Monday, September 8, 2008

Lemon Balm Instead of Valium?

Melissa officinalis, aka Lemon Balm, in my garden

I thought that title might get some attention! Just the other day a friend and--now former--co-worker and I were joking about needing some valium to get us through the stresses of life. The two of us, Buyers for the Health and Body Care department at a natural foods co-op, got a laugh out of the irony of us wanting some valium. It's really no joke, though.

Valium (good history at this page), immortalized by the Rolling Stones as Mother's Little Helper, was introduced by Roche Labs in 1963 as the first "lifestyle drug". The company was later accused of not warning the public or doctors of the addictiveness of Valium. Of course, more money can be made if you get the public addicted first! In its first ten years, Valium had been prescribed to 59.3 million patients, bringing in a new era of blockbuster medicines and "turning to a little pill" for help in getting through your day.

Herbs don't work this way. They are not "your little pill" and they never should be thought of as a quick fix or crutch. That said, there are many herbs and flower essences that can help with anxiety and stress. An herb can be taken in tea or tincture form as a help to relax, but you won't get addicted and you will be doing your whole body a favor if you find the right herb for you as it will work systemically. That is, throughout your whole system--body, mind, spirit--to bring balance back to your life.

Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) is one of my favorite herbs for this purpose. (There are others of note: agrimony and prickly lettuce were my constitutional remedies when I first started taking herbs, and favorites of my herbalist Lise Wolff; blue vervain is another; most of the mints tend to be cooling and calming, as well as members of the Rose family like peach leaf and wild cherry; chaomomile; lavender; and I'm sure many more not on the top of my head at the moment.)

Lemon balm is a member of the mint family. It makes a delicious tea both hot or iced, and a tincture of the fresh herb is handy and tasty as well. Lemon Balm works best as a fresh herb--you can dry it for tea-making in winter but its medicinal value will be lessened. It's better to tincture the fresh herb for medicine, and use the dried tea as little more than a tasty beverage.

Now might be just the time to make that fresh herb tincture, before the frost. Earlier in the summer would be better, though. If your lemon balm has gone to flower the most potent remedy cannot be made, though I'd make it anyway if you want some for this year. Include the flowers if they're there. In my somewhat shady/part sun spot, my lemon balm has not flowered so I can make a tincture of just the leaves and a bit of stem. That is best.

I once made myself a pot of lemon balm tea and proceeded to drink three cups of it. Beware! You can drink too much of this sedative herb at once. However, this was just what I needed that day. I'm a bit of an insomniac, especially in summer, and on that summer afternoon after my tea time, I lay down on my hard porch floor with just a little pillow under my head and fell fast asleep for three hours. After not sleeping much for days, that sleep was restorative.

Lemon balm is known for its cooling properties, valued in hot climates. It has a sour, lemon flavor which is rare in the mint family, and very thirst-refreshing. It helps in fevers by helping to open the pores so the feverish person can sweat out the heat. I have also given lemon balm tincture to a client for hot flashes during menopause. She had a background of some tension along with depression, and a red pointed tongue indicating heat throughout the body (in Chinese medicine) which is a specific for lemon balm.

It can help to calm a spastic cough. It eases heart palpitations and general anxiety. Being a mint, it is also a carminitive, which means it helps with digestion. It will ease gas and nausea and especially helps for nervous indigestion. For this the hot tea after a meal is best.

My teacher Matt Wood says at his website page on lemon balm:

The dosage can be as small as 1-3 drops (when it's a specific and for that you probably need to see an herbalist) or as large as 10-30 drops. I generally recommend 5-10 drops twice a day, morning and evening for a chronic condition, more often in an acute situation such as when trying to calm heart palpitations or cooling a fever. Too much of any herb, however, and the remedy will no longer work. Don't overdo. It is considered a very safe herb.


carlamarie said...

Hi, Lisa,
I just found your site and want to tell you how nice it is and very interesting, too! Keep up the good work and I will visit it often. Hope to see you soon.
Carla from Lise's yearlong class

Erin said...

Hey Lisa,

Just found your blog. Very nice. Nice photos too. I think yours is the very first herbal blog out of minnesota. i look forward to checking in and reading in the future and am putting a link on my site. good luck

LisaZ said...

Thanks, Erin and Carla! I'm glad to have you two stop by my blog...Of course it makes me nervous that I'm not getting all my info. "right" and thorough enough. Where's my Prickly Lettuce remedy??!

I'll see you on Saturday at the Herb Fest!


Anonymous said...

Hi Lizaz
I suffer from hypothyroidism, would lemon balm be good for me for nights where I dont sleep well and restless leg syndrome? If so how much should I consider using when I make it?


Nancy C said...

I first "met" this herb in Paris when my teacher's wife gave me some for a headache. She would also make any student she thought was "overwrought" drink a cup of tea with "eau de melisse" dropped in. She gave me a little box with a jar of tincture and sugar cubes and told me to use it for my colds and headaches. I've been "in love" with the stuff ever since and your site is a great synthesis of the available information. I had been wondering how to make a tincture! Now I can make my own! I planted quite a bit of it last year, so should be calm, happy and headache-free for the near future (-;!
thanks again for all the info.

susie at sleeper springs said...

I'm very interested in trying this tincture. I have done a few tinctures but have never done lemon balm. Should I just poke the leaves and some stem into a jar, or chop them up?

susie at sleeper springs said...

Oh, sorry...

LisaZ said...

Susie, I have tincture-making directions in my sidebar and you can just follow those for lemon balm. Basically, just stuff a jar with leaves (a little bit of stem is okay, but mostly leaves). Fill the jar with 80 proof vodka or brandy and let sit 6 weeks out of sunlight. After 6 weeks, strain it out through cheesecloth, squeezing any liquid out of the leaves.

Good luck!

Celia said...

I have to thank you for this, my husband has anxiety and acid reflux and this has helped him tremendously. I was looking for something to do with my bumper crop of lemon balm and this tincture is amazing.

Anonymous said...

hello :) I suffer from ptsd and gad with panic attacks I am trying to wean off this nasty xanax I have been taking for the past 7 months. The doctor I saw yesterday because my doctor has retired said that it wasnt his problem and prescribed me another pill which I will not take. I am drinking my second 8oz cup of lemon balm tea but but read that it can interfere with xanax? How is this so? thanks so much, Alicia

LisaZ said...

Celia, I'm so glad it helped your husband!

Alicia, please ask your doctor about it. I don't know the answer in your case and feel your doctor should know you want to or are drinking lemon balm tea, and he/she can help you find the answer. I would not drink more than a cup at a time, however, and only up to two cups a day.

LisaZ said...

I see Dr. Oz has an article out, recommending Lemon Balm for stress relief.