Digestive Problems? Could LEMON BALM Help?

What Is the Role of Lemon Balm in Managing Digestive Problems?

Functional herbal remedies are emerging as gentler, more natural alternatives to replace some harsh drugs and pharmaceutical medications. Lemon balm is among the most popular herbs recommended by herbalists to prevent or even reverse some problematic digestive issues. Historically lemon balm has been used to manage problems including upset stomach, bloating, intestinal gas, flatulence, vomiting and colic. The volatile oils in lemon balm contain chemicals that relax muscles and relieve symptoms. Lemon balm may be helpful for multiple stress-related digestive problems.
ESCOP (European Scientific Cooperative On Phytotherapy) recommends internal use of lemon balm for symptomatic treatment of digestive disorders such as minor spasms. Materia Medica suggests that the herb can help with spasms in the GI tract because of lemon balm’s ability to relax smooth muscle Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine recommends lemon balm for relief of nervous dyspepsia, colic, flatulence, irritable bowel disease and gastritisCommission E of the German Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices describes lemon balm as effective in treating “functional gastrointestinal complaints.” In traditional Austrian medicine lemon balm leaves are prescribed to treat disorders of the gastrointestinal tract, liver and bile. The Georgetown University Medical Center describes lemon balm as effective in treating indigestion.

How Does It Work?

According to the University of Michigan Health System, terpenes are responsible for this herb’s relaxing and gas-relieving effects. These aromatic hydrocarbons also account for the plant’s pleasant smell.  Lemon balm is classified as a carminative herb (aromatic digestive tonic or botanical bitter). Carminatives seem to work, at least in part, by relieving spasms in the intestinal tract. 
Lemon balm contains both choloretics and colagogues, which may also help with liver and gall bladder problems. Bile is produced in the liver, stored in the gall bladder and then released to the small intestine to digest fats. A choloretic stimulates production of bile. A colagogue enhances the expulsion of bile from the gall bladder. The primary lemon balm constituents in these categories — caffeic acid, eugenol, chlorogenic acid and P-coumaric acid — enhance the content of digestive juices and may improve the digestion of food. The herb may thus help to enhance appetite, prevent formation of stones and assist liver detoxification enzymes. It may also enhance the rate of digestion as well as absorption in the stomach.

Lemon Balm Tea – Variations

For relief of digestive problems, lemon balm is usually most effective as a tea beverage. Use a covered container to prepare it by steeping two to three teaspoons of leaves in hot water for ten to 15 minutes. Lemon balm tea is a pleasant-tasting beverage to consume hot or cold. Herbalists typically recommend three or more cups per day to sip immediately after meals. Lemon balm, in combination with other medicinal plants, may treat a variety of disorders more effectively. A brew made from peppermint and lemon balm together, for example, can often sooth persistent stomach problems.

Researchers find that a soothing tea made from chamomile, vervain, licorice, fennel and lemon balm can relieve infant colic more effectively than a placebo. These herbs, in combination, may better relax intestinal spasms. According to the website WebMD lemon balm tea is possibly effective for relief of upset stomach (dyspepsia) when a specific combination of lemon balm and peppermint leaf, German chamomile, caraway, licorice, clown’s mustard plant, celandine, angelica and milk thistle is used. Such a combination seems to improve symptoms of acid reflux (GERD), stomach pain, cramping, nausea and vomiting.

Other Forms of Lemon Balm

Lemon balm, as a dried leaf, is available to purchase in bulk. It is available, too, in tea form and in capsules, extracts, tinctures and oil. Lemon balm also appears as a component of some homeopathic remedies and as an essential oil for aromatherapy.

To reduce indigestion, flatulence or bloating, first consult a knowledgeable provider to find the best intake for your specific need. Recommended doses are likely to be within the following ranges:

  • Capsules: 300 to 500 mg dried lemon balm, three times daily or as needed.
  • Tea: 1.5 to 4.5 grams (1/4 to 1 tsp.) of dried lemon balm herb in hot water. Steep and drink up to four times daily.
  • Tincture: 40 to 60 drops of lemon balm daily.

You will find lemon balm tea, capsules or tinctures — either alone or in combination with other herbs — for sale at health food stores or at the offices of some herbalists and naturopathic doctors. Whether you choose to take lemon balm as a tea or in a supplement, make sure to check the quality of your source. Never settle for an inferior product.

The use of herbs is an effective approach to strengthening the body. Herbs, however, sometimes contain components that can trigger side effects and interact with other herbs, supplements or medications. You should always take herbs with care, preferably under supervision of a health care provider knowledgeable about botanical medicine.