Lemon Balm

Lemon Balm Benefits

Key Takeaways

Lemon Balm Benefits

1. Improving Sleep

Lemon balm enhances relaxation and sleep by boosting GABA and serotonin levels in the brain and protecting against stress-related damage.

2. Reducing Anxiety

Lemon balm has compounds such as rosmarinic acid that activate brain receptors to reduce anxiety and agitation.

3. Boosting Cognition

Lemon balm boosts cognitive function by increasing acetylcholine levels and has antioxidant and anti-anxiety effects that may enhance memory and attention.

4. Promoting Digestion

Lemon balm can ease digestive issues by calming the nervous system, reducing inflammation, and positively affecting gut bacteria, improving symptoms like bloating and cramps.

What is Lemon Balm

Melissa Officinalis, commonly known as Lemon Balm, is a member of the mint family.

This plant is native to Southern Europe, Northern Africa, the Mediterranean, Russia, Syria, and Iran.

Lemon balm has historically been valued as a culinary, cosmetic, and medicinal herb. As a medicinal herb, lemon balm has been attributed with memory-enhancing properties, as a mild sedative, mood-elevating remedy, sleep aid, and digestive aid to relieve stomach pain, nausea, and migraine headaches.

Modern botanical medicine focuses on its effects as a sleep-enhancing plant and its cognition-improving impacts. [1]

Lemon Balm And Sleep

Lemon balm has been used for centuries to promote relaxation and better sleep. Recent research has revealed the mechanisms behind its effects, showing that it interacts with several neurotransmitters in the brain, including GABA, serotonin, and acetylcholine. [2]

  1. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that calms the nervous system and promotes relaxation. Lemon balm boosts the activity of GABA receptors in the brain, leading to improved feelings of calmness and reduced anxiety levels. [3]
  2. Serotonin also is essential in regulating sleep; low levels are associated with insomnia and other sleeping disorders. Research shows that lemon balm extract can help boost serotonin concentrations within our brains which helps regulate our circadian rhythms and improve sleep quality.
  3. Lemon balm can help regulate the sleep-wake cycle by inhibiting the breakdown of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter involved in various cognitive functions such as memory and learning. Increasing levels of acetylcholine in the brain can lead to improved sleep quality. [4]
  4. Lemon balm possesses anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which could protect against damage caused by stress or other environmental factors, as chronic stress and inflammation lead to disrupted sleeping patterns and disorders like insomnia. [5]

One double-blind, placebo-controlled study involving 18 healthy volunteers showed that lemon balm significantly improved mood while increasing calmness and alertness. [6] 

A second study found that lemon balm combined with Valeriana Officinalis is effective in treating restlessness and nervous insomnia in children. [7]

Lemon Balm and Anxiety

Recent studies have found that this herb contains several compounds responsible for its calming effects, including rosmarinic acid, eugenol, and citronellal. [2]

Rosmarinic acid is particularly effective at reducing anxiety by increasing the activity of GABA-A receptors in the brain. This increase reduces neuron activity and promotes feelings of relaxation.

Lemon balm reduced anxiety in 2 pilot trials on 32 people with stress. [8]

In another trial on 71 elderly people with severe dementia, lemon balm was safe and effective at reducing agitation. [9]

Also, a mix of lemon balm, valerian, passionflower, and butterbur reduced acute stress in a trial on 72 healthy people. [10]

Lemon Balm and The Brain

Lemon balm improves cognitive function through the cholinergic system modulation in the brain. The cholinergic system is involved in many cognitive processes, including attention and memory, and is known to decline with age. [11] 

Lemon balm inhibits the activity of the enzyme acetylcholinesterase, which breaks down the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. By inhibiting this enzyme, lemon balm can increase the levels of acetylcholine in the brain, improving cognitive function. [12]

Another possible mechanism is its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Oxidative stress and inflammation contribute to cognitive impairment development and neurodegenerative diseases. Lemon balm contains several antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds that may protect the brain from damage caused by these processes.

Lemon balm may also have anxiolytic effects, which can indirectly improve cognitive function. Anxiety and stress have been shown to impair cognitive performance, particularly in tasks that require attention and memory. By reducing anxiety, lemon balm may improve cognitive function in these areas.

Lemon balm improved cognitive performance and memory in 2 small trials on 23 healthy people. [8] Similarly, lemon balm improved cognitive performance and mood in another study of 20 healthy participants. [13]

Lemon balm also increased accuracy and attention in cognitive performance tasks in 20 college students. [6]

One clinical study evaluated Lemon balm extract to treat patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease.

This double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial looked at using the herb for four months and found that Lemon balm extract produced a significantly better outcome on cognitive function than a placebo. [14]

Lemon Balm And Digestion

Lemon balm relieves digestive issues with its ability to modulate the activity of the autonomic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system is responsible for regulating the function of the digestive system, among other things. Because Lemon balm has a calming effect on the autonomic nervous system, it can reduce symptoms such as bloating, gas, and stomach cramps.

Another possible mechanism is its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Inflammation and oxidative stress cause digestive issues, such as inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome. [5]

Lemon balm may also benefit the gut microbiome, the community of microorganisms that live in the gut. The gut microbiome plays an essential role in digestive health and disruptions to its composition lead to various digestive issues. Lemon balm has antimicrobial activity against harmful gut bacteria while promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria such as lactobacilli and bifidobacteria. [15]

In one study, participants with functional dyspepsia, characterized by upper abdominal pain or discomfort, were given a lemon balm supplement for four weeks. The results showed significant improvements in symptoms such as nausea, bloating, and early satiety, compared to those who received a placebo. [16]

Safety And Side Effects

Lemon Balm is safe and well-tolerated when used in moderate amounts. However, some people could be allergic to it. Pregnant women should also avoid it.

Lemon balm may interact with certain medications, so talk to your doctor first.

Common side effects may include headache, nausea, and stomach pain.

Final Thoughts

Lemon balm is a herb that has gained a lot of attention in recent years due to its many potential health benefits from promoting relaxation for better sleep, helping with digestion, and reducing stress and anxiety, to improving cognitive function.

Additional Readings

You May Also Like

Valerian; A Natural Sleep And Relaxation Aid

Lavender; A Soothing Herb For The Mind And The Body

Chamomile, The Gift Of Nature


[1]Lemon Balm - PubMed (nih.gov)

[2]Melissa officinalis: Composition, Pharmacological Effects and Derived Release Systems—A Review - PMC (nih.gov)

[3]Pilot trial of Melissa officinalis L. leaf extract in the treatment of volunteers suffering from mild-to-moderate anxiety disorders and sleep disturbances - PMC (nih.gov)

[4]Modulation of mood and cognitive performance following acute administration of single doses of Melissa officinalis (Lemon balm) with human CNS nicotinic and muscarinic receptor-binding properties - PubMed (nih.gov)

[5]In Vivo Potential Anti-Inflammatory Activity of Melissa officinalis L. Essential Oil - PMC (nih.gov)

[6]Modulation of mood and cognitive performance following acute administration of Melissa officinalis (lemon balm) - PubMed (nih.gov)

[7]A combination of valerian and lemon balm is effective in the treatment of restlessness and dyssomnia in children - PubMed (nih.gov)

[8]Attenuation of laboratory-induced stress in humans after acute administration of Melissa officinalis (Lemon Balm) - PubMed (nih.gov)

[9]Aromatherapy as a safe and effective treatment for the management of agitation in severe dementia: the results of a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial with Melissa - PubMed (nih.gov)

[10]Effects of a fixed herbal drug combination (Ze 185) to an experimental acute stress setting in healthy men - An explorative randomized placebo-controlled double-blind study - PubMed (nih.gov)

[11]Aging, memory, and the cholinergic system: a study of dichotic listening - PubMed (nih.gov)

[12]Anti-Stress Effects of Lemon Balm-Containing Foods - PMC (nih.gov)

[13]Modulation of mood and cognitive performance following acute administration of single doses of Melissa officinalis (Lemon balm) with human CNS nicotinic and muscarinic receptor-binding properties - PubMed (nih.gov)

[14]Melissa officinalis extract in the treatment of patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease: a double blind, randomised, placebo controlled trial - PubMed (nih.gov)

[15]Basal and Spasmolytic Effects of a Hydroethanolic Leaf Extract of Melissa officinalis L. on Intestinal Motility: An Ex Vivo Study | Journal of Medicinal Food (liebertpub.com)

[16]Treatment of functional dyspepsia with a herbal preparation. A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, multicenter trial - PubMed (nih.gov)

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