Lemon Balm: Its Role in Treating Hyperthyroidism and Graves’ Disease

What Is Graves’ Disease?

The thyroid glands, located in the neck and chest, are essential to proper metabolism and overall good health. If the thyroid glands are not functioning properly, they can produce too much thyroid hormone and cause hyperthyroidism. In this situation the metabolism will speed up. As opposed to hypothroidism, where the metabolism is very slow, hyperthyroidism can cause the body to work excessively. Consequences include degeneration of the bones, overtaxing the heart and mood fluctuations.

People who suffer from hyperthyrodism often have Graves’ disease. This condition causes protruding eyes, restless sleep, muscle weakness, increased heartbeat and irritability. Graves’ disease is most common in women and usually occurs among people over 60 years of age.

What Do We Know About Treatment of an Overactive Thyroid?

An overactive thyroid is probably the result of an antibody that accidentally stimulates the thyroid to produce an overabundance of triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4) hormones. In some cases the pituitary gland can also play a role, over-riding the releases of hormones from the thyroid.

Often harsh pharmaceutical drugs or very invasive surgery are used to eliminate non-cancerous tumors which can form in the thyroid glands. Research studies show, however, that certain herbs can sometimes calm an overactive thyroid without such drastic intervention. Administered as an injection along with Lycopus virginicus or bugleweed, lemon balm is widely used in Europe for treating hyperthyroidism. The herb is also administered as a tonic or tea to reduce and manage symptoms in Graves’ disease.

How Does Lemon Balm Actually Work To Regulate the Thyroid?

Lemon balm slows pituitary function, lowering thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) levels. This adjustment, in turn, can reduce thyroid hormone levels. Paradoxically lemon balm is also used to raise thyroid hormone levels in patients with hypothyroidism. Lemon balm probably strengthens rather than stimulates thyroid function. In this way it may be able to restore normal levels to patients with autoimmune and other thyroid diseases. Even so, its effects are usually mild.

Recently information about lemon balm appeared in the scientific journal Endocrinology. Research reported there demonstrated that Melissa officinalis, the scientific name for lemon balm, exhibits antithyrotropic activity. Test tube studies found that lemon balm can block attachment of antibodies to the thyroid cells that cause hyperthyroidism. The active medicinal ingredients in lemon balm include citronella, citral, tannins and geraniol. Flavonoids, phenolic acids and other compounds appear to be responsible for lemon balm’s thyroid-regulating actions. By inhibiting TSH from attaching to TSH receptors, the herb may be of possible use in the treatment of hyperthyroidism.

Recommended Intake

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis): To normalize an overactive thyroid

Add 2 tablespoons lemon balm to 1 cup of boiling water. Steep, covered, 5 to 10 minutes for leaf or flowers; 10 to 20 minutes for roots. Strain and cool. Drink two to four cups per day. There is no limit on the duration of treatment. You can drink it not only hot but also refrigerated or poured over ice if you prefer.


In vitro laboratory studies found that lemon balm blocks attachment of antibodies to the thyroid cells that cause Graves’ disease. Further animal studies show that lemon balm may help decrease thyroid concentration in cells. Definitive human studies, however, have not yet been conducted for this possible use.