You Can Grow That: Lemon Balm

lemon_balm (2)You can grow lemon balm. One of the easiest herbs to grow, lemon balm is a perennial bush grown for its lemon scented leaves. Lemon balm thrives in morning sun and afternoon shade in my Virginia garden and comes back in the spring, reaching about 2 feet tall by early summer. Hardy to zone 4, lemon balm co-exists well with other plants in the garden, serving as a beautiful green “landscape edible” but also as a pollinator plant. Its botanical name, Melissa officinalis, refers to the bee attracting white flowers (“Melissa” is Greek for “bee”) and long-serving medicinal qualities (“officinalis” refers to historical medicinal value). Actually, lemon balm’s medicinal value dates back over 2,000 years but for my family I tend to focus on lemon balm’s culinary uses. Fresh leaves add lemon flavor in baked goods such as pound cake, muffins, scones, and cookies; fruit salad; sorbets; butters; cheese; and fish and chicken dishes. Plus, the leaves’ wrinkly texture provide visual interest as a garnish in fruit salads, drinks, and desserts.

Out of all the herbal teas, lemon balm tea taste most like black tea, without the caffeine. I use the dried leaves for hot or iced tea either alone or as a base to which I add more pronounced fruity flavors from other plants. In the spring and summer, I pick the leaves as I need them or shear the entire plant down.  The plant revives quickly and a second shearing can be done before the fall.

Lemon balm is easy to grow from seed but also cheap to buy as a small plant. If a friend has it, get a stem cutting and root it in water. As a member of the mint family, lemon balm roots easily but this species is not as invasive as mints because it spreads by seed instead of runners. Mine has never spread but I have used it to make great gift plants.

You Can Grow That is a collaborative effort by gardeners around the world to encourage others to grow something. Visit http://www.youcangrowthat.com/blogs/ for more entries on the fourth of the month.

Youcangrowthat

3 responses to “You Can Grow That: Lemon Balm

  1. Just noting that it spreads like crazy in some people’s gardens (like mine). Solution is to not let it go to seed – and it’s easy to pull out where it’s not wanted, as long as you do it early. Great scent and taste!

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  2. This is one of those herbs I grow in a container because if left unattended in the garden bed, it will spread like crazy. It is a great herb though.

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  3. Like Mike and Erica, it grows itself in my garden by reseeding every year. Never had to plant it after just one year. But, it is not a pest.
    -Ray

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