Melissa officinalis (Lemon Balm/Citroenmelisse)

Those of you who know me as an herbalist know I like to recommend local herbs whenever possible. That’s why I’ve studied and use European and North American herbs as a supplement to my herbal medicine chest from the Indian subcontinent. So it’s always a delight to use a herb that is native to the area, and Melissa has been basically as the panacea in Europe since medieval times.

Specific Uses

Think about the last time you made the connection between a symptom you have getting worse with stress, travel or big life changes like changing jobs or moving house. (Note: These are all Vata-increasing situations according to Ayurveda). Now, if those symptoms are in the area of digestion, hormones, or mental/emotional, Melissa might be the right herb for you.

Here are some scenarios:

  • Your toilet habits get delayed when you go on holiday.
  • Your hot flashes are more triggered by stress.
  • Headaches come around your menstrual cycle.
  • Your digestive problems get worse with increased pressure.

To understand whether Melissa is right for you, you need to know its qualities, and whether you need those qualities. Its tastes are slightly sour, a bit spicy, and it has a cooling vipak. It has a specific affinity to the lungs and liver.

  • Herbal actions
  • Carminative – expels gas. So as ayurveda people, we love it!
  • Antispasmodic – calms muscle spasms & cramping (think stomach, intestines, tension in muscles contributing to anxiety)
  • Diaphoretic – opens the channels and helps induce sweat. Great to break viral fevers – combine with cold & flu therapies.

In addition, Melissa works on specific systems:


Melissa is my first go-to herb for several menopausal symptoms including hot flashes, insomnia, ‘not feeling like myself anymore’ (yes, that is a real and legitimate menopausal symptom!) and mood swings. Personally I have discovered Melissa to be enough effective in mild-to-medium level hot flashes, but I’ve observed it needs to be paired with other herbs, pranayama and stress and lifestyle shifts (re: a dramatic reversal of a lifestyle that burns the candle at both ends) to be able to reduce the dosage. In other words, the hot flashes reduce but it doesn’t address the root cause of the hot flashes (lack of grounding built up over years, Vata disturbance, burnout of protective, cooling ojas).

In addition, when the thyroid has hyper-function, Melissa can help to reduce thyroid activity. Too many people misunderstand that thyroid has to be balanced by the opposite, that to treat hypothyroid you need to go for substances that stimulate the thyroid, but Ayurveda puts forward (and we see what is actually effective) is not pushing it to extremes, but rather to balances the thyroid. That’s why in addition to helping with hyperthyroidism, a plant like Lemon Balm can equally address the specific type of hypothyroidism that commonly begins at menopause.


It has an antispasmodic effective, and so it is specifically useful to reduce gas and stomach cramps, in particular when the disturbance has a connection to anxiety. This same anti-spasmodic effect helps when diarrhea/loose bowel motions have a nervous component to it.

Emotions & Nervous system

Melissa is widely accepted as a nervine, and specifically an antidepressant. Because it is slightly stimulating, it is particularly useful in depression accompanied by anxiety, with a source of sluggishness, and exhaustion. It is specific for worry and stress.
Its further effects on the mind include reducing headaches and overcoming mental confusion (remember, many things with sour taste sharpen the mind – just think how you snap to attention if you suck on a lemon)

Generally, you can think about Melissa for worry, anxiety, restlessness, depression & insomnia. But let’s look closer! You can think about it like this: If your stress or anxiety goes side-by-side with an exhausted nervous system, Melissa with strengthening the nervous system (versus other nervines that act to sedate a hyper nervous system). In addition, consider Melissa if your anxiety gets worse with hormone fluctuations, i.e. there is pre-menstrual anxiety, tension or depression.

So you see it’s clearly got a Vata-reducing action.

In summary, you can think about is as helping with digestive spasms, and against depression & anxiety especially if there is endocrine (hormone) involvement, such as thyroid and/or female hormone imbalances.

Here’s some bonus actions:

  • Safe for breastfeeding. When a mom ingests Melissa, it helps colicky or teething babies.
  • Lowers high blood pressure
  • Anti-viral with a specific use against herpes virus – apply externally for fever blisters, and take internally simultaneously.

How to take Melissa/Lemon balm

  • The best is to use the fresh herb as infusion, it gives a lovely lemony taste to this strong tea.
  • Combine with other insomnia herbs for an after-dinner & before-bedtime tea.
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