During times when stress, anxiety and uncertainty are at an all-time high; natural ingredients that have the power to support restful sleep, calm and relaxation are likely at the top of everyone’s wish list! The good news is that there are many valuable nutrients and botanicals that have the power to support the calmer side of life. One that’s perhaps lesser known is lemon balm - a popular culinary herb found in kitchen gardens everywhere, and yet with therapeutic properties that most people are completely unaware of. In this article, we take a tiptoeing peep at the calming, relaxing, ‘helping you drift off to sleep’ properties of lovely lemon balm and round off with a simple recipe you can use to add more into your diet … that’s if you haven’t already drifted off by then!
A bit about lemon balm
Officially known as Melissa officinalis, lemon balm is a citrus-scented herb which is a common feature of kitchen gardens, and widely revered for its many culinary and therapeutic uses. It is actually a member of the mint (Labiatiae) family and has small pale-yellowish flowers that are filled with nectar and attract honeybees. Melissa is actually the Greek word for honeybee!
Long history of use
Much more than just adding fragrance to your garden and flavour to your dishes, culinary herbs are also packed full of health-supportive properties, and lemon balm is no exception. It has a wide range of potential beneficial effects including stress-relief, anti-anxiety, sleep, mood and cognitive function support. Notably, it has a long history of use for its relaxation properties; in fact, records referring to its therapeutic uses can be dated as far back as 2000 years! Swiss physician and alchemist Paracelsus (1493-1541) recommended that lemon balm would completely revivify a man and should be used for “all complaints supposed to proceed from a disordered state of the nervous system”.
More recently, research has started to back these long-held traditional uses, with much of this research focused on lemon balm’s suggested calming, sleep-enhancing and stress-relieving properties. And ironically, this long history of traditional use is translating into modern day benefits that are more relevant today than ever; especially since lack of sleep and chronic stress can have negative effects on immune function and on our ability to cope during times of adversity.
In a 2010 pilot trial published in the Mediterranean Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism, researchers evaluated the effects of lemon balm supplementation in volunteers suffering from mild-to-moderate anxiety disorders and sleep disturbances. They found that supplementation with lemon balm relieved markers of anxiety and insomnia.1
Additional research has also demonstrated potential benefits for mood, cognitive performance, neuro-protection and restlessness.2-4
How to get more lemon balm into your diet…
You can add lemon balm as a fresh herb to salads, stir into risotto, use the dried herb to make herbal tea or take as an extract in supplement form; best taken about an hour before bed to harness it’s sleep-supportive effects.
Delicious lemon balm pesto recipe
And finally, here’s a lovely recipe for lemon balm pesto to get you started. In a food processor add ½ cup fresh lemon balm leaves, ½ cup fresh basil leaves, ½ cup pine nuts, ¾ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese, ¼ cup avocado oil & 3 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice. Process until smooth, add freshly ground Himalayan pink salt and black pepper to taste and enjoy on a seeded cracker, on top of grilled fish / chicken or stirred into pasta for a quick and easy mid-week meal. Keep your lemon balm pesto in a recycled glass jam jar in the fridge for up to a week.
1. Cases J, Ibarra A 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. Med J Nutrition Metab. 2011 Dec; 4(3): 211-218
2. Kennedy DO, Scholey AB, et al. Modulation of mood and cognitive performance following acute administration of Melissa officinalis (Lemon balm), Pharmacol Biochem Behav (2002 Jul) 72(4):953-64
3. Muller SF, Klement S. A combination of valerian and Lemon balm is effective in the treatment of restlessness and dyssomnia in children. Phytomedicine. 2006;13(6):383-7.
4. Scholey A, Gibbs A et al. Anti-stress effects of lemon balm-containing foods. Nutrients 2014, 6(11), 4805-4821
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