Melissa: Lemon balm as a topical treatment for herpes simplex virus

by Jill Hoppe

Medical Herbalism 11(4):13,16

A 1999, double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized German trial studied the efficacy of a topical cream made from the standardized dried leaf extract of lemon balm (Melissa officinalis, 70:1) for the treatment of Herpes simplex labialis (“cold sores” - a form of herpes simplex that occurs on the lips). Sixty-six patients who had at least four episodes of herpes labialis yearly took part in the trial. The cream was applied topically on the affected area four times daily for five days. A significant difference in the size of the affected area and blisters, compared to placebo was observed by day two of the therapy. Symptoms on day two are of particular importance since symptoms in those suffering from herpes labialis are usually most intense at that time. The lemon balm cream shortened the healing period and had an advantageous affect on associated symptoms such as itching, tingling, burning, swelling, etc. The authors suggest that there exist some indication that using lemon balm will prolong intervals between herpes episodes. In addition, lemon balm is unlikely to make the herpes virus resistant. (Koytchev) Note: The antiviral drug Acyclovir (Zovirax) is often prescribed for herpes simplex infections. It interferes with the reproduction of viral DNA, slowing the growth of existing viruses; however, it has little effect on recurrent infections. Scientific studies have shown Acyclovir may induce herpes simplex virus to become resistant by interfering with the metabolism of the virus-infected cells.


 This fragrant lemon-scented plant has been valued since antiquity. Pliny and Dioscorides thought “Balm, being applied, doth close up wounds without any peril of inflammation.” Gerard said “The juice of Balm glueth together greene wounds, being put in oil, salve or balm for that purpose, makes it of greater efficacy.” Culpepper used it with salt, to take away wens, kernels, or hard swelling in the flesh or throat; to cleanse foul sores, and ease pains of the gout. Dioscorides said that the leaves steeped in wine, and the wine drank and leaves externally applied, is a remedy against the stings of a scorpion, and the bitings of mad dogs.

Additional clinical research has shown lemon balm exerts potent antiviral activity against herpes simplex when used topically. Company research on the German Lomaherpan cream, containing 70:1 Melissa officinalis, has taken place for the past decade. When Lomaherpan was used in patients with an initial herpes infection, none of the patients developed another cold sore. The cream has been found to produce a rapid interruption of the herpes infection and promotes faster healing of herpes blisters (five vs ten days). When patients with recurring cold sores used the cream regularly, the recurrences either ceased or the cold sore frequency was reduced (with an average cold-sore-free period of greater than 3 ½ months). Another study evaluated 115 subjects with cold sores. The Melissa cream was applied to lesions five times daily until healed. After four days, 60% of patients reported complete healing and after eight days, 96% of patients reported complete healing.

One randomized, double-blind trial with 116 subjects suffering from herpes simplex infections at different locations, noted significant advantages in healing time using the Lomaherpan cream, compared to the placebo group. The Melissa cream was just as effective in genital herpes as it was in cold sores. No side effects were attributed to the cream. The authors noted that the effectiveness increases with an early treatment of the infections. (Wolbling)

 Lemon Balm’s flavonoids, polyphenolics and other compounds are thought responsible for its antiviral actions.

Lemon Balm is considered an important medicinal crop in Germany and The German Commission E approved the internal use of lemon balm for nervous sleeping disorders and functional gastrointestinal complaints. The European Scientific Cooperative on Phytotherapy (ESCOP) lists its internal use for tenseness, restlessness, irritability, and symptomatic treatment of digestive disorders, such as minor spasms; externally for herpes labialis. The German Standard License for lemon balm tea approves it for nervous disorders of sleep and of the gastrointestinal tract, and to stimulate the appetite.

For cold sores: Infuse 1 ½ tablespoons of fresh or 3 teaspoons of dried lemon balm leaves in one cup of water for ten minutes. Strain and dab onto spots 3-5 times daily.

For shingles: Add five drops of the essential oil to one teaspoon of olive oil and massage into the affected area. Cautionary Note: Melissa EO is contraindicated in causes of glaucoma due to a potential rise in ocular tension (animal study) and it may cause skin reactions.


Blumenthal, M. Herbal Medicine Expanded Commission E Monographs. Boston, Massachusetts: Integrative Medicine Communications, 2000

Chevallier A. The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants. New York, New York: DK Publishing Inc., 1996

Culpeper’s Complete Herbal. Hertfordshire, Great Britain: Wadsworth Editions Ltd.,1995

Grieve M, Edited by Leyel CF. A Modern Herbal. Great Britain: Tiger Books International, 1998

Koytchev R, Alken RG, Dundarov S. “Balm mint extract (Lo-701) for topical treatment of recurring herpes labialis.” Phytomedicine 1999 Oct;6(4):225-30

Lininger, Schuyler, Gaby A, Austin S, Brown D, Wright J, Duncan A. The Natural Pharmacy. Rocklin, California: Prima Publishing, 1999

Tisserand R, Balacs T. Essential Oil Safety A Guide for Health Care Professionals. Edinburgh, Scotland: Churchill Livingstone, 1995

Webach M, Murray M. Botanical Influences on Illness A Sourcebook of Clinical Research. Tarzana, California: Third Line Press, Inc., 2000

Wolbling RH, Leonhardt K. Local therapy of herpes simplex with dried extract from Melissa officinalis. Phytomedicine. 1994;1:25-31
Copyright 2001 Paul Bergner  

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