How to Relieve Stress and Anxiety and Get Natural Sleep With Herbs: Health Benefits of Lemon Balm and Valerian. 1 of 2
Red Valerian Not to be Confused with Valeriana Officinalis
Herbs To Reduce Stress and Anxiety
Let's face it, modern life can be as stressful as hell. Increasingly, more people are searching for natural ways to relieve stress and anxiety to enjoy a long and healthy life. Maintaining balance in our life is not something we can easily achieve. For healthy mind and body, we need sleep.
Clinical research suggests that we need an average of about 7.5 to 8 hours quality sleep per night to allow the body sufficient time to perform the vital cleansing, repairing and healing required for optimal health.
Throughout the ages, different cultures have used Herbal medicine. Plants have been sustaining life for as long as humans have walked the earth. Witches, wise women, midwives, nuns and monks have all used medicinal herbs like lemon balm and Valerian to induce sleep and calm the nerves for centuries. But in this time of high technology and quick fixes, have we forgotten the source of most of our conventional medicines?
According to the CDC, insufficient sleep is a public health epidemic. 30% of the population suffers from insomnia; we now get 20% less sleep than people did 100 years ago. More than 50% of Americans lose sleep due to stress and anxiety. Between 40 and 60% of people over the age of 60 suffer from insomnia.
Doctors once widely prescribed Hypnotics/sedatives but most are habit forming and shown in recent studies to cause death when taken in excess or over a period. Some research suggests that certain herbal remedies can work as well without the dangerous side effects.
The use of medicinal herbs is rooted in human history, plants such as Lemon Balm goes way back to the 'Materia Medica¹ around 50 - 80 BC.
Lemon Balm For Herbal Remedies
Herb Garden Idea
I discovered a passion for gardening, especially herbs and flowers when I left England and moved back to the Grenadines, my ancestral home and where I enjoyed a few years of idyllic childhood before moving to the U.K.
My husband and I had visited the islands on many occasions and loved the slow, relaxed lifestyle. The thought of never having to board the 06.35 from Berkhamsted to London again was irresistible; the decision to make a more permanent move to the Caribbean was not a difficult one to take.
We bought some land and began to erect a building containing four self-catering holiday apartments and boldly jumped into the world of tourism. We invested in the small business in the hope that it would supplement our early retirement, but more importantly, the move allowed us to be close to my mother who was getting on in years, coping on her own was becoming progressively difficult since the death of my father a few years earlier.
My husband immediately took to island life, and soon got into the swing of building in the Caribbean, which turned out to be a steep learning curve. However; he adapted pretty well, and promptly learned how to sidestep some of the numerous pitfalls we encountered along the way, (those, I'll revisit another day).
I took on the garden, choosing to do most of the work myself, a daunting task, but also an exciting prospect. Soon I was getting down and dirty designing and planting my very first garden from scratch.
My parents had moved back to the Grenadines a few years earlier; my mum now had a thriving tropical garden with masses of flowers, fruits, vegetables and herbs. Her garden was my inspiration and a ready source of beautiful stock for my new project for which I took full advantage. Well isn't that what mums are for?
I found the land amazingly fertile; most things grew easily. In what seemed like no time at all, my new organic garden had taken on a life of its own with colourful Bougainvillea, Golden Trumpet, Anthurium, Oleander, Hibiscus, Jasmine and so much more, all competing to dazzle us with their eye-popping display. I was encouraged; it was all worth while.
I'd found my green fingers and my new organic garden amply rewarded my effort by yielding my first crop of vegetables, fruits, flowers and wonderfully aromatic herbs. To the local children, I was the strange lady from England who collected cattle manure to take home, I enjoyed every moment.
I began to learn about the health benefits of organic herbs and found that the Caribbean was so much more than a holiday destination to soak up the sun and laze in the warm sea. The Caribbean region is also a biodiversity hotspot for medicinal plants. The knowledge of these unique plants grown in the sun-drenched Grenadines has traditionally passed down through folklore and oral tradition. The lack of documentation was a real challenge for me. I collected some medicinal herbs and attempted to list and translate the local names to the known horticultural plants and the many uses attributed to them.
People began to leave small gifts on my doorstep. My very first papaya plant, coconut palm, lemon grass, and a type of pungent large leaf thyme which the local referred to as 'Big Thyme', I grew from these generous gifts.
I would regularly pick the brains of my mum and her friends as they consumed numerous cups of a bitter mixture of medicinal herbs known as 'black bush tea' that seemed to be a cure-all for whatever ails you.
I'm now writing a set of articles on the medicinal benefits of my favourite herbs, some originated from the Caribbean, others I've grown over the years here in England. For my first article in this series, I chose Rosemary, a herb shown to improve memory and one of my all time favourites. Lemon Balm is another, as is Valerian, which I've grown for many years, the former to attract honey bees and for the incredible scent, the latter for its beautiful flowers, but there's so much more to Lemon Balm and Valerian.
I discovered The Joy of Growing and Using Herbs
Lemon Balm Makes a Calming and Refreshing Tea at Bed Time
Melissa Essential Oil Strengthening, Revitalizing, Soothing and Calming
Lemon Balm Herbal Remedy
Tea made from the leaves of Lemon Balm has been used to soothe a headache, relieve tension, toothache and morning sickness during pregnancy.
Lemon balm, botanical name, 'Melissa Officinalis,' family Labiatae or Lamiaceae, (of the mint and dead nettle family).
Lemon Balm emits a wonderfully fragrant lemony aroma. The plant came to Europe from the Middle East where the leaves are still used today for making a refreshing tea known for its healing and some say, magical powers.
In ancient Turkey, drinking lemon balm tea was believed to promote a long and happy life, the herb was used medicinally, to relieve headaches and tension, and taken as a general health tonic.
Lemon Balm was one of the ancient strewing herbs used for keeping the home smelling sweet. The plant's antimicrobial properties helped to reduce infection. Once associated with love and happiness; lovers wore armlets made from it. The fresh leaves of Lemon balm make a cool refreshing summer drink added to fruit cups and salads. The fresh lemony taste makes this herb a perfect accompaniment to fish dishes.
The botanical name 'Melissa' comes from the Greek word for bee. Melissa was a mythological character, a mountain nymph who hid Zeus from his father, Cronus.
Cronus was intent on devouring his son, Melissa hid Zeus in the hills and fed him goat's milk from Amalthea ², and honey for which he developed a permanent taste. Cronus found out what Melissa had done and in a murderous rage turned her into an earthworm, Zeus took pity and transformed her into a beautiful bee.
Lemon balm was a favourite in the ancient world and later used by monks to attract bees for the production of a particularly delicious honey. The Greeks were known to rub their hives with the leaves of the herb to keep the bees happy and close to home.
Some cultures still regard Lemon Balm tea as beneficial for brain function and memory. The Germans have approved a standard license for the use of Lemon Balm tea for nervous agitation and sleeping disorders.
The herb extract was used in the treatment of mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease in 2003, randomized placebo-controlled trial. The study found that patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease receiving Lemon Balm (Melissa Officinalis) experienced significant benefits in cognition after sixteen weeks of treatment.
Lemon Balm is a perennial herb, there are many types, but most have a typically yellowish-green oval pointed leaves with toothed edges. The flowers vary in colour, from white to a pale mauve, and bloom from July to September. The plant commonly grows to a height of about 60 cm (2 ft) by the end of the season. It is easy to grow, so much so, that if the roots are not contained, the plant will quickly take over the whole garden. The herb will grow in any soil, but when grown on rich soil it emits a much stronger scent.
The delightful fragrance of lemon balm makes this herb a pleasure to have in the garden or indeed indoors. Like most aromatic herbs, Lemon Balm makes a useful addition to a potpourri or herb cushion.
Botanical name for Lemon Balm, Melissa officinalis
² Foster-mother of Zeus
POT-POURRI WITH LEMON BALM
The choice of herbs to accompany lemon balm is limitless. For this mixture try a handful of rose petals, e.g. while dog rose and lavender flowers, mix with dried lemon balm leaves in an open bowl. Add a fixative to prevent the release of the perfume and natural oils too quickly. Ground orris root, can be bought at most herbalists it's ideal for this purpose. Add 15 ml (1 tbsp) to every 5 cups or 1.5 litres of leaves and petals, for a spicy Christmas aroma add a little ground nutmeg or cloves.
Lemon Balm is Easy to Grow, Use to Relieve Headache, Tension, Anxiety and Sleep Problems
Health Benefits, Uses and Side Effects of Lemon Balm
How it works
Used in the treatment of cold sore (herpes labialis)
Lemon balm may help to reduce the growth of some viruses. The antiviral properties in lemon balm appears to speed up healing of cold sores and reduces the symptoms when applied as a cream.
Used in the treatment of digestive problems such as bloating, upset stomach and vomiting
Taken by mouth, lemon balm can cause some side effects such as nausea, vomiting, dizziness and wheezing.
Lemon balm has been used traditionally as a gas-relieving herb to aid digestion.
Enhance sleeping patterns
Studies have found that a combination of valerian and lemon balm to be effective in improving the quality of sleep.
Help to reduce anxiety, histeria and meloncholia
Study found that taking too much can increase anxiety. For success, it is important to use the correct dosage.
Shown to have calming effect. In a study of healthy volunteers, people who took lemon balm extract (600 mg) were more calm and alert than those who took a placebo.
Inhibits the growth of cancer cells.
Ethanolic extract of lemon balm has been shown to have proliferative inhibition for cancer cells and may be beneficial for development of chemotherapeutic agents.
Attention deficit-hyperactive disorder (ADHD)
Some information suggests that lemon balm might be safe when taken in appropriate amounts by infants for up to one week and by children under the age of 12 for up to one month. Although Lemon balm is on the FDA's GRAS list, the herb has not been studied in children with sleep disorder or ADHD. However, a new study published in May 2014 found that a combination of Valerian root and lemon balm extracts, improve hyperactivity, concentration problems and impulsiveness in children.
Shown to have a calming effect
Graves' disease (hyperthyroidism)
Believed to be safe but before use consult your health practitioner.
Lemon balm used to normalize overactive thyroid. Studies found that lemon balm blocks the attachment of antibodies to the thyroid cells that causes Graves' disease.
Prevent Infection and relieve muscle and joint pain
Proven to have antiviral and antimicrobial properties. Contains powerful antioxidants. Shown to improve intracellular antioxidants status and reduce DNA damage.
Beneficial for memory, may be beneficial in treating Alzheimer's disease.
Recent studies suggest that lemon balm stimulates the brain acetylcholine (ACh) receptors. ACh is the primary neurotransmitter linked to brain activity related to cognitive functions. Reduction in ACh levels and activity are among the primary neurological factor in the development of Alzheimer's Disease.
Health Benefits, Uses and Side Effects of valerian
Uses and Health Benefits
Side Effects Includes:
How it Works
Enhances Sleep Patterns in people suffering from insomnia.
Valerian roots are known to have a mild sedative effect when taken as a supplement. Valerian reduces the length of time it takes to fall into a deep sleep. Research suggests that valerian may help insomnia, but there is a lack of clinical data to confirm this. Valerian has been approved by the German government as a treatment for sleep problems.
Believed to be safe when used in correct medicinal dose.
Relieve anxiety and psychological stress. Ability to relax smooth muscles may help to reduce asthma symptoms.
Hysteria, stress and anxiety
Sedative effect on the brain and nervous system. Test for the effectiveness of valerian have proven to be inconclusive.
Headaches and migraine
Headaches, dizziness itching, stomach problems,excitability and uneasiness.
The scientists do not know how valerian works to ease migraine symptoms in some suffers. They believe that the compounds that causes the relaxing and calming effects may also ease the condition.
May interact with other medications
Valerian appears to have a sedative effect on the brain and nervous system.
Believed to have a calming effect, works by increasing GABA chemical in the brain
Valerian can potentially interact with sedative medication.
Valerian is believed to be able to increase neurotransmitter (GABA) activity to calm the brain. Antispasmodic properties may help to reduce spasm and convulsions.
Valerian may interact with certain medications
Valerian root extract is believed to increase specific brain chemical (GABA) that can be useful in the treatment of ADHD. Combination of lemon balm extract and valerian root found to improve symptoms in children.
Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS)
Little research available on the use of Valerian for CFS. Since symptoms of the condition includes insomnia, anxiety, depression and poor sleep quality, valerien may help.
Menstrual cramps and menopausal symptoms including hot flushes and anxiety
While valerian has not been researched for it's effectiveness in treating menstrual cramp, it has been shown to relax spasmodic contraction of smooth muscles such as the uterus and intestines.