Botanical Name: Melissa officinalis
Some other names: Balm, Bee Balm, Honey plant, Cure all, Melissa
How to grow it:
Lemon Balm is a perennial herb to about 50cm which is so easy to grow it can become invasive. It does well and has a stronger flavour in full sun, but will produce larger, more tender leaves for a longer period if grown in partial shade. I grow it in several patches with varied sunlight and moisture & find that I have it available all year round.
In the subtropics and tropics (where I live) it does better in Autumn to spring, in cooler climates it might die back & resprout in spring.
Will do well in pots if well watered, mulched & fed – again, preferring a partially shaded position.
The simplest way to propogate is by root division- just grab a handful of roots and all from the middle of your patch, separate the pieces and plant directly into the ground. Keep watered for a couple of days and they’ll strike easily. Will also strike well from cuttings or grown from seed.
Nowadays it’s also very easy to obtain in garden outlets or online.
Lemon balm contains vitamins A, B & C and volatile oils that have many herbal actions. It is well known to be calming and sedative – just try grabbing a handful of leaves and take a deep breath with the aroma! Also thought to ba a natural antioxidant.
Using it in the kitchen:
The leaves by themselves are not particularly palatable – a little bit chewy for my liking. Combined with other greens though, they go very well in salads & sandwiches and attract many comments from guests in my home. The lemon flavour is very striking & pleasant.
Leaves can also be added to hot dishes, but you’ll need to add a good handful or two to have much impact flavour-wise.
Probably Lemon Balm’s best known use is as a calming herbal tea. Simply grab two handfuls of leaves and stems per cup of boiled water. Allow to steep for several minutes. Personally, I like to add a variety of different leaves to the lemon balm too.
Although I’ve written here about lemon balm, I actually prefer Lime Balm for it’s flavour. It’s an identical plant in apearance & uses, but has a refreshing lime flavour instead of lemon. It might be a little harder to obtain in your local area though.