Published in the June 2015 edition of ‘The Bay’ Magazine.
Lemon Balm – printer friendly, text version
An unassuming herb with an uplifting lemony scent; physicians and beekeepers alike have long known Melissa officinalis.
The name Melissa comes from the Greek word for ‘honey bee’ and has been used since ancient times to keep bees content and attract wandering swarms. Research has shown that the plant contains several compounds that are found in the nasonov gland of the honey bee, which helps it communicate information about sources of food and hive location. It is even said that rubbing the herb into the skin discourages stinging.
The benefits of Melissa can be enjoyed by humans as well as bees and the relaxing, mood elevating effects give it a valuable place in medicinal herbals.
Nervine, sedative and anti-depressant. Melissa has an effect on the limbic system of the brain which governs mood and temperament. It is calming in conditions of anxiety and tension, promoting restful sleep, yet it is also uplifting to the spirits and improves memory and concentration.
Anti-viral and anti-bacterial, valuable in the treatment of colds, flu and viruses. Herpes simplex virus (cold sore virus) is successfully treated in the form of a topical ointment.
Digestive and carminative, beneficial for stress related digestive problems such as nervous indigestion, peptic ulcers and wind.
The herb is gentle enough to be used for children. In one study, 918 children suffering from restlessness and nervous insomnia were given a preparation of Melissa combined with Valerian. Researchers recorded a ‘distinct and convincing reduction in the severity of symptoms’, which were reduced from ‘moderate/severe’ to ‘mild/absent’ in most of the patients.1
Positive results have been gained with Alzheimer’s patients using a Melissa lotion applied to the face and arms. Melissa was associated with highly significant reductions in agitation and social withdrawal, alongside an increase in constructive activities.2
The Heart of Depression
According to the World Health Organisation, depression and anxiety are the leading cause of disability worldwide. Although there are defining differences between the classifications of the two conditions they often occur together, with up to 85% of those with major depression also experiencing generalised anxiety disorder.
Autonomic nervous system dysfunction plays a significant role in depression and anxiety. Overstimulation of the sympathetic nervous system (associated with the fight or flight stress response) results in increased heart rate and blood pressure, fatigue and sleep disturbance.
It was previously assumed that this all occurred as a result of the brain’s response to a stimulus; however, developments in neurocardiology have revealed that the heart has a sophisticated nervous system and communicates with the brain in ways that significantly affect how we perceive and react to the world. Coherent heart rhythms play a role in regulating the nervous system 3 and therefore also influence depression and anxiety.
Mindfulness exercises that draw back the shoulders and open the heart can be beneficial in depression. Research has shown that the regular practice of controlled breathing, such as that used in the yoga technique of alternate nostril breathing, activates the parasympathetic nervous system, thereby calming the stress response, reducing heart rate and improving the heart rate variability.4
Melissa Herbal Water
Making a herbal water is one of the simplest preparations of herbs and is deliciously refreshing on a hot day. Melissa is easy to cultivate and requires little attention to flourish. In fact some caution must be taken when planting out in the garden as, like mint (a member of the same family), it has a tendency to take over.
1 handful of washed Melissa leaves
1 litre of filtered or distilled water
Place the leaves and the water in a jug or jar (preferably glass.) Leave to stand for 2-6 hours in a sunny position, then enjoy!
- Muller SF, Klement S., A combination of valerian and lemon balm is effective in the treatment of restlessness and dyssomnia in children. Phytomedicine. 2006, Jun; 13(6): 383-7.
- Ballard CG, et al. 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. J. Clin. Psych. 2002;63: 553-8
- Rollin McCraty. Et al. The coherent heart. Integral review 2009. Vol 5. No2
- Tharion E, et al. Influence of deep breathing exercise on spontaneous respiratory rate and heart variability: a randomised controlled trial in healthy subjects. Indian J Physiol Pharmacol. 2012 Jan-Mar;56(1):80-7
The Herbal Clinic in Swansea provides natural healthcare with the use of organic herbs, acupuncture and iridology.