August 14, 2013

Growing Lemon Balm

Herbs are a source of natural medicine as well as beauty and fragrance in the garden. Lemon balm is one herb that I absolutely love growing, first because it's pretty easy to grow, and second because it smells so very good. It is also attractive to bees.


I bought a pot of lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) several years ago because the scent was so bright and cheerful, but after a few years the plant died as so many of my herbs have done. (Drought, high heat, cats that like to roll in the garden, bunnies that ate the garden, and our wandering steer that sampled anything green have all contributed to the high loss of plants.) This spring I found another pot of lemon balm at the feed store and snatched it up before anyone around me might even think of taking it home. So far, this one is growing in a pot on my kitchen windowsill rather than outdoors.

Since buying that first potted plant, I've learned that lemon balm has many uses beyond its fragrant beauty in the garden or on a windowsill. It's a calming and uplifting herb with antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, sedative and mood-elevating properties. It is believed to sharpen memory. The crushed leaves of lemon balm can be rubbed on the skin to help repel insects. You can chew a leaf to freshen your breath. Lemon balm is used in homemade cosmetics such as skin cleansers and hair rinses, and in crafts such as potpourri. (You can find many recipes for these and other projects in this fact sheet from the Herb Society.)

I've used lemon balm in salve, which I make using a combination of herbs infused in oil. While she was here this summer, our granddaughter enjoyed picking leaves and crushing them so she could smell the bright lemon fragrance. I think it's a cheerful looking plant and I like having it on my windowsill where I can see it throughout the day.



One of the best-known uses of lemon balm is in lemonade, which answered a question I've had for some time: how do the Amish in books and movies make lemonade? Do they buy lemons? I doubt that lemons grow in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Then I read that the colonists brought lemon balm to the New World and used it as a substitute for lemons in jellies, jams and other recipes. Aha! The Amish are probably making lemon balm lemonade.

On that note, here is a recipe for lemonade made with lemon balm. It's quite tasty and very refreshing. You can find more recipes for drinks and other culinary uses in the fact sheet from the Herb Society.


Lemon Balm Lemonade

several handfuls of fresh lemon balm
4 cups of water
1/2 cup sugar or to taste (you can substitute with honey or other sweetener)

Rinse and chop the lemon balm leaves. Boil the water and add the leaves, cover and allow to steep for 10-15 minutes. Strain out the lemon balm leaves and add the sugar, stirring to dissolve. Sweeten to taste and add ice.

Always put a lid on a lemon balm infusion. The volatile oils that give it that fresh lemony scent will dissipate with the steam as the liquid steeps.



Lemon balm is definitely worth growing in your herb garden or even in a pot on the windowsill. Even Thomas Jefferson appreciated lemon balm; according to his writings, it was one of the plants grown at his garden and farm.

Want more information on growing lemon balm? Here are some tips from Bonnie Plants.


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10 comments:

  1. I love Lemon Balm!!
    I have been trying to grow it this summer without much luck...but will keep trying.
    I heard it is easy to grow but I don't have much of a green thumb.

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  2. Hi Sandra! I've heard too that lemon balm is easy to grow, but I've killed it in the past... Keep trying!

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  3. At our old place we planted one tiny little lemon balm we dug off a neighbors plant. Within a couple years the stuff had taken over! It was everywhere. I have lavender, sage, basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme in my herb garden...I love herbs!
    Sarah @ The Free Range Life

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  4. I love them too, Sarah, although I have limited success in growing them. I'd love to have a "lemon garden" with lemon balm, lemon verbena, etc. It would smell SO good.

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  5. I love lemon balm! We planted some last year in our garden and it went crazy. Came back strong this year as well. I like to add it to my tea while it's steeping. I'll have to try that lemon balm lemonade. Sounds so delicious!

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  6. It's good to know that lemon balm really IS easy to grow. I'll plant this pot-full next year, after it winters on my windowsill. You'd think plants could overwinter in Oklahoma, but I've not had much luck with that!

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  7. Wow, this is new information for me! My sister bought a plant because it smelled so good and I agree - it's wonderful. I didn't know you could make lemonade out of it, or that it had such good qualities! I am going to go out and find some lemon balm for my garden now! Thank you

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  8. You're welcome, Vickie. Thank you for commenting! (I love comments.)

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  9. Not only does it smell good but it also has many great health benefits. Really good to have it at your backyard. :)
    - IowaSelectHerbs.com

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  10. I have trouble growing it outside, Rachel, but it grows well on my kitchen windowsill. Thank you for stopping by!

    ReplyDelete

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