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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.) Then one 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.

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. It's quite tasty and very refreshing.

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. You can learn more about the benefits of lemon balm here, from Herbalta.

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