Calm Down with Lemon Balm


Dear Pharmacist,
I often feel worried and anxious, and I don’t sleep well. I know I’m a nervous wreck, but I refuse tranquilizers because they are addictive. I also have a weak stomach. Is there anything natural?
–D.E. Idaho Falls, Idaho

Answer: There are lots of choices for these ailments, and my favorite is lemon balm (Melissa officinalis). For centuries, it’s helped relieve the digestive woes of many folks feeling stressed-out. It’s a member of the mint family and the coolest thing about lemon balm is that one of it’s primary ingredients is citronella, an essential oil frequently used in mosquito-repellent candles. Lemon balm also contains anti-microbial tannins and eugenol which helps reduce muscle spasms. The scientific literature I’ve read shows that lemon balm herb can relax you, help you sleep, relieve pain and soothe stomach discomfort (gas, bloating and nausea).

Another lovely thing about lemon balm is its ability to mildly dilate your blood vessels and lower blood pressure. This is a very subtle benefit so don’t toss out your BP meds okay! Guess what else? It can improve eczema and other skin conditions. Researchers found that lemon balm prevents spreading of the herpes simplex viruses (HSV), including the shingles and cold sore type. In a study on cold sores, lemon balm shortened duration and lessened recurrence of HSV infections. This is just phenomenal! Steep 3 tablespoons of dried herb into a cup of hot water for 15 minutes. Cool and apply the tea-water to your sores with gauze. Prepared “lemon balm cream” is also sold online and at some health food stores.

If you want to try lemon balm, you have lots of choices. You can buy an essential oil for external use only. Sniff before bedtime to prevent nightmares in children, or take a whiff to instantly relieve your anxiety (like if your plane hits turbulence or your editor calls and says, “Where’s your column, it was due yesterday, hmm?”).  Lavender works well for this indication too.

For many years, I was a nursing home Consultant Pharmacist and I see a use for lemon balm in that setting too. It’s a natural way to help calm dementia patients experiencing agitation, or “Sundowning” without having to resort to potent mind-bending meds. You can also buy it in commercially prepared formulas, either by itself, or in combination with other calming herbs such as valerian, hops and chamomile; these are intended for sleep. You can buy prepared teas. I buy the dried herb in bulk. I steep 3 tablespoons of it into 2 cups of boiling water for 10 minutes and then add fresh spearmint leaves and honey. It has a light and fresh citrus-mint flavor. You can chill the tea and sip all day to improve mood, relieve PMS symptoms and regulate thyroid hormone. Long live lemon balm, for it can instantly soothe your stress.

Did You Know?
Facial creams and serums that contain niacin (or niacinamide) soften fine lines, acne and skin blemishes.


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