In the 21st
century, the hallmarks of American childhood no longer revolve around apple pie, homemade meals, and songs like “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” Instead, children’s lives are characterized by the consumption of fast food, innovative technology and a plethora of after-school activities. They are more familiar with the family van than the family room. An inescapable reality exists in which America is morphing into a society branded by speed and productivity. However, despite the accomplishments achieved through fast-paced lifestyles, we cannot ignore the inner turmoil that occurs as our bodies strive to maintain optimal health and wellness during periods of chronic stress.
Perhaps, one of the greatest pieces of evidence of this lifestyle change can be witnessed in the physician’s office. Panic attacks, anxiety, depression, insomnia, fatigue and associated conditions are on the rise. Antidepressants, antipsychotics, sleep aids and narcotics are common drugs seen in most American homes. It appears that the 21st century American could benefit from something akin to the fictitious “chill pill.” While many facetiously throw around references to such a pill in the famous cliché, others are aware that such a remedy may actually exist in the form of the ancient herb, lemon balm (Melissa officinalis).
Lemon balm has a history of promoting relaxation and a calm demeanor. Back in the 15th century, the famous Swiss physician Paracelsus dubbed lemon balm the “elixir of life,” because it promoted health and longevity. English herbalist, John Gerard, even believed that lemon balm was a comforting herb, helping to drive away sadness. The citrus flavor of lemon balm’s essential oil made it a popular choice for flavoring drinks, freshening rooms and polishing furniture. Its most ancient use as a bee attractant made it indispensable to beekeepers. When planted near beehives, lemon balm would ensure the busy bees stayed close to home.
Modern science attributes lemon balm’s calming, sedative-like properties to the herb’s ability to support the brain’s neurotransmitters – chemical hormones responsible for influencing our moods and circadian rhythms (the body’s 24 hour biological clock). When we are under chronic stress, certain neurotransmitters are awakened in the brain and act to stimulate us, keeping us alert and active. Sometimes, an abundance of these neurotransmitters can lead to anxiety, panic, and depression, and can interrupt our sleep patterns. When our stress-induced neurotransmitters increase, our bodies attempt to balance the scales by producing more calming neurotransmitters. These chemical hormones are responsible for relaxing our muscles, eliciting overall calmness, and improving our sleep habits. Lemon balm acts to support healthy production of the calming neurotransmitters and therefore, helps to balance the stimulatory neurotransmitters that govern our stressful lifestyles.
Lemon balm may also owe its success to the fact that it supports the body’s ability to manage pain appropriately. Many times chronic pain can be a trigger for anxiety, depression and other mental disturbances, and it can also provide a legitimate reason for insomnia. Chronic, stress-induced pain may start with something as simple as a sports injury or bad posture we assume when we bend over a computer desk for long periods of time. Regardless of how chronic pain originates, lemon balm may help promote a healthy pain response that is not overly aggressive.
Stress not only affects our mood and sleep, and creates tense, painful muscles, but it also triggers various digestive problems. Whether an individual is struggling with stress-induced irritable bowel syndrome or the intake of too much fast food, the digestive system is not alone in feeling the effects of our fast-paced lifestyles. Lemon balm comes to the rescue yet again, helping to support a healthy digestive response when we may not be treating our digestive system so kindly.
Although we may dream of being able to hit the pause button on life, reality pushes us forward, demanding more of our time, attention, and ultimately, our health. However, lemon balm can act as a buffer against everyday stressors, aiding our body in its effort to keep our moods elevated, our sleep restored, our muscles relaxed, and our pain managed. Ultimately, this ancient and effective herb, aids us in our ability to simply take a deep breath and chill.