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6 Lemon Verbena Uses & Benefits

Written by Carlos Tello, PhD (Molecular Biology) | Last updated:
Evguenia Alechine
Jonathan Ritter
Puya Yazdi

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lemon verbena plant

In addition to its appealing citrus taste and aroma, lemon verbena has some potential health benefits thanks to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds. Read this article to discover some of the potential health benefits of lemon verbena.

What Is Lemon Verbena?

Lemon verbena (Aloysia citrodora) is a common herb with many popular culinary uses due to its pleasant citrus smell and flavor.

Several animal and cell-based studies have revealed beneficial antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antiparasitic effects. Preliminary clinical research suggests it may also help combat multiple sclerosis, obesity, insomnia, and muscular damage that occurs after intense exercise.

Chemical Composition

The main chemical components in lemon verbena are [1, 2]:

  • Verbascoside and luteolin 7-diglucuronide – chemicals that may protect against UV rays and aging.
  • Citral – a chemical that gives the plant its citrus smell and taste and has some antibacterial properties.
  • Eucalyptol (1,8-cineole) – a chemical that soothes inflammation when applied to the skin.
  • Geranial – an essential oil component with antibacterial properties.
  • Sulcatone (6-methyl-5-hepten-2-one) – a chemical used for flavoring.

Mechanisms of Action

Lemon verbena slows down fat production and buildup by increasing adiponectin, a protein that controls fat breakdown [3].

The anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial effects of lemon verbena are due to verbascoside, which can interact with cell membranes [4].

Verbascoside localizes near the boundary between water and phospholipid membranes. It decreases the particle size of vesicles, fluid-filled membranes that transport substances in and out of cells [4].

Snapshot

Proponents

  • Rich in potentially anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds
  • Pleasant smell and flavor
  • May reduce muscular damage and fatigue
  • May help lose weight
  • May improve insomnia
  • May relieve multiple sclerosis and joint pain

Skeptics

  • Insufficient evidence for all benefits
  • Has been reported to cause skin irritation and kidney damage
  • Caused mutations in cell-based studies
  • Unknown safety profile for pregnant women

Health Benefits

Insufficient Evidence for:

1) Muscle Damage and Exercise Fatigue

Lemon verbena supplementation reduced oxidative damage to fats and proteins and muscular damage in 15 male volunteers after a 21-day intense running program [5].

In another trial on 15 male students following a similar 21-day aerobic exercise program, lemon verbena polyphenol extract decreased oxidative stress. This effect was mainly due to the polyphenolic compound verbascoside [6].

In a third clinical trial on 44 active men and women, a commercial lemon verbena extract given before and after one day of exhausting exercise reduced muscle damage and improved recovery. The extract also improved the activity of an antioxidant enzyme (glutathione peroxidase) [7].

All in all, the evidence is insufficient to support the use of lemon verbena in preventing muscle damage and reducing exercise fatigue. Larger, more robust clinical trials are needed to confirm these early findings.

2) Antioxidant

As previously described, lemon verbena extract reduced oxidative stress from intense exercise training in 3 trials on 74 people [5, 8, 7].

Lemon verbena infusion protected against oxidative stress in rats with colitis by stimulating the activity of the antioxidant enzyme superoxide dismutase and decreasing fat breakdown [9].

In another study in rats, verbascoside increased the antioxidant capacity of the blood. This boosted their ability to fight off free radicals that would normally disrupt normal cell activity [10].

Lemon verbena infusion had an antioxidant level comparable to sports drinks and green tea in test tubes. Infusions made by soaking the leaves had stronger antioxidant effects than those obtained by boiling the plant. Combinations of different antioxidant herb infusions had a synergistic effect that increased their antioxidant activity [11, 12, 13].

Again, the evidence is insufficient to claim that lemon verbena reduces oxidative stress in humans until more clinical trials are conducted.

3) Insomnia

In a clinical trial on 100 people with insomnia, taking a syrup with lemon verbena one hour before going to bed significantly improved sleep quality [14].

Although promising, this potential health benefit is only supported by one clinical trial. More studies are needed to confirm its preliminary results.

4) Inflammation

Inflammation is one of the main factors leading to the progressive worsening of multiple sclerosis (MS). In a clinical trial on 30 MS patients, inflammation marker levels (CRP, IFN-γ, IL-12, and IL-23) decreased with lemon verbena supplementation [15].

However, a commercial lemon verbena extract had no effects on IL-6 and CRP levels in a clinical trial on 44 people recovering from exhausting exercise [7].

The verbascoside in lemon verbena may help fight inflammation by increasing the production of tyrosine phosphatase [16].

Polyphenols from lemon verbena may also reduce inflammatory effects by lowering reactive oxidative species, which are accumulated at the site of inflammation and cause oxidative stress [3].

Only 2 clinical trials (with opposed results) and some cell-based research are insufficient evidence to attest to the anti-inflammatory effects of lemon verbena. Further clinical research is required.

5) Obesity

In a clinical trial on 54 overweight women, the group that took lemon verbena and hibiscus sabdariffa extract experienced weight loss, decreased blood pressure, and increased feelings of fullness and satisfaction after eating [17].

Polyphenols from lemon verbena lowered fat levels in human cells [3].

However, a single clinical trial combining lemon verbena with another herbal extract is insufficient to support its use for weight loss. More clinical trials testing lemon verbena alone are needed.

6) Joint Pain

In a clinical trial on 45 people, fish oil (omega-3) and lemon verbena lowered joint pain over the course of 9 weeks. The verbascoside in lemon verbena supposedly provided antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects [18].

Again, there is only one clinical trial that tested lemon verbena in combination with other compounds. Clinical trials with lemon verbena alone are needed to confirm this preliminary result and evaluate its specific contribution to the effects observed.

Animal and Cell Research (Lack of Evidence)

Infections

No clinical evidence supports the use of lemon verbena for infections. Below is a summary of the existing animal and cell-based research, which should guide further investigational efforts. However, the studies should not be interpreted as supportive of any health benefit in people with the following infections.

Lemon verbena ointment reduced the severity of skin wounds in mice infected with Staphylococcus [19].

Its essential oil also reduced the amount of the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi in mice [20].

In test tubes, lemon verbena killed and inhibited bacteria and fungi that may cause:

  • Skin infections and food poisoning (Staphylococcus aureus) [19]
  • Stomach ulcers (Helicobacter pylori) [21]
  • Fatigue, weight gain, and digestive issues (Candida albicans) [22]

However, lemon verbena alone had no effect on various strains of antibiotic-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli. An inhibitory effect on some strains was only seen when the lemon verbena extract was combined with an antibiotic (gentamicin) [23].

Limitations and Caveats

Most of the potential health benefits of lemon verbena have only been tested in a single clinical trial, sometimes combined with other extracts.

Lemon verbena has been widely used to treat problems with digestion, the immune system, anxiety, sleep, asthma, colds, fever, hemorrhoids, varicose veins, skin conditions, and chills in folk medicine. However, there is no scientific evidence for any of these effects.

More human studies are needed to determine if lemon verbena may help with any of these conditions.

Side Effects

Keep in mind that the safety profile of lemon verbena is relatively unknown, given the lack of well-designed clinical studies. The list of side effects below is not a definite one and you should consult your doctor about other potential side effects based on your health condition and possible drug or supplement interactions.

Lemon verbena supplements have caused occasional dermatitis and increased kidney irritation in people with kidney diseases [24].

Verbascoside has the potential to increase chromosome abnormalities, as observed in a study on the genomic toxicity of the chemical in fat cells [25].

If you are pregnant, ask your doctor before using any natural supplements such as lemon verbena, as the effects of lemon verbena on pregnant women have not been well researched.

Forms of Supplementation

Lemon verbena supplements have not been approved by the FDA for medical use due to the lack of solid clinical research. Regulations set manufacturing standards for supplements but don’t guarantee that they’re safe or effective. Speak with your doctor before supplementing with lemon verbena.

The two most popular forms of lemon verbena supplementation are in tea and as an essential oil.

Tea made from lemon verbena leaves has higher concentrations of its active ingredients and polyphenolic compounds than the original dried leaves. It contains verbascoside, citral, and luteolin 7-diglucuronide [1].

Lemon verbena essential oil contains many of the beneficial chemicals of the plant, with citral making up a large percentage of the oil (41%). Citral is the cause of the plant’s strong citrus smell and taste and has potential antibacterial and antifungal effects. The oil also contains eucalyptol, geranial, and sulcatone [1].

User Reviews

The opinions expressed in this section are solely those of lemon verbena users, who may or may not have medical or scientific training. Their reviews do not represent the opinions of SelfHacked. SelfHacked does not endorse any specific product, service, or treatment.

Do not consider user experiences as medical advice. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare providers because of something you have read on SelfHacked. We understand that reading individual, real-life experiences can be a helpful resource, but it is never a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from a qualified healthcare provider.

Some users reported that lemon verbena helped them sleep, especially when used with omega-3 fatty acids. Others said they slept better as a result of reduced joint pain and stiffness.

Another user claimed it helped with anxiety, insomnia, restless leg syndrome, and gut issues.

One user complained that lemon verbena worked as a diuretic and caused them to urinate more frequently.

About the Author

Carlos Tello

Carlos Tello

PhD (Molecular Biology)
Carlos received his PhD and MS from the Universidad de Sevilla.
Carlos spent 9 years in the laboratory investigating mineral transport in plants. He then started working as a freelancer, mainly in science writing, editing, and consulting. Carlos is passionate about learning the mechanisms behind biological processes and communicating science to both academic and non-academic audiences. He strongly believes that scientific literacy is crucial to maintain a healthy lifestyle and avoid falling for scams.

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