This easy-to-grow herb lends a citrus-like flavor to marinades, teas, and garnishes.
Long used to calm and lift spirits, lemon balm is grown for its oils for aromatherapy and leaves for flavoring. This perennial herb also makes a great addition to most gardens because it attracts pollinators. You may want to plant this member of the mint family near walkways where you can brush against its quilted green leaves and enjoy their pleasing scent. You can even rub fresh leaves on your arms while gardening to drive away mosquitoes. Add the edible leaves to soups, salads, sauces, or vegetables. Mix dried leaves into potpourri.
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 bees, 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. It's a good idea to use an all-purpose fertilizer every couple of months if you harvest this plant on a regular schedule. Follow the manufacturer's directions carefully.
Related: How to Grow Your Own Herbal Tea