Lemon balm essential oil, also known as Melissa, has been revered for centuries for its diverse health benefits.
A member of the mint family, lemon balm is considered one of the most effective essential oils in easing symptoms associated with anxiety and stress. But those are not the only benefits that this power-packed essential oil offers.
Lemon balm’s history dates back to the eras of the ancient Greeks and Romans. They used it to alleviate the inflammation associated with insect bites. It has been studied as a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, lowering blood sugar levels, and it was brought to the New World specifically for its ability to treat a wide range of different health concerns.
Named for its appeal to honeybees – both Melissa and officinalis are derived from Greek and Latin words for bee. Lemon balm has long been revered for its role in the making of honey. The plant attracts bees and is believed to keep them close to the hive.
It should be noted that it is not the same plant as bee balm, even though bee balm also attracts bees. They are different plants, each with its own unique benefits.
Lemon balm is steam distilled from the leaves and flowers of the plant. This is a process that preserves the health benefits of the herb.1
Lemon balm, also known as the sweet balm, pairs well with floral oils such as lavender, neroli, and geranium. It also pairs with citrus oils including grapefruit, tangerine, bergamot and wild orange, and spicy oils such as ginger, black pepper, cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg.
History of Lemon Balm Essential Oil
Native to the Mediterranean, lemon balm has its roots in Turkey, where it was planted to attract bees.
Because honey was used as currency, lemon balm was also planted at the Temple of Artemis, one of the seven Ancient Wonders of the World. Here, it provided nectar to the honey-producing bees.
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Lemon balm essential oil has been recognized for centuries for its healing benefits.
In the first century A.D., Pliny the Elder noted lemon balm’s wound-care benefits. These were described in the book “De Materia Media” (About Medical Substances)“, a definitive guide to botanical herbs by Greek physician Dioscorides. 2
Charlemagne ordered lemon balm to be planted in the monastery gardens of Europe, where it was later harvested by French Carmelite nuns. They included lemon balm in Carmelite water, which was used to help hide the aroma of bodies that were only washed once a year and also used to treat internal and external ailments. Carmelite water is still sold in German apothecary shops.
In the 16th century, Swiss philosopher, physician, and botanist Paracelsus called lemon balm, “the elixir of life.”
In the years that followed, England began exploring the herb’s benefits. Shakespeare mentioned lemon balm in numerous plays including “Macbeth” and “King Lear.” English botanist John Gerard included lemon balm in his herb garden. English herbalist Nicolas Culpeper wrote about its benefits in “The Complete Herbal”. British writer and gardener John Evelyn described it as, “sovereign for the brain, strengthening the memory, and powerfully chasing away melancholy.”
In the United States, Thomas Jefferson’s gardens at Monticello were full of lemon balm. It was recognized for its stress-fighting benefits in the 1931 book “A Modern Herbal,” by Maud Grieve.
Today, it is the subject of research investigating the science behind many of the health claims.
Compounds Found in Lemon Balm Essential Oil
Lemon balm is packed with healing compounds that generate the essential oil’s myriad benefits.
In addition to antioxidants that help fight cell damage caused by free radicals from pollution, cigarette smoke, and other toxins, lemon balm extracts also contain flavonoids that act as antioxidants, as well as tannins and terpenes.
Some of the most important compounds found in the leaves and flowers of the plant include:
The phenolic rosmarinic acid has been shown to boost levels of GABA. This is a neurotransmitter that eases activity in the nervous system. It works, in the same way, to ease stress as pharmaceutical drugs in the benzodiazepine family.
Eugenol acts as an antioxidant and helps protect cells by being absorbed into cell membranes, acting as a shield to prevent oxidative stress and damage from free radicals. It also has been shown to help ease symptoms of stress by interacting with neurotransmitters in the brain. 3,4
This terpene is considered an anti-inflammatory, making it an effective topical treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia and other diseases associated with inflammation, as well as an antibacterial. It may also help keep cancer in check, based on the results of a 2003 study. 5
Oleanonic acid is believed to have anti-viral and anti-tumor benefits. It has also been shown in studies to help ease inflammation.
Germacrene acts as an antibacterial and helps give lemon balm additional anti-viral benefits.
A terpene, linalool helps ease symptoms of stress, anxiety, and insomnia, and also encourages the production of the skin-friendly antioxidant vitamin E, which may protect skin from showing signs of aging.
A monoterpenoid, citronellal is an antifungal that also helps fight off insects. It is the main compound in the citronella plant, which is used to naturally ward off mosquitoes.
Geraniol acts as a natural insect repellent, a benefit that was discovered after it was extracted and used as such by a University of Wisconsin professor in 1999.
Health Benefits of Lemon Balm Essential Oil
There are numerous reasons why lemon balm essential oil has been one of the most mentioned essentials throughout history.
Few essential oils offer the diverse benefits of lemon balm, which has been considered for the following:
According to research, lemon balm may help ease the agitation that often accompanies dementia. Lemon balm was also found to stimulate a neurotransmitter in the brain linked to memory. This suggests that the essential oil could help strengthen cognitive function for those suffering from Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. It is believed that lemon balm helps reduce the brain damage associated with the build-up of the protein beta-amyloid. This protein has been discovered in the brains of those suffering from Alzheimer’s. 6
A 2013 study found that lemon balm essential oil helped ease swelling and reduce the pain associated with inflammation in animal studies, providing solid evidence for human benefits.
Research suggests that lemon balm essential oil may serve as a treatment option to prevent the growth of bacteria strains that are resistant to antibiotics. Some compounds in lemon balm, including citral, citronellal, and trans-caryophyllene, give the essential oil its microbial benefits.
Lemon balm has been used for hundreds of years as a treatment for sleep disorders such as insomnia. A 2013 study found that a mixture of lemon balm and valerian root was an effective treatment for insomnia in women with menopause. 7
Lemon balm essential oil was shown to lower blood glucose levels in mice in just six weeks. Insulin levels also increased in the lemon balm group compared to the control. Lemon balm also helps control blood glucose levels associated with insomnia. According to a study from the European Food Information Council, getting less than six and a half hours of sleep a night can cause blood glucose levels to rise by as much as 40 percent. 8,9
Lemon balm essential oil has been shown to be an effective topical treatment for skin ailments such as eczema and acne as well as minor wounds, and the oil is gentle enough to be applied directly to the skin.
According to a 2014 study, lemon balm essential oil helps effectively ease the symptoms of anxiety. Previous research suggests that the rosmarinic acid in lemon balm essential oil helped boost levels of the neurotransmitter GABA in the brain. Working in the same way, drugs in the benzodiazepine family do to help ease stress. GABA helps control the activity of nerve cells and based on research, those who suffer from depression, anxiety and stress have reduced levels of GABA. 10
The same calming benefits that make lemon balm essential oil a go-to for insomnia and anxiety give it appeal as a treatment option for attention deficit disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. In addition to the GABA boost provided by rosmarinic acid, lemon balm essential oil also contains eugenol, a muscle relaxer of sorts that helps generate a sense of calm. 11
A 2014 study from Australian researchers found the lemon balm helped lift the mood and improve the concentration of healthy young adults. Lemon balm has been mentioned for its mood-boosting benefits since the 15th century.
Lemon balm essential oil is an effective herbal treatment for cold sores. According to the results of a 2008 study, the application of lemon balm nearly erased herpes simplex virus 1 and 2. The results suggest that lemon balm helps minimize the severity of flare-ups while ensuring that they last a shorter period of time.
Lemon balm has been shown to help improve cholesterol synthesis in the liver, reducing the amount of cholesterol in the bloodstream. Lemon balm has also been shown to lower high triglyceride levels. Triglycerides are lipids (fat) in the blood that along with cholesterol can elevate the risk of heart disease. Lemon balm essential oil also helps support healthy blood pressure. This is especially important for those suffering from elevated blood pressure due to stress and anxiety. Two studies, one in 2015, the other a year later, found that lemon balm essential oil helped improve electrocardiogram results and helped strengthen the heart against injury.
Research from 2014 found that lemon balm essential oil helped reduce the viability of human cancer cells in a lab setting. The oil was tested specifically on a type of tumor that grows in the tissues of the brain. 12
In test tube studies, lemon balm has been shown to help control thyroid function. It reduces the hormones released by the thyroid and restores normal levels for those with hyperthyroid-related diseases such as Graves’ disease. Lemon balm may help alleviate symptoms like problems concentrating, headaches, sleeplessness, anxiety, and dizziness.
Because lemon balm acts as a vasodilator, it can relieve headaches associated with constricted blood vessels, and can also help ease tension headaches. MONQ’s relieve blend can help you feel recovery with a natural solution to aches and discomfort.
Immune System Boost
The compounds in lemon balm help boost the body’s immunity by promoting a healthy immune response at a cellular level.
The Shakers brought lemon balm to the United States as a treatment for menstrual cramps. One study found that lemon balm essential oil helped ease the symptoms associated with premenstrual syndrome, including cramps and anxiety.
While there isn’t definitive proof, the Queen of Hungary allegedly used lemon balm essential oil to lessen signs of aging from her face. Given the antioxidant properties that are part of lemon balm’s structure, it is likely a true page from ancient history. Antioxidants help fight free radicals that are especially attracted to the skin proteins collagen and elastin. Free radicals cause damage to the cells that make up the skin’s structural layer. But antioxidants prevent oxidative stress, keeping fine lines, wrinkles, age spots and other signs of skin damage at bay.
Lemon balm essential oil has also been studied as a treatment for gastrointestinal discomfort, symptoms of influenza and chronic fatigue disorder.
How Is Lemon Balm Essential Oil Used?
Lemon balm is as versatile as it is beneficial.
The essential oil can be used for its aromatherapy benefits, it can be used aromatically or topically.
For aromatherapy purposes, lemon balm essential oil can be used topically on the wrists, behind the ears or on the back of the neck, as a mist or in a diffuser to evenly distribute the scent throughout the room.
It can be used directly on a wound to help speed healing and can also be used in a mister and sprayed on the face or on impacted areas to help improve skin conditions such as acne or eczema or can also be mixed with a carrier oil and massaged into the skin.
Lemon balm oil should not be used in conjunction with drugs from the benzodiazepine family and should not be used by women who are pregnant or by anyone who has glaucoma.
- The liquor Benedictine includes 27 different botanicals and spices, including lemon balm. The first bottle of Benedictine was imported into the United States in 1888. Lemon balm is also found in the French liquor Chartreuse, which features more than 130 different herbs.
- In Switzerland, lemon balm is used to flavor certain cheeses.
- Lemon balm essential oil was the hair loss treatment option of the Middle Ages.