June 4 2017

Growing Lemon Balm (and what to do after!)

A sprig of Lemon Balm

Summer is here, and my hard work all spring has been paying off in the form of harvestable herbs, flowers, and vegetables! The happiest plant in my garden right now is my lemon balm. I bought this plant on a whim three years ago. Since then, the lemon-scented herb has followed me from my porch-bound apartment container garden, to the back porch of my house, to a place in my back yard. The warm winter was very kind to the plant, and now it is bushing out like crazy!

What is Lemon Balm?

Melissa Officinalis FlowerLemon Balm is named for its light lemony fragrance and taste. I can taste just a hint of mint in the leaves as well – which makes sense given that this bushy herb is related to mint.

The scientific name of the lemony plant is Melissa Officialis. Melissa is the Greek word for bee, and this plant is known to attract them! The Officialis part comes from Latin, and refers to the plant’s place in the herbalists storeroom. Don’t confuse Lemon Balm with Bee Balm, though! Despite the suspicious similarity of names, the two “balms” are different plants.

Medicinal Uses

Lemon Balm is a fairly safe and useful herb. It can be taken to help with digestion, anxiety, and sleeplessness. Some people even think it helps improve mental function!

Some people have an adverse reaction to eating Lemon Balm straight (ironically, it upsets their stomachs). I had a similar reaction the first few times I tried the herb. So I suggest trying it in tea before adding it to a salad!

Growing Lemon Balm

Lemon Balm HerbLemon Balm is a perennial herb. The lemon-scented plant will survive in many soil conditions, but prefers rich well-drained soil. Like many herbs, it does best in full sun. It also responds well to being harvested – cutting my plant back is just making it bushier!

Due to its invasive habits, many gardeners recommend keeping Lemon Balm in a pot. It will not spread via runners, so there’s no need to physically isolate it in your garden. But it will spread by seed, so it is advisable to regularly cut back your plant.

So far, my Lemon Balm is doing very well in my Zone 5 Herb Garden. It has survived being under-watered in a pot, being light deprived in a north-facing apartment, and the transition to being planted in the ground. I think its safe to say that this is one hardy herb! The only “weakness” I have noticed is that my plant droops a bit in a mid-day summer sun, but that might just mean it needs more water to get through the day. Illinois sun can be brutal!

Lemon Balm Uses

Lemon Balm Flower CakeLemon Balm makes a lovely tea, and imparts a light lemony flavor to baked goods. During the summer, you can harvest it fresh from the garden for immediate use. The herb can also be dried for use over the winter. So without further ado, here are some ideas on what to do with Lemon Balm:

  1. Lemon Balm Iced Tea – An herbal iced tea with a light lemon flavor.
  2. Lemon Balm Cake with Candied Flower Syrup – A moist lemony cake glazed with a sweet chamomile syrup.
  3. Lemony Lemon Balm pudding – A deliciously lemony pudding recipe, made entirely with lemon balm. No lemons required!
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