Hardy perennial

Crafting, Culinary, Medicinal, Ornamental

1-1/2 to 3 feet high, to 6 feet wide

Full sun to partial shade

Moist, fertile, well-drained soil

Lemon Balm, Melissa officinalisFrom the earliest of times,  lemon balm has been celebrated by poets and herbalists for its “uplifting” qualities.  At one time the whole dried plant-root, leaves and seed-was sown into a piece of linen and worn under ladies’ dresses to promote “an agreeable disposition.”

Lemon balm is native to the Mediterranean. The genus name,Melissa, is derived from the Greek word meaning “honeybee.”  This herb’s lemony fragrance attracts bees. Hives were rubbed with its leaves to bring in swarms. Housekeepers once used handfuls of fresh lemon balm to polish and scent their furniture.

Lemon balm thrives in cooler climates. It develops into a bushy plant with substantial roots and a stalk reaching 1 ½  to 3 feet high. Leaves are smooth, heart-shaped and smell strongly of lemon. Yellow buds open into tiny white flowers by the end of summer.

Planting and Care:

Easy to grow although seeds are slow to germinate Start from cuttings, root division or plant from containers. Plant as soon as the ground can be worked in spring. Accepts partial shade to full sun exposure. Prefers moist fertile soil with good drainage. Once established, plants endure in the garden unless a determined effort is made to eliminate them. They reseed easily in the garden and spread wide, so provide plenty of space. In small gardens, try growing in containers to control plants. The leaves die down to the ground with the first frost. In cold winter regions, place a thick layer of mulch over the crown to protect the plants; each spring it will regrow from its roots.

Harvesting and Use:

One of the sweetest scented of all herbs, which makes it a delightful ingredient for sachets and potpourris. Fresh cut stems retain their fragrance well and lend a casual flair to floral arrangements. In the kitchen, lemon balm adds a light lemony flavor to soups, stews, fish and lamb. Use freshly chopped but sparingly with fruit or salads. It’s a wonderful replacement for salt and an inexpensive lemon zest substitute. It is also wonderful in baked goods and keeps it flavor well because it is captured by its surrounding medium.

Always add lemon balm near the end of cooking because its volatile oils are dissipated by heat.  Use as a fresh garnish in hot tea, iced tea and lemonade, A leaf or two improves a glass of white wine. Along with hyssop, it is an important ingredient in the liqueur chartreuse.

Lemon balm is recognized as an aid to digestion and circulation. It is reported to help relieve feverish colds, headaches and tension. Its oil is believed to be beneficial in dressing wounds, especially insect bites.

Recipe: Triple Lemon- Aid

It’s late summer in the garden, and it’s too hot to do anything but enjoy a glass of icy lemonade in the shade, preferably in a hammock!

1 generous bunch of each, all with long stems:

Lemon Balm

Lemon Verbena


1 large can of frozen lemonade concentrate

Juice of 2 large Lemons

1 lemon cut into thin slices

3 cups of water

Rinse and pat dry the herbs. Place herbs in a large glass pitcher and cover with the juices. Gently stir and bruise the leaves with a large wooden spoon. Add water and lemon slices. Chill overnight, stirring occasionally, pressing down on the herbs with the wooden spoon. Pour into tall iced glasses. Garnish with a sprig of Lemon Balm and edible flower.

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