Melissa essential oil (Melissa Officinalis, also known as lemon balm) is the aromatic oil extracted from the melissa plant through distillation or cold pressing. It contains all the phytochemicals that define the fragrance and medicinal properties of the herb and thus can be used for aromatherapy and other forms of healing.
Traditionally, Melissa has been used for various health conditions, including anxiety, stress, sleep issues, and headaches. This article will cover the available scientific evidence on these uses of Melissa essential oil and a few other well-studied applications.
Melissa Essential Oil Potential Benefits
The potential healing properties of Melissa have been observed for all systems in the body. More research is needed to be sure of all the details and optimal dosage for each condition, but the preliminary data is already inspiring.
Melissa has traditionally been used as a natural remedy to soothe the mind and calm racing thoughts. Now, studies report that it may be beneficial for anxiety.
For example, in 2014, one study researched if 300 to 600 mg of Melissa in a drink would affect mood, cognitive performance, and anxiety. All participants reported better moods and decreased anxiety levels.1
Another double-blind placebo-controlled study from 2016 reported that taking Melissa daily for eight weeks effectively reduced anxiety, stress, depression, and sleep issues in patients with cardiovascular disease.2
On the other hand, the results from a few other studies were inconclusive, so more research is needed on the matter.
Thanks to its soothing properties, Melissa can be used to improve sleep and reduce nighttime restlessness. What’s also great is that the herb is also safe for children.
To illustrate the matter, one old study from 2006 reported that a combination of Melissa and Valerian effectively improved sleep in children with restlessness and dyssomnia (trouble falling and remaining asleep). Significant improvement was observed in 70 to 80% of participants!3
A slightly more recent study from 2010 reported that taking Melissa for 15 days helped to reduce anxiety by 18%, anxiety-related symptoms by 15%, and insomnia by 42%. In general, 85% of the study participants entered a state of full remission for their sleep issues!4
The downside of these reports is that all studies had a small sample size, so more data is needed to ensure the observed effect.
3. Stress Relief
Melissa is traditionally used as an adaptogen all around the world. In other words, it’s a herb that helps the body to adapt better to stress and react to it more effectively.
One study from 2004 reported that taking 600 mg of Melissa extract reduced the impact of laboratory-induced stress on 18 healthy volunteers.5 A few other small studies reported similar results.1
These reports are aligned with the traditional usage of Melissa, but large-scale studies are needed to define the optimal dosage and possible interactions.
4. Immune Support
Several animal studies have reported that lemon balm extracts can increase the activity of the immune system, potentially helping it better deal with bacterial and viral threats.6
Moreover, the aromatic compounds in Melissa have significant antibacterial properties of their own. Some of them are even effective against fungi like Candida albicans.7
However, the latter study also reported that lemon balm oil wasn’t effective against Gram-negative bacteria, so it’s important to remember that it’s not a universal remedy.7
5. Brain Boosting
According to multiple studies, Melissa can improve cognitive performance— especially memory, alertness, and math.1
A few other studies also reported that lemon balm extract significantly improved cognitive function and reduced agitation in patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease.8
Although these results are encouraging, more research is needed to determine how and when exactly Melissa is beneficial for brain function.
Stress is one of the most common causes of headaches, and Melissa seems effective against those.9 Thanks to its soothing action, the herb may help to prevent or reduce tension headaches.
Sleep issues are also a significant risk factor for headaches and migraines.10
Improving sleep with lemon balm could be an effective natural remedy in this case, but more studies are needed to be sure.
7. Cold Sores
Cold sores are blisters caused by the herpes simplex virus. Thanks to its antiviral action, Melissa could help to treat and prevent those unpleasant outbreaks.
One of the oldest studies on this matter goes way back to 1999. In that research, scientists reported that using a lemon balm cream helped cure the sores faster and increased the time between outbreaks.11
Another more recent study from 2014 reported that Melissa has apparent anti-herpes properties, preventing the virus from attaching to and invading cells. The effect was observed on a herpes strain that was resistant to conventional acyclovir therapy.12
More studies are needed to define the best form of lemon balm preparation to use against cold sores.
Melissa may help to improve mood thanks to its anti-stress, anti-anxiety, and antidepressant-like action. Improved sleep due to lemon balm supplementation could also be one of how the herb supports a healthy mood.
In one study from 2002, twenty healthy participants took a lemon balm supplement for a week in daily doses ranging from 300 to 900 mg. All participants reported feeling calmer as a result.13
Additional research is needed to define optimal doses and possible interactions.
One of the most popular traditional uses of Melissa is to fight off nausea.14
It seems the herb helps with nausea through its positive effect on the digestive system, particularly in improving bowel movements.15
However, the available evidence on this matter is minimal, and the exact effect of lemon balm on nausea is unknown.
Another potential health benefit of lemon balm is its ability to relieve menstrual pain and cramps.
One study from 2017 evaluated if taking 330 mg of Melissa three times per day would reduce menstrual pain in a group of 55 female participants. Compared to the group who took a placebo instead of lemon balm, the Melissa group experienced much less pain and discomfort during their periods.16
Another double-blind, placebo-controlled study from 2018 reported that Melissa helped reduce fatigue and lethargy during menstruation.17 Several small studies also said that Melissa could be helpful in soothing PMS symptoms thanks to its mild sedative action.18
More research is needed to confirm these results.
How to Take Melissa Essential Oil
Melissa essential oil can be taken in different ways. The three most common include aromatherapy, topical application, and internal use.
Aromatherapy with lemon balm essential oil could be the best approach to improve sleep, reduce agitation, and calm down stress. Use an aroma diffuser—or rub a few drops of the oil on your temples, wrists, or neck.
Remember that people with sensitive skin should never apply pure Melissa essential oil topically, as it may cause local redness and itching. The solution here would be to dilute the essential oil in any carrier oil of your choice (almond and sesame oil are the most common options). The National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA) recommends using a 1 to 5% oil solution, meaning 1 to 5 drops of Melissa essential oil diluted in a teaspoon of carrier oil.19
Regarding internal use, diluted Melissa essential oil shouldn’t cause any side effects in most cases. Many people add a few drops of oil to drinks or foods and don’t experience any side effects.
However, remember that NAHA doesn’t approve or recommend the internal use of essential oils and highlights that this should be done only with extensive experience in aromatherapy or under the guidance of a qualified expert.19
Aromatherapy, using an aroma diffuser or topical application of the diluted oil, is considered the safest and most effective way to enjoy the benefits of Melissa essential oil. For internal use, food-grade extracts or specialized supplements are preferred.
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- Scholey, Andrew et al. “Anti-stress effects of lemon balm-containing foods.” Nutrients vol. 6,11 (2014): 4805-21.
- Haybar, Habib et al. “The effects of Melissa officinalis supplementation on depression, anxiety, stress, and sleep disorder in patients with chronic stable angina.” Clinical nutrition ESPEN vol. 26 (2018): 47-52.
- Müller, SF, and S Klement. “A combination of valerian and lemon balm is effective in the treatment of restlessness and dyssomnia in children.” Phytomedicine vol. 13,6 (2006): 383-7.
- Cases, Julien et al. “Pilot trial of Melissa officinalis L. leaf extract in the treatment of volunteers suffering from mild-to-moderate anxiety disorders and sleep disturbances.” Mediterranean Journal of nutrition and metabolism vol. 4,3 (2011): 211-8.
- Kennedy, David O, et al. “Attenuation of laboratory-induced stress in humans after acute administration of Melissa officinalis (Lemon Balm).” Psychosomatic Medicine, vol. 66,4 (2004): 607-13.
- Drozd, Janina, and Elzbieta Anuszewska. “The effect of the Melissa officinalis extract on immune response in mice.” Acta poloniae pharmaceutica vol. 60,6 (2003): 467-70.
- Hăncianu, Monica et al. “Chemical composition and in vitro antimicrobial activity of essential oil of Melissa officinalis L. from Romania.” Revista medico-chirurgicala a Societatii de Medici si Naturalisti din Iasi vol. 112,3 (2008): 843-7.
- Akhondzadeh S et al. “Melissa officinalis extract in the treatment of patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial.” Journal of neurology, neurosurgery, and psychiatry vol. 74,7 (2003): 863-6.
- Bounihi, Amina et al. “In Vivo Potential Anti-Inflammatory Activity of Melissa officinalis L. Essential Oil.” Advances in pharmacological sciences vol. 2013 (2013): 101759
- Tran, Dustin P, and Egilius L H Spierings. “Headache and insomnia: their relation reviewed.” Cranio: the journal of craniomandibular practice vol. 31,3 (2013): 165-70.
- Koytchev, R et al. “Balm mint extract (Lo-701) for topical treatment of recurring herpes labialis.” Phytomedicine vol. 6,4 (1999): 225-30.
- Astani, Akram, et al. “Attachment and penetration of acyclovir-resistant herpes simplex virus are inhibited by Melissa officinalis extract.” Phytotherapy research: PTR vol. 28,10 (2014): 1547-52.
- Kennedy, D O et al. “Modulation of mood and cognitive performance following acute administration of Melissa officinalis (lemon balm).” Pharmacology, biochemistry, and behavior vol. 72,4 (2002): 953-64.
- Miraj, Sepide et al. “Melissa officinalis L: A Review Study With an Antioxidant Prospective.” Journal of evidence-based complementary & alternative medicine vol. 22,3 (2017): 385-94.
- Aubert, Philippe et al. “Basal and Spasmolytic Effects of a Hydroethanolic Leaf Extract of Melissa officinalis L. on Intestinal Motility: An Ex Vivo Study.” Journal of medicinal food vol. 22,7 (2019): 653-62.
- Mirabi, Parvaneh et al. “The Effect of Melissa Officinalis Extract on the Severity of Primary Dysmenorrhea.” Iranian Journal of pharmaceutical research: IJPR vol. 16,Suppl (2017): 171-7.
- Mirabi, Parvaneh et al. “The Effects of Lemon balm on Menstrual Bleeding and the Systemic Manifestation of Dysmenorrhea.” Iranian Journal of pharmaceutical research: IJPR vol. 17,Suppl2 (2018): 214-23.
- Akbarzadeh, Marzieh, et al. “Effect of Melissa officinalis Capsule on the Intensity of Premenstrual Syndrome Symptoms in High School Girl Students.” Nursing and midwifery studies, vol. 4,2 (2015): e27001.
- 1Safety Information of Essential Oils Used in Aromatherapy. NAHA. National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy. https://www.naha.org/explore-aromatherapy/safety/