Lemon balm helps with anxiety and cognitive performance. In addition, it has other surprising health benefits, including helping with cancer, reducing pain, and weight loss. Read this post to learn more about the many health benefits of lemon balm.

What is Lemon Balm?

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is a lemon-scented herb known for its calming and anti-inflammatory effects.

The main active constituents of lemon balm are [1]:

  • Volatile compounds – geranial, neral, citronellal, and geraniol
  • Triterpenes – ursolic acid and oleanolic acid
  • Phenolics – rosmarinic acid, caffeic acid, luteolin, naringin, and hesperidin

Mechanisms of Action

  • Increases GABA in the brain by inhibiting an enzyme that breaks down GABA (GABA transaminase). GABA produces a calming effect, improves mood, and reduces stress [2, 3, 4].
  • Binds to nicotinic and muscarinic receptors in the brain. Both types of receptors are activated by acetylcholine and play roles in enhancing memory and alertness [5, 6, 7].
  • Prevents the formation of blood vessels by inhibiting VEGF-A, which can combat obesity and help treat cancer [8, 9].
  • Activates the proteins caspases-3 and-7, causing cancer cells to self-destruct [10, 11].
  • Reduces inflammation by reducing TNF-alpha. It also suppresses inflammatory proteins (IL-1 and IL-6) [12, 13].

Lemon Balm Benefits

1) Treats Panic Attacks and Rapid Heart Beats

Fourteen days of lemon balm supplementation reduced the frequency of rapid heartbeats and decreased anxiety in 55 patients [14].

Lemon balm protects against irregular heartbeats by inhibiting sodium and potassium ion channels, which slows down the heart rate [14, 15, 16].

2) Reduces Depression and Anxiety

Lemon balm has anti-anxiety and antidepressant effects in rats. By increasing GABA levels, lemon balm reduces anxiety, increases calmness, and improves mood [3].

Lemon balm completely eliminated anxiety in 14 people with stress (pilot trial) [4].

Also, a combination of lemon balm and valerian root significantly reduced anxiety in 24 healthy volunteers [2].

3) Improves Sleep Quality

Lemon balm alone or in combination with valerian improves sleep quality in patients suffering from menopause symptoms and insomnia.

Lemon balm reduces sleep disruptions by increasing GABA in the brain, thus promoting calmness and relaxation [4, 17].

Lemon balm improved insomnia in 85% of people with anxiety disorders and sleep disturbances [4].

4) Improves Memory and Brain Function

Lemon balm improved performance and memory in healthy participants. Thus, lemon balm may help treat diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia, which are characterized by memory loss and learning disability [5, 18].

In one study, lemon balm improved cognitive performance and mood in 20 healthy participants [6].

Moreover, lemon balm increased accuracy and attention in cognitive performance tasks in 20 college students [7].

Lemon balm improves memory and brain function by binding to nicotinic and muscarinic receptors in the brain. Both types of receptors are activated by the neurotransmitter acetylcholine and play roles in enhancing memory and alertness [19, 5, 7].

5) Helps with Weight Loss

Lemon balm extract suppressed fat tissue growth in mice and killed fat cells by preventing the formation of blood vessels that feed these fat cells [8, 20].

In addition, lemon balm extract reduced the activity of proteins that are involved in fat production (FABP4 and PDK4) [21].

6) Helps with Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is caused by inflammation, high blood sugar, and fat.

In mice, lemon balm helps treat fatty liver disease by activating enzymes that break down fatty acids. Lemon balm also reduces the activity of white blood cells and inflammatory cytokines in the liver [22, 23].

7) Aids in the Treatment of Type 2 Diabetes

Lemon balm helps with type 2 diabetes by lowering blood sugar and fat levels in mice. It also activates PPARs, which increases insulin sensitivity [21, 24].

8) Has Anti-Cancer Effects

Lemon balm kills brain cancer cells in a cell-based study. Citral in lemon balm activates cancer cell self-destruction (through caspase-3) and increases cancer’s sensitivity to chemotherapy by inhibiting the drug-resistant gene MRP1 [25].

Lemon balm shrinks breast cancer tumors. Lemon balm induced the self-destruction of breast cancer cells and reduced the size of breast tumors in rats by decreasing antigen KI-67 (a protein that is associated with cell growth and reproduction) [26, 27].

Lemon balm prevented the growth of leukemia tumors in cell models. Lemon balm stopped the expansion of leukemia cancer cells and activated cellular self-destruction (Fas, Bax, and Bcl-2) [28].

Lemon balm helps treat colon cancer. Lemon balm extract prevents the growth of colon cancer cells by stopping the cell cycle in cell model studies and also induced cellular self-destruction [10, 11].

Lemon balm reduces the size of prostate cancer tumors.

Lemon balm prevents the growth of prostate cancers in cell models by inhibiting the growth of blood vessels that feed the tumors (VEGF-A).

Lemon balm also decreases the activity of the enzyme human telomerase reverse transcriptase (hTERT). Telomeres are added on to ends of chromosomes by telomerases, but as aging occurs, telomerase activity decreases. hTERT is overactive in cancer cells and necessary for tumor growth [9].

9) May Help with Hyperthyroidism

Lemon balm reduced thyroid function by preventing the thyroid-stimulating hormone from binding to its receptor in a cell-based study [29].

10) Has Anti-Microbial Effects

Lemon balm oil has antimicrobial effects against yeast and harmful bacterial strains (E. coli, Salmonella, Listeria, and Staphylococcus) in cell-based studies.

Rosmarinic acid and citral in lemon balm stop the growth of yeast and bacteria by disrupting their energy production (ATP synthase) [30, 31, 32].

11) Combats Cold Sores and Herpes

Lemon balm helps treat oral and genital herpes caused by the herpes simplex viruses (HSV-1 and HSV-2).

Rosmarinic acid in lemon balm prevented HSV-1 (oral herpes/cold sores) attachment to cells for both drug-sensitive and drug-resistant strains in a cell model study. The volatile oils in lemon balm also inhibit the replication of HSV-2 (genital herpes) [33, 34, 35].

12) May Reduce Pain

Alcohol extract in lemon balm reduces pain by blocking the arginine-nitric oxide pathway and increasing acetylcholine levels in mice [36, 24, 37].

13) May Reduce Inflammation

Lemon balm reduces swelling caused by injury and inflammation in mice. It reduces inflammation by lowering oxidative stress.

Lemon balm also reduces inflammatory proteins TNF-alpha, IL-1, and IL-6 [12, 13].

14) May Protect the Skin Against UV Rays

Rosmarinic acid and salvianolic acid in lemon balm protected skin cells against damage caused by UV radiation in cell-based studies [38, 39].

15) Treats Infant Colic

Infant colic is a common condition that occurs in the first four months of life. Colic is excessive irritability, fussing, or crying in otherwise healthy infants.

Lemon balm significantly decreased average daily crying time after 28 days in 200 colicky infants and reduced colic episodes through its calming effects and by relaxing the gut [40].

Side Effects & Precautions

Common side effects of lemon balm are [1]:

  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Wheezing
  • Agitation
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach pain
  • Nausea
  • Increased appetite
  • Headache
  • Reduced alertness
  • Eye pressure

Topical application can cause [1]:

  • Redness of the skin
  • Rashes
  • Burning sensation
  • Irritation

Patients with thyroid problems are recommended to avoid taking lemon balm since it may interfere with thyroid function. Caffeic acid in lemon balm directly inhibits thyroid-stimulating hormone [29, 41].

Drug Interactions

Lemon balm should not be taken with [42]:

  • Barbiturates – lemon balm increases the hypnotic effect of barbiturates.
  • Sedative agents – a combination of lemon balm with sedatives may result in additive effects.
  • Glaucoma medications – lemon balm may increase intraocular pressure, which diminishes the effects of glaucoma medications.
  • Thyroid agents – lemon balm reduces thyroid-stimulating hormone concentrations.
  • Nicotine and Scopolamine – may prevent drugs from binding to nicotinic and muscarinic receptors, therefore blocking the effects of the drugs.
  • Antidepressants (SSRIs) – lemon balm interacts with antidepressants by inhibiting concentrations of serotonin.



  • Tea – one cup of tea several times per day as needed
  • Tincture – 2 to 6 mL three times per day
  • Liquid extract – 60 drops per day
  • Capsules – 8 to 10 grams per day
  • Cream – topically for up to four times per day for 5 to 10 days [42].

User Reviews

Some users report grogginess.

One user with mild hypothyroidism said that although the calming effects were beneficial, lemon balm’s interaction with thyroid hormones resulted in emotional instability.

Lemon balm extract provides soothing relief and relaxation, but also works as a mouthwash, disinfectant, and helps to combat herpes outbreaks.

Lemon balm tea is a great alternative to take before bedtime to calm nerves and for a restful night of sleep.


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