How to Grow and Cook with Lemon Balm
Even the International Herb Association (IHA) agrees with Nicholas Culpeper. In 2007 the IHA named lemon balm the “herb of the year”.
It’s no wonder; lemon balm is a very versatile plant that has a million and one possibilities and health benefits.
Unfortunately lemon balm is often overlooked. In truth, I really am baffled that so few gardeners don’t cultivate it. Lemon balm is so easy to grow and requires very little maintenance. Moreover, it has one of the highest medicinal properties in the mint family. As well, lemon balm has numerous culinary uses.
Lemon balm is used in many culinary dishes for its nice delicate lemon flavor. It is often used in teas and infused water, added to sorbets and also paired with fruit dishes and candies.
Lemon balm is also great tossed in a fresh salad, soups or used as a garnish for various dishes.
For best results, use fresh sprigs like you would other mints.
Just bruise the leaves a little to bring out the essential oils of the plant.
Generally lemon balm is prepared as a medicinal tea but it is also used in balms and salves. For the most part, it is considered a calming herb. Yet for centuries, it has been used help reduce anxiety, help indigestion and insomnia. Even the Romans and Greeks used to treat insect bites and stings. Today lemon balm essential oil is as a natural insect repellent.
Current research suggests that lemon balm may have many other health benefits such as
- Reduces anxiety
- A powerful antioxidant
- A natural anti-inflammatory
- Rich in calcium, phosphorus, Vitamins A and C
- Reduce redness and itching from infections and eczema
- Treat stings and insect bites (ancient Roman and Greek remedy)
- Used for insomnia, anxiety, digestive issues and to strengthen the immune system
The genus name Melissa is Greek for honeybee. The plant is oftentimes grown to attract bees.
The plant grows to 25-60 inches tall. The leaves have a gentle lemon aroma. Lemon balm has small white flowers full of nectar that bloom at the end of the summer.
Lemon balm seeds require light and at least 20°C (70°F) to germinate. It grows best in rich, moist and well-drained soil with a pH of 6 to 7. Add plenty of organic nutrients from compost, cottonseed meal or blood meal into the soil. In North America, it grows in zones 4 through 9. If you reside in zone 4, make sure and mulch the bed for winter to protect from frost and cold.
Lemon balm is moderately shade-tolerant, considerably more so than the majority of herbs. If you live in a dry climate, lemon balm will do best in partial shade.
Lemon balm grows in clumps and spreads by vegetative propagation and by seed. Under perfect conditions, it will seed itself profusely and at times may become a “weed” in gardens. If your plant is looking tired due to drought, insects or other trauma; just cut it back and it will rejuvenate itself with fresh, new growth.
If planting by seed, start indoors 6-8 weeks before last frost. Transplant the seedlings in late March to mid-April (depending on zone)
Starting from Seed: Barely cover the small seed. Water the seeds to bare minimum; just enough to keep the soil from drying out. Germination is about 10-14 days.
Harvest and Storage
It is best to enjoy lemon balm when it’s in season because it loses a lot of its flavor when dried. Nonetheless, it does retain some of its fragrance and can be used in tea or potpourri.
Lemon balm is not the most beautiful plants; even the serrated leaves are pretty. I can’t resist grabbing a leaf or two every time I pass to smell the wonderful lemon scent.
Finding Organic Seed
Under no circumstances is this article intended for healthcare advice. Before taking any herb for health issues, it is highly recommended that you seek a qualified healthcare specialist first.
Featured picture: colemama via photopin cc
Lemon balm with ladybug: dogs & music via photopin cc
Lemon balm with white flower: Jess Beemouse via photopin cc
Strawberry and lemon balm infused water: Mrs Mac2007 via photopin cc
Lemon balm by pathway: tomylees via photopin cc
Lemon balm bread: jazzijava via photopin cc