Lemon Balm TeaJuly 27, 2011 Written by JP [Font too small?]
We’re all familiar with medical first aid kits. But, have you ever considered putting together a mental health first aid kit? It might contain a reminder to breathe deeply, a small bottle of lavender essential oil and, perhaps, even an inspirational quotation or two. Herbal teas could also be included. A few that immediately come to mind are chamomile, kava and passion flower teas. Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), a citrus scented member of the mint family, is rarely included in the top tier of calming natural remedies. This is a shame because modern science and traditional use indicate that it can be a valuable resource for a variety of mental woes.
There’s more to the promotion of mental health than just re-establishing a calm state of mind. Surely this is helpful, but not all inclusive. Sometimes we require longer term assistance during periods of prolonged stress. In other instances, it’s our memory that suffers due to preoccupations and other forms of psychological torment. Fortunately, lemon balm may be of assistance in all three of the states of mind I’ve mentioned above.
Acute anxiety is one of the more common psychological challenges faced by mankind. This, in part, explains why alcohol and marijuana are frequently the “drugs” of choice for those in need of immediate, sporadic relief. These natural agents effectively and quickly dull the senses. Lemon balm extract provides a significantly different and potentially safer option. Several, peer-reviewed studies published between 2002 – 2004 reveal that moderate dosages of M. officinalis improved “self-ratings of calmness” and also certain measures of cognitive performance. However, it should be noted that the trials employed differing dosages and reported some variations with regard to post ingestion alertness. Until this matter is more clearly elucidated, I would suggest monitoring the effect of lemon balm in a safe setting prior to using it in a public platform – driving or while at school or work. (1,2,3)
M. officinalis has been evaluated as a therapeutic agent for chronic mental health concerns as well. Animal and in vitro studies have found that lemon balm extracts modulate stressful reactions by increasing the level of the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA and reducing the stress hormone corticosterone in the brain. In addition, lemon balm appears to stimulate the growth of new brain cells (neurogenesis) in a region of the brain, the hippocampus, that is adversely affected by depression and stress. What’s more, various trials have established that combining lemon balm with other herbal extracts including hops and valerian root effectively and safely addresses psychological symptoms ranging from depression to insomnia in adults and children alike. (4,5,6,7,8,9)
Anxiety and stress typically affect memory in an adverse manner. A recent review in the Journal of Neurosciences in Rural Practice presents data supporting the use of lemon balm for even the most severe forms of memory impairment such as mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease (AD). The basis for the Alzheimer’s claim has to do with studies that have examined the promise of aromatherapeutic and oral administration of lemon balm in patients with AD. According to the lead authors of the summary, M. officinalis also “amends mood and cognitive ability during acute administration in healthy young volunteers and has no side effects or symptoms of toxicity”. (10,11,12)
Lemon Balm May Support New Brain Cell Growth in the Hippocampus
Source: Neurochem Res. 2011 Feb;36(2):250-7. (link)
We all know that there are numerous medications that can help tame anxiety and promote a more even keel. However, finding a drug candidate that is relatively side-effect free is a tall order. As is often the case, natural alternatives not only provide a better safety profile, but they also tend to afford select “side benefits”. Lemon balm is no exception to this rule. It’s long been known that M. officinalis is a potent reservoir of otherwise elusive antioxidants – caffeic, ferulic and rosmarinic acids. A study dating back to February 2005 presented in the British Journal of Nutrition determined that simply adding lemon balm to a salad increased the antioxidant content of a meal by 150% to 200%. But, the most impressive evidence supporting the antioxidant potential of lemon balm was just recently revealed in the journal Toxicology and Industrial Health. In the publication, a group of 55 employees working at a radiology center who were regularly exposed to low-dose radiation were asked to drink lemon balm tea twice daily. Before and after blood work concluded that the herbal tea lead to a “marked reduction in plasma DNA damage, myeloperoxidase, and lipid peroxidation” and a “significant improvement in plasma levels of catalase, superoxide dismutase, and glutathione peroxidase”. In effect, the lemon balm supplementation shielded the workers from the damage caused by work related radiation exposure. If it can protect such high risk workers, imagine what it could do for the rest of us. (13,14,15)
If you decide to experiment with lemon balm, you might want to consider starting off with lemon balm tea. There are few reasons for this recommendation. I briefly touched upon the first reason in the prior paragraph pertaining to memory. The aromatherapeutic scent of M. officinalis may, in and of itself, support a more peaceful state of mind. Also, new evidence reports that steeping lemon balm for 15 minutes or more dramatically increases the extraction of important antioxidants or polyphenols. Simply popping a capsule or tablet may not confer the same attributes. Once the tea is brewed, you can enjoy it cold or hot, natural or sweetened. (16)
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Tags: Anxiety, Memory, Tea
Posted in Food and Drink, Mental Health, Nutritional Supplements