Since ancient lemon balm has been used to calm and lift spirits, which is probably how this perennial got its name. Grown for its oils for aromatherapy and leaves for flavoring, lemon balm also makes a great addition to most gardens (especially plots of fruits and vegetables) because it attracts honeybees and other pollinators. You may want to plant this member of the mint family near walkways where people can brush against its quilted green leaves and enjoy their pleasing odor. Add its edible leaves to soups, salads, sauces, or vegetables. Mix dried leaves into potpourri. Toss a few stems onto a hot grill or rub fresh leaves on your arms while gardening to drive away mosquitoes. Include lemon balm in bouquets of fresh flowers.
Garden Plans For Lemon Balm
Lemon Balm Care Must-Knows
Native to southern Europe, lemon balm has become a garden staple in much of the United States. This herb grows best in well-drained soils with average moisture. Once established, the plants are drought-tolerant but appreciate supplemental watering during the heat of summer. Lemon balm tolerates poor soil conditions as long as the soil doesn't remain soggy, which encourages root rot. In colder climates this plant needs winter mulch to survive.
For the most prolific blooms and highest oil content, plant lemon balm in full sun. In southern climates where summers can get quite hot, it fares better in part shade. However, too much shade causes them to become leggy. In summer, small white blossoms (which often display two tiny lips) appear in clusters at the stem tips. While not showy, these flowers attract honeybees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.
Unlike spearmint and peppermint, which spread by underground runners, lemon balm spreads via self-seeding. Luckily the seedlings are easy to pull up. You can also propagate lemon balm through cuttings and plant divisions. Cut it back after blooming to maintain a pleasing shape, and encourage fragrant new growth.
Harvesting Lemon Balm
To cook with lemon balm, gather the leaves early in the morning after the dew has dried. Lemon balm pairs nicely with tarragon to spice up marinades for fish and lamb and makes a comforting tea for upset stomachs. (Simply steep the leaves in boiling water for a few minutes.) Freeze lemon balm leaves in ice cubes to make colorful garnishes for lemonade. Preserve large amounts of lemon balm by hanging the stems upside down to dry in a cool, dark place. BTW: It's a good idea to nourish this plant with an all-purpose fertilizer every couple of months if you harvest it on a regular schedule. Follow the manufacturer's directions carefully.
More Varieties of Lemon Balm
Variegated Lemon balm
Melissa officinalis 'Variegata' has green leaves splashed with golden yellow. It is less vigorous than the species, growing just 18 to 24 inches tall and wide. Otherwise, its qualities are similar. Zones 4-11