Herpes Virus: How Effective is LEMON BALM?

How Effective Is Lemon Balm Against Herpes Virus?

Lemon balm contains significant polyphenols (flavonoids, phenolic acids and other compounds). As a result studies are underway to investigate potential for the herb in treatment of cold sores (herpes labialis).  Researchers speculate that lemon balm might have a role in combating the herpes simplex virus, shingles and other viral afflictions as well.

Numerous test tube studies have found that extracts of lemon balm possess antiviral properties in vitro. The predominant explanation theorizes that the herb blocks viruses from attaching to host cells. Several animal studies also support the value of topical lemon balm for treating herpes lesions. In a few small, placebo-controlled human trials lemon balm topical cream or ointment has shown some efficacy in managing cold sore lesions caused by herpes simplex virus (HSV). Even though treatment did not completely eliminate symptoms, researchers noted significant reduction in the duration and severity of herpes outbreaks. Data also documented a reduction in the frequency of recurrence. Regular use of lemon balm potentially might help prevent flare-ups, but this application has not yet been rigorously evaluated.

What Does Current Research Show?

One double-blind study followed 66 individuals who were just starting to develop a cold sore (oral herpes). Treatment with lemon balm cream produced significant benefits on the second day. The herbal remedy reduced intensity of discomfort, number of blisters and size of the lesion. The researchers specifically looked at day #2 because, according to them, that is when symptoms are most intense. To achieve best efficacy, treatment must begin at a very early stage of the infection. Accelerated healing was most evident in the first two days of treatment.

Another multicenter clinical study of 115 patients, followed by a placebo-controlled, double-blind study involving 116 patients, also confirmed antiviral activity. This research incorporated a dried extract of lemon balm leaf into a lip balm. Test subjects used the balm to treat lip sores associated with herpes simplex infections.
The study of 115 subjects involved three German hospitals and one dermatology clinic. Results showed that, when lemon balm was used to treat the primary infection of HSV I, not a single recurrence followed. The remedy was also effective in reducing healing time of both genital and oral herpes. The outcome is probably a result of antiviral properties of the caffeic acid and rosmarinic acid components of lemon balm.
Both studies showed best results with treatment at the earliest possible point following onset of infection. In the second study, for example, subjects experienced improvement in redness and swelling after only two days. Other symptoms, such as pain and scabbing, however, did not improve.

Recommendations for Application

To treat cold sores, choose a cream or ointment with one percent of a 70:1 freeze-dried, water-soluble extract. Apply it two to four times daily from first sign of symptoms until a few days after the cold sores have healed. For treatment of an active flare-up of herpes, the proper dosage is four thick applications daily. The dosage may be reduced to twice daily for preventive purposes.


Certain conventional drug treatments can reduce infectivity and thereby perhaps help prevent the spread of herpes. Unfortunately there is no evidence as yet that lemon balm offers this benefit in the case of genital infections. Keep in mind also that common sense methods of avoiding transmission of genital herpes are not 100% effective. Many people are infectious even when they do not exhibit obvious symptoms. Use of a condom does not entirely prevent the spread of herpes virus. Experts strongly recommend suppressive drug therapy for infected individuals who may be sexually active with a noninfected partner.