Lemon Balm: Nootropic Benefits, Uses, Dosage, & Side Effects

An artistic interpretation of neural connections in the brain being enhanced by a nootropic compound from lemon balm.

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is a perennial herb in the mint family native to Europe, North Africa, and West Asia.

Today, lemon balm is a popular natural remedy and nootropic supplement.

This article explores the science behind lemon balm’s nootropic properties, mechanisms of action, and practical information for enhancing brain health and performance.

What is Lemon Balm?

Lemon balm (also known as bee balm or honey balm) is a perennial herbaceous plant in the mint family (Lamiaceae), native to south-central Europe, the Mediterranean basin, Iran, and Central Asia.

 A photorealistic image of lemon balm, with its vibrant green leaves prominently displayed with its molecular structure.

The leaves have a mild lemon scent and flavor, hence the common name.

What is The History of Lemon Balm Use?

In the Middle Ages, lemon balm was used to soothe tension, dress wounds, and as a cure for toothache, skin infections, and insomnia.

Did you know?

Lemon balm was dedicated to the goddess Diana and used medicinally by the Greeks some 2,000 years ago.

Additionally, in the 17th century, French Carmelite nuns made Carmelite Water, a drink to treat nervous headaches and neurosis, from lemon balm, angelica root, and nutmeg.

What Are The Bioactive Compounds in Lemon Balm?

The main bioactive compounds in lemon balm are:

  1. Rosmarinic acid (1.87-5.75%): A polyphenol antioxidant that improves mood and cognition
  2. Caffeic acid (17.3%): An antioxidant that reduces inflammation
  3. Eugenol: Provides anti-anxiety and sedative effects
  4. Quercetin (5.8%): Improves inflammation, blood sugar management, exercise performance, and blood pressure
  5. Citronellal (39.9%): Contributes to lemon balm’s lemony aroma
  6. Geraniol(11.5%): Has anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties
  7. Linalool(3.5%): Reduces stress and anxiety

How Bioavailible is Lemon Balm?

Lemon balm is well-absorbed orally, with the active compounds detectable in the bloodstream within 2 hours of ingestion.

A single 1,600 mg dose of lemon balm extract can have peak plasma concentrations of rosmarinic acid reached within 1 hour.

However, lemon balm undergoes significant first-pass metabolism in the liver, reducing its bioavailability.

One way to increase absorption is to take lemon balm with a meal containing healthy fats.

Pro Tip: Taking lemon balm with olive oil increases the peak plasma concentration of rosmarinic acid by 24% compared to taking it alone.

What Are The Nootropic Uses of Lemon Balm?

Lemon balm is used as a nootropic for:

  • Reducing anxiety and stress
  • Improving mood and cognitive function
  • Enhancing sleep quality
  • Boosting memory and attention

What Do Users of Lemon Balm Say?

Users of lemon balm report a range of cognitive and mood-enhancing effects. Here are some quotes from online forums and reviews:

Lemon balm tea helps me feel calm and focused without making me drowsy. It’s my go-to when I need to study or get work done.” – Sarah T.

I take lemon balm capsules daily for anxiety and insomnia. It has made a noticeable difference in my ability to relax and get restful sleep.” – Mark R.

Lemon balm essential oil is part of my daily aromatherapy routine. Just a few drops in my diffuser helps clear my mind and boost my mood.” – Emily G.

What are the Mechanisms of Action for Lemon Balm?

Lemon balm’s nootropic effects are attributed to several mechanisms:

GABA-A receptor modulationRosmarinic acid and other compounds in lemon balm bind to GABA-A receptors, enhancing the effects of GABA and promoting relaxation
Acetylcholinesterase inhibitionLemon balm inhibits the enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine, increasing its levels in the brain and improving cognitive function
Antioxidant and neuroprotective effectsThe high content of rosmarinic acid and other antioxidants in lemon balm protects brain cells from oxidative stress and inflammation

What Are The Cognitive Benefits of Lemon Balm?

Research has demonstrated several cognitive benefits of lemon balm:

  1. Improved memory and attention
  2. Reduced anxiety and stress
  3. Enhanced mood and cognitive performance
A photorealistic image of lemon balm, showcasing its vibrant green leaves in a natural setting.

These benefits make lemon balm a popular natural nootropic for students, professionals, and anyone seeking a natural cognitive boost.

How Does Lemon Balm Increase Memory and Attention Span?

Lemon balm increases memory and attention span primarily by modulating acetylcholine, a key neurotransmitter involved in learning and memory formation.

Acetylcholine enables communication between neurons and helps encode new information into long-term memory.

A study found that 200 mg of lemon balm extract enhanced memory retention in rats by inhibiting acetylcholinesterase (AChE), the enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine.(1)

By prolonging the action of acetylcholine in the brain, lemon balm improves memory consolidation and recall.

Lemon balm also increases attention span by promoting alertness and mental clarity.

How Does Lemon Balm Reduce Anxiety and Depression?

Lemon balm reduces anxiety and depression through its effects on GABA and serotonin, two neurotransmitters that regulate mood and emotional processing.

GABA is the brain’s primary inhibitory neurotransmitter, responsible for inducing feelings of relaxation and calmness.

By inhibiting GABA transaminase, lemon balm increases GABA levels in the brain, leading to reduced anxiety and stress.

This effect is similar to that of benzodiazepines, a class of anti-anxiety drugs that enhance GABA receptor function.(2)

Lemon balm also modulates serotonin activity, which is often dysregulated in depression. Serotonin is involved in regulating mood, sleep, appetite, and cognitive functions.

A study in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology found that lemon balm extract increased serotonin levels and reduced depressive behaviors in mice subjected to chronic unpredictable mild stress.(3)

How Does Lemon Balm Improve Mood?

Lemon balm improves mood and cognition through a combination of its anxiolytic, antidepressant, and procognitive effects.(4)

By reducing anxiety and depression, lemon balm creates a more positive and stable emotional state that is conducive to learning, memory, and overall cognitive performance.(5)

The herb’s ability to increase acetylcholine and modulate other neurotransmitters involved in cognitive processing further enhances its nootropic potential.

A study demonstrated these synergistic effects of lemon balm in healthy adults who experienced emotional distress.(6)

Participants who received a lemon balm extract containing rosmarinic acid reported increased calmness and improved memory performance compared to placebo.

What Are The Potential Side Effects and Risks of Lemon Balm?

Lemon balm is well-tolerated, with few reported side effects. Potential side effects may include:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Abdominal pain

These side effects are usually mild and transient.

No serious adverse events have been reported with lemon balm use.

Who Should Avoid Lemon Balm?

Lemon balm should be avoided or used with caution by:

  • Pregnant and breastfeeding women due to lack of safety data
  • For individuals with thyroid disorders, lemon balm may interfere with thyroid function
  • People scheduled for surgery, as lemon balm may interact with anesthesia

What Are The Potential Interactions Between Medication and Lemon Balm?

Lemon balm may interact with certain medications, including:

  1. Sedatives and sleep aids: Lemon balm may enhance their effects, causing excessive drowsiness
  2. Thyroid medications: Lemon balm may interfere with their absorption and effectiveness
  3. Drugs metabolized by the liver: Lemon balm may affect their metabolism and levels in the body

Always consult a healthcare professional before combining lemon balm with medications.

How To Use Lemon Balm as A Nootropic?

Lemon balm can be used as a nootropic in several forms:

  • Dried herbs for tea
  • Tincture
  • Capsules

Start with the lowest effective dose and adjust based on individual response and tolerance.

The recommended dosage for lemon balm varies depending on the form and intended use:

Tea1.5-4.5 grams of dried herb per day
Tincture2-6 ml (40-120 drops) per day
Capsules300-1200 mg of extract per day, divided into 2-3 doses
A photorealistic image of lemon balm, featuring its vibrant green leaves prominently displayed in a natural setting.

In general, it’s best to follow the dosage instructions on the product label or consult a healthcare professional.

Can Lemon Balm Be Used in A Nootropic Stack?

Yes, lemon balm can be used in a nootropic stack to enhance its cognitive benefits and synergize with other nootropics. Some effective combinations include:

  • Lemon balm + Valerian root: For improved sleep quality and reduced anxiety
  • Lemon balm + Bacopa monnieri: For enhanced memory, attention, and stress resilience
  • Lemon balm + L-theanine: For increased relaxation and focus without drowsiness

Sources, Studies, and Scientific Research
  1. Soodi, M et al. “Memory-improving activity of Melissa officinalis extract in naïve and scopolamine-treated rats.” Research in pharmaceutical sciences vol. 9,2 (2014): 107-14.
  2. Ghazizadeh, Javid et al. “The effects of lemon balm (Melissa officinalis L.) on depression and anxiety in clinical trials: A systematic review and meta-analysis.” Phytotherapy research : PTR vol. 35,12 (2021): 6690-6705. doi:10.1002/ptr.7252
  3. Lin, Shih-Hang et al. “A medicinal herb, Melissa officinalis L. ameliorates depressive-like behavior of rats in the forced swimming test via regulating the serotonergic neurotransmitter.” Journal of ethnopharmacology vol. 175 (2015): 266-72. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2015.09.018
  4. Kennedy, D O et al. “Modulation of mood and cognitive performance following acute administration of Melissa officinalis (lemon balm).” Pharmacology, biochemistry, and behavior vol. 72,4 (2002): 953-64. doi:10.1016/s0091-3057(02)00777-3
  5. Scholey, Andrew et al. “Anti-stress effects of lemon balm-containing foods.” Nutrients vol. 6,11 4805-21. 30 Oct. 2014, doi:10.3390/nu6114805
  6. Bano, Aasiya et al. “The possible “calming effect” of subchronic supplementation of a standardised phospholipid carrier-based Melissa officinalis L. extract in healthy adults with emotional distress and poor sleep conditions: results from a prospective, randomised, double-blinded, placebo-controlled clinical trial.” Frontiers in pharmacology vol. 14 1250560. 19 Oct. 2023, doi:10.3389/fphar.2023.1250560

Jacob Kovacs is a cognitive neuroscientist and author at WholisticResearch, specializing in nootropics and neuroactive peptides. His expertise in neuroscience and psychopharmacology bridges cognitive science with drug development. Kovacs’ work focuses on enhancing cognitive functions and brain health through innovative, efficient neuroactive compounds that overcome traditional pharmacokinetic challenges. His contributions are pivotal in advancing the understanding and treatment of neurological diseases.