Grow Lemon Balm for Lemon Fragrance and Flavor

lemon_balm (2)Lemon balm is one of the easiest herbs to grow. A hardy perennial, lemon balm has lemon scented leaves. My plant thrives in morning sun and afternoon shade in my Virginia garden. It dies back in the winter, coming back in early spring. By summer, it is  about 2 feet tall. Hardy to zone 4, lemon balm co-exists well with other plants in the garden, serving as a beautiful green “landscape edible.”

It also is 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. Whenever I give talks about herbs to gardening groups, they said that lemon balm is too assertive for them but I have not had that issue. I have had my plant in my garden for many years and twice I noticed new plants several feet away in other parts of the garden but they are not long lasting.

Try growing lemon balm in your garden or in a container for fresh lemon flavor!

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