contains a compound called rosmarinic acid which may be responsible for this herb’s potential to improve mental health and cognitive function.
The National Institutes of Health even reports that lemon balm extract “...has been proven to ameliorate mild to moderate AD [Alzhiemer’s disease].”
Lemon balm may help protect you from pesky mosquitoes.
This herb contains high amounts of a compound called citronellal, which gives lemon balm its lemony scent and flavor. And apparently, bugs and mosquitos do not like this scent. For a DIY lemon balm bug spray, click here. And some suggest just simply rubbing crushed lemon balm leaves on exposed skin.
Making your own bug repellent with natural ingredients may be something you might want to consider, because some studies have found evidence suggesting that many commercial bug sprays contain toxic ingredients.
For example, one study “...found that DEET [a commercial bug spray] can interfere with the activity of enzymes that are vital for the nervous system to function properly,” according to Live Science.
“In the study, the researchers found that DEET blocked the enzyme cholinesterase, which is essential for transmitting messages from the brain to the muscles in insects. The researchers noted that DEET may also affect the nervous systems of mammals, and that more research in this area is needed.”
Lemon balm may help you get a good night’s rest.
Lemon balm contains chemicals that appear to have a sedative, calming effect. This makes sense when considering how we discussed earlier that this herb may alter the mind in a positive way, ease stress and improve mood. Lemon balm combined with other calming herbs, such as valerian, may be just the ticket to dreamland.
(If you suffer from sleep issues, consult a competent healthcare before using herbs or supplements to try to treat these issues).
Lemon balm may help treat herpes.
“Some studies suggest that topical ointments containing lemon balm may help heal cold sores caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). In one study of 116 people with HSV, those who applied lemon balm cream to their lip sores experienced significant improvement in redness and swelling after only 2 days,” according to one source.
“Other symptoms, such as pain and scabbing, did not improve. Both the people and their doctors reported that lemon balm ointment was highly effective.”
Lemon balm may provide relief from your toothache.
Because lemon balm is an anti-inflammatory, it may help with pain. Inflammation is sometimes your body’s response to pain. Take a cotton swab and apply some lemon balm essential oil to the area. Be sure to dilute the oil with another “carrier oil” such as jojoba, avocado or coconut oil.
Additional ways to use lemon balm?
- Have some lemon balm tea before bed to wind down and get to sleep. And if you’re having tummy troubles, lemon balm tea may help!
- If you’re into aromatherapy, add some lemon balm essential oil to your bath water or room diffuser. Lemon balm is inhaled as aromatherapy for Alzhiemer’s disease, (WebMD).
- As you probably guessed, lemon balm has a lemony, citrusy taste. It also has a hint of mint. This herb is great for adding freshness to meat dishes. Check out this seared lemon balm chicken recipe.
- Perk up your everyday salad with this lemon balm vinaigrette.
- Make some fresh iced lemon balm tea for a refreshing summer beverage.
- Talk to a competent healthcare professional about possibly adding a lemon balm supplement to your proactive healthcare regimine. Do not go out and buy a supplement on your own without seeking medical advice first.
Precautions & side effects?
If you are going to apply lemon balm essential oil directly to your skin, make sure to mix with another oil, such as coconut or jojoba oil, in order to dilute it. Applying 100 percent pure essential oils to the skin can be irritating.
Consuming fresh lemon balm, for example in a meat marinade or a bit on top of a salad, is generally pretty safe for most people. And according to the American Pregnancy Association, lemon balm tea is “likely safe” for pregnant women.
But as always, we recommend seeking medical advice about the foods you are eating if you are taking any medications, have any existing health issues or are pregnant or breastfeeding. With lemon balm extracts and supplements, it’s especially advised to consult a competent healthcare professional before you start incorporating them into your healthcare plan.
(Know that if you are taking glaucoma medications, thyroid medications, barbiturates, sedatives and drugs that affect serotonin (an important mood regulator in the brain) you should proceed with caution when you use lemon balm. In other words, seek medical advice).
Do you use lemon balm in your proactive healthcare plan? Please share!
Enjoy your healthy life!
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