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Medicinal Plant of This Week: Lemon Balm

Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) is a perennial herbaceous plant in the mint family Lamiaceae and native to south-central Europe, the Mediterranean Basin, Iran, and Central Asia, but now naturalized in the Americas and elsewhere. The leaves have a mild lemon scent like mint. The leaves are used as a herb, in teas, and also as a flavoring. The plant is used to attract bees for honey production. It is grown as an ornamental plant and for its oil (to use in perfumery). The tea of lemon balm, the essential oil, and the extract are used in traditional and alternative medicine, including aromatherapy. The plant has been cultivated at least since the 16th century, but research is still being conducted to establish the safety and effects of lemon balm.

Lemon balm has benefits including:

It helps to relax and reduce stress and anxiety

Lemon balm may be used to help reduce symptoms of anxiety, such as nervousness and excitability.

How? Studies have suggested that rosmarinic acid (which is found in lemon balm) increases the availability of neurotransmitters in the brain known as gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). Low levels of GABA in the brain is believed to be associated with anxiety and other mood disorders.

It may help treat cold sores

Applying a lip balm containing an extract of lemon balm at the first sign of a cold sore seems to shorten healing time and reduce symptoms.

How? Rosmarinic acid had potent antiviral properties that may aid in the treatment of certain viral infections.

It may reduce symptoms of Alzheimer disease

Taking lemon balm by mouth or aromatherapy has been used in people with Alzheimer disease to reduce symptoms of Alzheimer.

How? Preliminary studies have suggested that citral in lemon balm extract may inhibit cholinesterase, an enzyme targeted by the drugs Aricept (donepezil), Exelon (rivastigmine), and Razadyne (galantamine) used to treat Alzheimer’s disease. It may reduce the formation of plaques in the brain associated with the progression of the disease.

It may help ease insomnia

Taking lemon balm in combination with other ingredients like valerian root also seems to improve sleep quality in people with sleeping disorders.

How? The combination of herbs is believed to aid in sleep by acting directly on GABA receptors in the brain, delivering a mild sedative effect while stimulating the production of the “feel-good” hormone serotonin.

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