What is lemon balm?
A lemon-scented herb from the mint family, lemon balm is native to Europe, North Africa and West Asia (but is also grown around the world).
Herbalists in the Renaissance period used to hold this herb in high regard for its many healing abilities, saying that “lemon balm contains within it the virtues of a dozen other plants”.
Also called common balm, balm mint or toronjil, this useful little herb comes with a myriad of great health benefits. Today, it’s touted as a highly-effective natural remedy for pretty much everything from indigestion to insomnia.
What is lemon balm used for?
Lemon balm is most often used in traditional medicine. For centuries, people have been using it to help improve sleep, reduce anxiety, heal wounds and promote longevity. Traditionally, it can also be used to treat headaches and migraines, stomach cramps, and urinary infections (among other things).
The herb also has various culinary uses. Because of its pleasant smell, many people enjoy adding it as the final flavoring to a dish. The leaves can also be steeped into tea, or used in fruit-based drinks.
Lemon balm also has a number of great non-traditional uses – such as being used to repel insects, or for making homemade soaps and toothpaste!
10 Surprising Benefits of Lemon Balm
Lemon balm may only be a common garden herb, but it’s pretty widely known for its ability to support good health.
From stress relief to restful sleep to improved cognitive function, here’s a list of the top 10 benefits this amazing herb can provide:
Relieves stress and anxiety
Lemon balm is calming, and can have a mild sedative effect at higher doses – which makes it an effective treatment for anxiety and depression. Studies show the herb is able to soothe symptoms of stress, help you relax and give your mood a boost.
Thanks to its calming properties, lemon balm is also an excellent natural sleep aid. It can be combined with the herb valerian (or used on its own) to promote relaxation and help you get to sleep easier. Lemon balm can also be used to relieve symptoms of restlessness, and to ease sleep disorders like insomnia.
Eases digestive problems
Because of its antioxidant activity, lemon balm can have a potentially protective effect on your gastrointestinal system. It can be used to ease a variety of digestive issues – such as upset stomach, bloating, intestinal gas (flatulence), vomiting, and colic.Some studies also indicate that it may help prevent gastric ulcers. There’s also evidence that lemon balm, along with peppermint and angelica root, may be extremely useful in creating herbal remedies for constipation.
Boosts cognitive function
Lemon balm has been shown to help improve memory, concentration and alertness (when taken internally in food products).The herb also has some excellent neuroprotective properties, which can help to protect brain cells and enhance cognitive function and performance.
Helps treat cold sores
A useful antiviral herbal remedy, lemon balm can be applied topically to help treat cold sores (herpes labialis).Research shows that using lemon balm extract in cream form can help reduce symptoms (such as itching and burning), shorten healing time and prolong the intervals between cold sore outbreaks.
Supports better skin health
The first cosmetic use of lemon balm goes back to the 14th century when the Queen of Hungary reportedly used it to erase years from her face by softening wrinkles. Today, it’s still recommended for boosting the appearance of skin and reducing fine lines. Lemon balm also contains strong natural astringents and plenty of antioxidants – making it especially useful for treating skin inflammation, and reducing acne breakouts, skin rashes and blemishes.
Regulates blood sugar levels
Diabetics, rejoice! Studies show that lemon balm extract can help to regulate blood sugar levels and reduce oxidative stress caused by diabetes.
Reduces pain and inflammation
A natural anti-inflammatory, lemon balm can be extremely effective for helping to reduce pain.These pain-relieving properties make it an ideal choice for treating headaches and toothaches, and it can even be used to help minimize pain caused by menstrual cramps and premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
Works as a natural antibacterial agent
Lemon balm oil has great antibacterial and antimicrobial qualities, and may help to naturally fight infectious bacteria. In studies, it’s been shown to kill yeast and harmful bacteria strains – including E.coli and salmonella.
How To Use Lemon Balm
Lemon balm comes in a variety of forms: medicinal teas, tinctures, salves, capsules and essential oils. But which is the best way to take it?
Well, the answer mostly depends on what you’re using it for.
For instance, if you’re taking it for depression or anxiety, you could take it internally via a tincture or capsule. If you’re using it to treat cold sores, then you’ll probably need a cream or a salve.
Lemon balm can also be blended with other soothing herbs, added to cooking, or taken as a supplement.
Side Effects of Lemon Balm
While lemon balm is generally safe to consume, it’s important to note that it isn’t meant to be used long term. The general rule of thumb is to take one week off after every three weeks of use. The side effects, while rare, include:
- painful urination
- increased body temperature
- stomach pain
- skin irritation
- allergic reaction
Tip: To reduce the risk of side effects and help boost absorption, try taking your lemon balm alongside a meal or a snack. You should also avoid consuming more than 1.6 grams (1,600 milligrams) per day.
Do not take lemon balm without first consulting your doctor if you are:
- Having scheduled surgery
- An infant/child below the age of 12
- Diabetic, or have thyroid disease
- On certain medications
How To Incorporate Lemon Balm Into Your Diet
- Tea. One of the most common ways of consuming lemon balm. You can buy it from the store, or make it yourself with either fresh or dried lemon balm leaves. As a bonus, it pairs wonderfully with other aromatic herbs – so feel free to get creative!
- Salads. Lemon balm makes a refreshing, delicious addition to a good salad.Just chop up some fresh lemon balm leaves and sprinkle them over your salad. To further enhance the flavor, you can also add mint, and drizzle on a simple dressing of yogurt or honey. Yum!
- Baked goods. Try adding a tablespoon or two of finely chopped lemon balm leaves (with just a pinch of lemon zest) to your favorite scone or muffin recipe.
- Use it as a herb. As a herb, lemon balm can be paired extremely well with black pepper to spice up various dishes. You can also use it alongside thyme, parsley or chervil to give your meals a bit of extra pizzazz.
How To Grow Lemon Balm
According to the Herb Society of America, this fast-growing herb is best grown outdoors. However, if you lack the space, it’s also possible to grow it indoors – as long as you give it some proper care and attention.
Use these guidelines to grow healthy lemon balm:
- Light – When grown outdoors, lemon balm isn’t particularly picky about how much light it receives. However, if you’re growing it indoors, you’ll want to make sure it gets as much direct sunlight as possible (up to five hours of strong sunlight a day).
- Water – Lemon balm doesn’t really need too much water. You’ll want to give it just enough that the soil will be nice and moist – but not wet.
- Soil – Any good, fast-draining potting soil should work just fine.
- Fertilizer – Lemon balm will grow the entire season even without fertilizer – but it certainly won’t hurt to give it a bit of a boost! Feed your lemon balm plant with a weak liquid fertilizer to help it grow well. (Just be careful not to over-fertilize, as this can reduce flavor.)
Fortunately, these plants are quite hardy, and relatively easy to grow.
Once your lemon balm plant is established and putting out new growth, you can safely begin harvesting the leaves for use. However, try not to remove more than 25% of the plant’s overall mass at any one time.