Lemon balm – also known as Melissa officinalis, or just Melissa – is a popular natural treatment for herpes, both genital and oral herpes.
It has proven anti-viral properties, both in the lab and in clinical use. This humble traditional healing herb is definitely worth adding to your arsenal - it's readily available and low cost.
Read on to find out the best ways to use lemon balm for herpes…
Table of Contents
Lemon balm – healing herb with many uses
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is a hardy, vigorous herb that has grown around the Mediterranean for over 2000 years, and is now found all over the world (including North America), often growing wild. The plant grows up to 70-150 cm (2-5 ft) tall and produces small pale yellow flowers that attract bees – hence the name “Melissa” which means “honey”. It’s a member of the mint family, and the leaves, which contain the active ingredients, have a pleasant lemony mint smell when crushed.
Lemon balm has many traditional uses as a healing herb. It’s been used as a tea or infused in wine to help stress and anxiety, and to soothe digestion. In ancient Greece and Rome the leaves were applied directly or as an infusion to wounds to prevent infection and promote healing.
Is Lemon Balm effective as a treatment for herpes?
Several studies have shown that lemon balm has a definite anti-viral effect on the herpes simplex virus, and in general, seems to reduce the severity of herpes symptoms.
The University of Maryland Medical Center reported on a German study which looked at patients in three hospitals and one dermatology clinic, and found that when lemon balm was used to treat the initial HSV I infection, not a single recurrence was noted.
One double-blind study from 1994 followed 116 people with either oral or genital herpes, who were either assigned to a treatment group and given standardised lemon balm cream (70:1 extract of leaves), or to a placebo group and given a placebo cream. The treatment was begun within 72 hours of the first indication of symptoms, and continued for 5-10 days, with the cream being applied 2-4 times per day. Healing was rated as “very good” by 41% from the lemon balm treatment group, and only by 19% from the placebo group (p=0.022).
(Reference: Wolbling RH, Leonhardt K. Local therapy of Herpes simplex with dried extract from Melissa officinalis. Phytomedicine 1994;1:25-31.)
In another double-blind study, 66 patients with a history of oral herpes were similarly assigned to either a treatment group or a placebo group, and given standardised lemon balm or placebo cream, which they applied to the affected area four times daily for five days. On the second day of therapy (when the symptoms where expected to be the most active) the active treatment group reported significantly lower symptom scores with less intensity of discomfort, fewer blisters, and smaller lesions (4.03 versus 4.94; p=0.042).
(Reference: Koytchev R, Alken RG, Dundarov S. Balm mint extract (Lo-701) for topical treatment of recurring Herpes labialis. Phytomedicine. 1999; 6: 225-230.)
A recent study from 2008 showed that Melissa officinalis (lemon balm) essential oil acts to strongly inhibit the herpes simplex virus in a laboratory study (in vitro).
(Reference: Schnitzler P1, Schuhmacher A, Astani A, Reichling J. Melissa officinalis oil affects infectivity of enveloped herpesviruses. Phytomedicine. 2008 Sep;15(9):734-40. doi: 10.1016/j.phymed.2008.04.018.)
Although we don’t know the exact mechanism, lemon balm oil is known to contain several active known anti-viral agents such as polyphenols, terpenes and tannins, which seem to work together to block the infectivity of the herpes simplex virus and stop it entering your cells.
Does lemon balm have any side effects?
Lemon balm is on the FDA’s GRAS (“generally recognised as safe”) list. It has no significant documented side effects, though an allergic reaction is always a possibility with any substance.
If taken in high doses orally, it may have some sedative effect - though compared with other anxiolytics, it is relatively non-sedating.
How to use lemon balm for herpes
Lemon balm may help as a general preventative for herpes if you drink it regularly as a tea. However, the best way to use lemon balm for herpes is to apply it topically, whether as an oil, an infusion wash, or a cream or ointment.
You can make your own melissa-infused oil very quickly, from the dried or fresh leaves and olive oil.
Use 1 teaspoon of dried lemon balm (double the quantity if it is fresh) to 10 mls of oil.
Place the oil and herb together in a glass bowl or jar in a saucepan of boiling water, and simmer for 2-3 hours. Let it cool, and strain through a piece of cheesecloth or similar filter. Pantyhose works well for this too - but make sure it is clean!
Keep the infused oil in a dark glass bottle, in a cool place. It will keep for up to a year, but it’s best used within 4-6 months.
Here's a great tutorial about making your own herbal cream:
Whether you buy the cream or oil or make it yourself, the method of using it is similar. At the first sign of a flare-up of genital or oral herpes, apply your lemon balm cream or oil to the places you feel burning or itching, and repeat this 4-5 times each day. Many people find that this treatment reduces both duration and intensity of the break-out.
You can also prepare a tea to use as a wash or sitz bath, with 1 teaspoon of dried leaves to 1 cup of boiling water, and let it sit until lukewarm.
Where to get lemon balm products
If you’re a gardener, lemon balm is easy to grow for yourself - it thrives in a wide range of climate conditions. You’ll probably find cuttings at your local garden shop or farmers’ market, that you can grow in the ground or in a pot.
You can use lemon balm leaves fresh or dried, to make an oil infusion or alcohol tincture to apply externally. Or you can take it as a tea.
If you prefer, you can buy lemon balm essential oil, which is stronger than the infusion and so may need to be diluted before use. Be careful when you look for Melissa essential oil, as some of the items that come up in a search are diluted in a base oil, or are actually alcohol based tinctures (not recommended for external use, though you can use a tincture in your cream if you want to go the DIY route).
Okay, so maybe you would rather just get a ready-made salve that you can use immediately from the jar. In that case, you might like to try this one:
You can also find the Wiseways Herbals lemon balm salve on Amazon. (But iHerb has a better price, and ships internationally too.)