How to Grow Lemon Balm
Lemon Balm (Melissa Officinalis) is a hardy bushy perennial which grows in sprawling clumps and comes in plain green, variegated and golden varieties. The leaves are wrinkled with scalloped edges that have a pleasant lemon fragrance when bruised.
How to Grow Lemon Balm
Plant lemon balm in well drained moist soil where there is full sun with midday shade as the midday sun can scorch and create pale spots on leaves.
Lemon balm is easy to grow from seed, rooted cuttings or by root division. Sow seeds directly into the ground in spring after danger of late frost. or in seed trays indoors and transplant seedlings into the garden 60 cm (24 inches) apart. Seeds take 3-4 weeks to germinate.
A member of the mint family, but not as invasive as other mints, lemon balm can be divided and replanted in spring or early summer.
Stem cuttings can taken in spring when plants are growing rapidly. Cut stems with at least five leaves on an angle above an outward facing leaf. Remove the two bottom leaves and let the stem dry for about 4 hours. Plant the stem in a pot and place in a cool, low light spot and cover with plastic draped over it for humidity. A plastic bag works well. New green leaves show that the roots have grown into the soil. It can then be transplanted out into the garden.
Keep plants cut back throughout the growing season to prevent plants from becoming straggly and the flower tops from going to seed too early. Keep gold leaf varieties trimmed regularly to preserve their appearance and prevent any all-green shoots from taking over.
Lemon balm self-sow’s abundantly from seed and can spread throughout the garden. Any self sown seedlings are easy to remove.
The top parts of the plant die down to ground level in winter, but new shoots will appear again in early spring.
Lemon balm flourishes when grown near thyme, scented geraniums, tansy, thyme and lemon grass. Plant lemon balm around fruit trees to attract pollinating bees and use as a companion plant for passion fruit vines, onions and tomatoes.
Harvesting Lemon Balm
Pick young leaves as required for immediate use.
For drying, harvest whole stems of young shoot’s 30cm (2 inches) long and air dry. Lemon balm darkens when air dried and the scent and medicinal properties of the herb are reduced slightly.
In the Kitchen
Lemon balm adds a hint of lemony flavour to a variety of foods. The flavour decreases as plants flower, and they lose their fresh, lush appearance. Cut and use at the last minute as the leaves quickly discolour and go limp.
Lemon Balm Tea
Lemon balm makes a refreshing herb tea. Use young leaves to make a tea 2 teaspoons dried leaves or 4-6 teaspoons fresh leaves. Making herb teas is not an exact science and you may need to adjust the amount of herb you use to get the tea to the strength you like.
Put a kettle of water on to boil for making the tea. In the meantime preheat the teapot. Fill the empty pot with hot water and let stand for a few minutes. Just before the water comes to the boil, pour out the heating water in the teapot. Add your lemon balm to the pot and bruise it with a wooden spoon to release the flavour. Pour boiling water over from the kettle and leave for 3-5 minutes before straining and serving. Add honey if sweetening is required. Adding a few sprigs of lemon balm to tannin tea makes a refreshing change.
Lemon balm can be blended with other herbs. Lemon balm, borage flowers and lemon verbena make a good combination with the borage flowers adding a cooling note to the flavour or try my favourite blend.
Infuse in a teapot with freshly boiled water for 3 minutes.
Lemon balm tea can be served iced in the summer for a refreshing drink. Prepare as you would for hot tea. You may like to make it a little stronger as the ice will dilute the flavour slightly. When the tea is strained, cool it and place in the fridge.
Lemon balm tea can also be frozen to make ice blocks or add whole leaves to water when making ice cubes for adding to iced teas, lemonade or add a sprig to alcoholic beverages e.g. Gin and tonic water.
Add to bathwater: Lemon balm can be infused in hot water for 15 minutes with a variety of herbs e.g. lavender, rose geranium, mints, bergamot, sweet marjoram and strained into bathwater for a scented bath.
Infuse as a facial steam. An infusion is stronger than a tea and is made by pouring water over dried lemon balm or three times the amount of fresh leaves. For a simple facial steam infuse lemon balm in a bowl. Cover head with a towel to form a tent around the bowl. The rising steam opens the pores to cleanse and refresh the skin.
Use infusion as a rinse to condition greasy/oily hair.
Herbal Medicine Chest
Lemon balm combats fevers, depression, tension and high blood pressure. It is described as a cold, dry, slightly bitter, and sour herbal home remedy by traditional herbalists. Named for its sweet, balsam-like smell, balm being an abbreviated form of balsam. The balsamic oil found in lemon balm is dispelled through heating. Peppermint and Lavender also contain similar balsamic oils. Other substances include polyphenols, tannins, flavonoids, volatile oils, and rosmarinic acid. Lemon balm contains carminative, antispasmodic, antibacterial, diaphoretic, emmenagogue and stomachic properties.
Place fresh leaves directly onto cuts, bruises, insect bites and sores or apply in a poultice. The fresh leaves contain the balsamic oil needed and are soothing and antiseptic.
Use as an infusion for relief from chronic bronchial catarrh, headaches, feverish colds and flu. An infusion is stronger than a tea and is made by pouring water over dried lemon balm or three times the amount of fresh leaves in a glass, or ceramic teapot. Cover and steep to extract the active ingredients for 10-15 minutes depending on the volume or strength required. Steeping longer than 15 minutes can make a herb taste bitter. Strain the ingredients and drink 1 cup 2-3 times a day for adults. Lemon Balm can be added to other anti-respiratory herbs such as ginger, peppermint and elderflower.
Drink a cup of lemon balm tea when you need to calm your nerves or under duress. Lemon balm can be used in combination with other herbs. Add lemon grass for the eyes, skin or as a toner or Lemon Verbena to relax the body. Drinking a cup of lemon balm tea is helpful for getting to sleep when suffering from insomnia.
Use as a carminative herb tea for the digestive tract to relieve vomiting, cramps, dyspepsia and flatulence or add to the bath to overcome neuralgic and spasmodic pain. Vertigo may also be helped by lemon balm. Taken on a regular basis lemon balm is thought to slow the signs of aging and promote longer life.