Tag Archives: lemon balm

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

Start Seed, but Don’t Forget to Dig and Divide Perennials!

volunteer butterfly bush

volunteer butterfly bush

Early spring is the time to start your cool season vegetable and herb seeds but it also a good time to make more plants from the perennials in your garden, both edible and ornamental. This week, I literally hacked a chunk out of my sweet marjoram in my garden bed and put the chunks in the plastic containers that strawberry growers use (the plastic containers you buy in the grocery store, with the lid cut off).  I added soil from the compost bin, labeled and watered the plant, and placed it on the deck to root and recuperate. I also pulled oregano and thyme and put them in similar containers. All of these plants are about 5 years old and have grown so big they would not notice if I removed parts plus they are more likely to root in early spring with cool moist temperatures.

I also chopped up the lemon balm to create new pups, dug up baby plants from my black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia), tore out extra blanket flowers while they were still small (Gaillardia), and took a few stems from the ice plant (Delosperma), a succulent groundcover. I still need to pot up chunks of the chrysanthemum while the leaves are small and near the ground, as well as the bluets (Centaurea), hardy geraniums, Japanese anemone (Anemone x hybrida), speedwell (Veronica surcolosa), yarrow (Achillea), aster, and creeping phlox (Phlox subulata). These perennials have been in my garden for years and tend to either spread outward or become congested inward so I have plenty to share.

marjoram slices in plastic containers

marjoram slices in plastic containers

I overturned my plastic containers of chocolate peppermint, peppermint, and spearmint that overwintered on the deck, broke up the plants into chunks, and re-potted into more containers. Mints are also easy to root in water but they are invasive and should always be grown in containers.

Usually I find a volunteer—a seedling in an unexpected place.  This year I found a butterfly bush seedling (Buddleia) in January in a patch of dirt on the concrete steps. Last week I dug it up and put it in a small container. When it is bigger and older, I will either plant in an appropriate spot or give it away to a friend. I have started new butterfly bushes, wand flowers (Gaura), and flowering tobacco plants (Nicotiana) this way. Look around your garden for volunteers and plants that can be shared with friends!