What Is Lemon Balm?

Lemon balm tincture, powder, tablets, and capsules

Verywell / Anastasia Tretiak

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is a lemon-scented herb in the mint family. It is native to southern Europe.

Lemon balm can be consumed as a tea, taken as a supplement or extract, or rubbed on the skin in lotions. Lemon balm essential oil is also popular in aromatherapy.

This article discusses the potential uses of lemon balm. It also covers the risk factors, side effects, and more.

Dietary supplements are not regulated in the United States, meaning the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not approve them for safety and effectiveness before products are marketed. When possible, choose a supplement that has been tested by a trusted third party, such as USP, ConsumerLabs, or NSF. However, even if supplements are third-party tested, that doesn't mean that they are necessarily safe for all or effective in general. It is important to talk to your healthcare provider about any supplements you plan to take and to check in about any potential interactions with other supplements or medications.

Supplement Facts

  • Active Ingredient(s): Flavonoids, terpenes, phenolic compounds (e.g., rosmarinic acid), nitrogen compounds
  • Alternate Name(s): Lemon balm, bee balm, honey balm
  • Legal Status: Lemon balm has been assigned Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) status in the United States with a maximum level of 0.5% in baked goods.
  • Suggested Dose: More research is needed for dosing for health condition.
  • Safety Considerations: Current research suggests that glaucoma or thyroid medications or use other types of sedatives should not take lemon balm. Antiretrovirals may also interact with lemon balm, although the research is not definitive.

Uses of Lemon Balm

Supplement use should be individualized and vetted by a healthcare professional, such as a registered dietitian nutritionist, pharmacist, or doctor. No supplement is intended to treat, cure, or prevent a disease.

Lemon balm contains a compound known as rosmarinic acid that appears to have antioxidant and antimicrobial properties. Antioxidants help prevent cell damage, while antimicrobials kill infection-causing organisms like bacteria and viruses.

Research on the potential uses of lemon balm is limited. While lemon balm has been studied in lab and nonhuman animal studies for health conditions (e.g., cold sores, stomach upset, Alzheimer's disease), there is NOT enough evidence to support its use for any of these conditions due to the lack of human research.

Another important thing to note is that some research has been done on a combination of herbal supplements, including lemon balm. Therefore, we do not know if it is the lemon balm by itself can produce the same results.

Below are some findings from current research.

Anxiety

Lemon balm may be used to help reduce anxiety, according to a small pilot study published in the journal Nutrients.

According to the results, a sweetened water-based drink containing 0.3 grams of lemon balm extract reduced stress and improved mood in a group of 25 healthy young adults, compared to a placebo. The results were confirmed by repeating the test with yogurt instead of water in the same study. Participants felt the anxiety-reducing effects within one to three hours after eating the yogurt.

Larger human studies should be conducted to confirm these results.

Insomnia

Rosmarinic acid (a compound in lemon balm) is believed to improve sleep in people with insomnia.

According to a 2013 study, lemon balm combined with valerian root significantly improved sleep quality in 100 people with menopause when compared with a placebo.

A separate multi-center study in 918 children younger than 12 years old who experienced restlessness and dyssomnia (a collection of sleep disorders) was conducted. They received a combined valerian and lemon balm preparation. Over 80% of the children with dyssomnia showed improvement in their sleep symptoms.

Note that both the studies above, as well as other studies in the literature, used a combination of lemon balm with valerian (another herbal supplement). Therefore, we don't whether lemon balm would have this effect by itself. This is an important factor to remember when looking at the research conclusions.

Cold Sores

Most of the current evidence is limited to lab test-tube studies in which lemon balm appears to kill a broad range of common viruses such as herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1). HSV-1 is associated with cold sores and some cases of herpes.

More randomized controlled trials are needed with humans to support the use of lemon balm for treating cold sores.

What Are Side Effects of Lemon Balm?

Consuming a supplement like lemon balm may have potential side effects. These side effects may be common or severe.

Common Side Effects

Common side effects of lemon balm may include:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Bloating
  • Gas
  • Vomiting
  • Indigestion
  • Dizziness
  • Stomach pain
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation

The risk of side effects tends to increase with the size of the dose.

Severe Side Effects

The long-term use or overuse of lemon balm is not recommended.

Individuals who have thyroid problems such as Grave's disease should not take lemon balm. High doses can potentially affect thyroid function by slowing the production of thyroid hormones, which control metabolism and other body functions. Stopping treatment suddenly after long-term use can also cause rebound anxiety (worsening or returning of symptoms).

Some people may develop a form of allergy known as contact dermatitis when using a lemon balm preparation on the skin. To be safe, apply a little to your forearm and wait for 24 hours to see if any redness, rash, or irritation develops. Serious allergic reactions are rare.

Contact a health care provider if any side effects occur.

Precautions

Children, pregnant people, and lactating people should not use lemon balm extracts and supplements until more safety research is conducted. Lemon balm is claimed to be a galactagogue (e.g., a substance that helps with milk supply). However, more research is needed to support this claim.

Combining lemon balm with other herbal supplements that have a sedative (calming or sleepy) effect may cause complications. If you are scheduled for surgery, talk to your health care provider about when to stop taking lemon balm.

It is recommended to avoid using lemon balm if you:

Dosage: How Much Lemon Balm Should I Take?

Always speak with a healthcare provider before taking a supplement to ensure that the supplement and dosage is appropriate for your individual needs.

Because lemon balm comes in several different formulations, there are no set doses or standard courses of treatment. More research is needed on dosages for specific health needs and populations.

What Happens if I Take Too Much Lemon Balm?

As a general rule of thumb, never take more than the manufacturer's recommended dosage on the package. If you experience side effects, stop taking lemon balm and call your healthcare provider.

Interactions

It is essential to carefully read the ingredient list and nutrition facts panel of a supplement to know which ingredients and how much of each ingredient is included. Please review this supplement label with your healthcare provider to discuss any potential interactions with foods, other supplements, and medications.

Lemon balm may cause sedation (calming or sleepiness). This is especially true if it's used along with alcohol or other herbal supplements that act like a sedative, such as:

  • Valerian
  • St. John's wort
  • Ginseng
  • Chamomile
  • Over-the-counter sleep medications
  • Prescription sedatives like Klonopin (clonazepam), Ativan (lorazepam), and Ambien (zolpidem)

Lemon balm may also interact with antiretroviral medications, although the research is not definitive.

Other potential drug interactions include:

  • Thyroid medications like Synthroid (levothyroxine)
  • Glaucoma medications like Travatan (travoprost)

How to Store Lemon Balm

Store lemon balm according to the manufacturer's directions, as each form of lemon balm will be different. Discard as indicated on the packaging.

Lemon balm powder
Verywell / Anastasia Tretiak

Frequently Asked Questions

  • I take a medication for thyroid disease. Can I take lemon balm?

    It is not recommended for you to take lemon balm as it may make your medication not work as well. Talk to your healthcare provider for further guidance.

  • Can I grow my own lemon balm?

    Yes! Lemon balm can be grown at home in almost any location.

  • Can I drink alcohol while using lemon balm?

    It is not recommended to drink alcohol and use lemon balm as they are both sedatives (substances that cause sleepiness). Please talk with your healthcare provider before starting any supplement.

Sources of Lemon Balm & What To Look For

Lemon balm supplements are available in the following dosage forms:

  • Capsule
  • Tablet
  • Powder
  • Tincture

There is little scientific evidence to support which form is best. Lemon balm preparations may also have traces of lead. It is important to remember that there are safety concerns when taking this or any supplement, so you should talk to a healthcare provider before starting on any supplement product.

Summary

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is an herb in the mint family. It can be consumed as tea, taken as a supplement or extract, or rubbed on the skin in balms and lotions. It has been studied for its potential uses in anxiety and sleep disorders, but the research is limited. More human studies evaluating lemon balm as a single supplement, rather than in combination products, are needed.

Current research suggests that individuals who take glaucoma or thyroid medications or use other types of sedatives should not take lemon balm. It's important to remember that lemon balm cannot replace any treatment plan prescribed by your healthcare provider. Remember that supplements are not regulated by the FDA, so be cautious when purchasing any supplement.

Like most supplements, it is important to talk with your healthcare provider if you are considering using lemon balm for any health purpose.

9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  3. Bekut M, Brkić S, Kladar N, et al. Potential of selected Lamiaceae plants in anti(retro)viral therapy. Pharmacol Res. 2018 Jul;133:301-314. doi:10.1016/j.phrs.2017.12.016

  4. Scholey A, Gibbs A, Neale C, et al. Anti-stress effects of lemon balm-containing foodsNutrients. 2014;6(11):4805-21. doi:10.3390/nu6114805

  5. Taavoni S, Nazem Ekbatani N, Haghani H. Valerian/lemon balm use for sleep disorders during menopauseComplementary Therapies in Clinical Practice. 2013;19(4):193-196. doi:10.1016/j.ctcp.2013.07.002

  6. Muller SF, Klement S. A combination of valerian and lemon balm is effective in the treatment of restlessness and dyssmonia in children. Phytomedicine. 2006;13(6):383-387. doi:10.1016/j.phymed.2006.01.013

  7. Astani A, Navid MH, Schnitzler P. Attachment and penetration of acyclovir-resistant herpes simplex virus are inhibited by Melissa officinalis extractPhytother Res. 2014;28(10):1547-52. doi:10.1002/ptr.5166

  8. Demirci K, Akgönül M, Demirdaş A, Akpınar A. Does Melissa officinalis cause withdrawal or dependence?. Med Arch. 2015;69(1):60–61. doi:10.5455/medarh.2015.69.60-61

  9. LactMed. Lemon balm.

By Alena Clark, PhD
Alena Clark, PhD, is a registered dietitian and experienced nutrition and health educator

Originally written by
Cathy Wong
Cathy Wong

Cathy Wong is a nutritionist and wellness expert. Her work is regularly featured in media such as First For Women, Woman's World, and Natural Health.

Learn about our editorial process