The Herbs Section
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Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis [Latin]), also called bee balm, Melissa, sweet balm, and cure-all, is a member of the mint family that is popular in Mediterranean and English gardens. Lemon balm leaves, which give off a strong lemon scent when rubbed, are used medicinally for treatment of a variety of disorders, including cold sores, indigestion, insomnia, and anxiety.
The tannins and polyphenols in lemon balm extracts have antibacterial and antiviral effects. Lemon balm has been used to help treat strep, mumps, and most notably, herpes. In one study, cream containing about 700 milligrams of lemon balm sped healing of herpes sores by several days, a level of improvement comparable to that provided by prescription drugs normally used to treat herpes.
However, unlike prescription drugs, lemon balm doesn’t cause unpleasant side effects like nausea, vomiting, and irregular menstruation. In one study, people that used lemon balm cream on herpes sores experienced less scarring than those using a placebo.
Lemon balm not only helps speed the healing of wounds, but also provides analgesic effects—it contains eugenol, a natural pain reliever. Creams and ointments containing lemon balm extract are commonly used for treatment of cold sores and genital herpes in Germany, where lemon balm is also recommended for the treatment of insomnia, particularly in combination with the herb valerian.
Studies have shown that the fragrance of lemon balm has a sedating effect, which supports its traditional use for treatment of nervous disorders.
Lemon balm extract has been administered intravenously to help normalize overactive thyroid function, particularly in those who have a hyperactive condition called Graves’ disease. Phytochemicals in lemon balm are thought to keep the antibodies that cause Graves’ disease as well as thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) from attaching to thyroid gland receptors.
There has been some debate over lemon balm’s effectiveness as a treatment for thyroid hyperactivity. Some doctor’s claim that lemon balm does nothing to help, and may even aggravate symptoms of Graves’ disease. Also, the reported thyroid suppressive effects of lemon balm may aggravate symptoms of hypothyroid (underactive thyroid). If you are being treated for any type of thyroid disorder, be sure to consult your doctor before taking lemon balm.
Lemon balm has been shown to help relax spasms affecting the smooth muscles (such as those in the uterus and intestines) in the body. It is therefore sometimes recommended for treatment of painful cramping caused by conditions such as premenstrual syndrome and irritable bowel syndrome.
Lemon balm creams and combination formulas used to treat insomnia are widely available. Lemon balm is also available in tablets, capsules, teas, tinctures, and extracts. The typical dosage is 1 teaspoon of lemon balm extract daily, or 1 ˝ teaspoons of tincture. You can also add 1 to 3 teaspoons of the dried lemon balm leaves to a cup of hot water to make a homemade tea, which can be consumed hot or stored in the refrigerator for pain relief and speedier healing of cold sores and other wounds. You can also add dried lemon balm leaves to the bath—lemon balm essential oils smell wonderful, and are used in aromatherapy to relieve tension and anxiety.
Do not to combine lemon balm with any other sedatives, as it may increase the effects of those drugs. People with thyroid disorders should consult a physician before taking this herbal supplement.
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