Another tasty member of the mint family.
Lemon Balm came from the mountainous regions of southern Europe and has long been enjoyed for its fresh lemon scent. I was an ingredient in potpourri and was strewn around the house to provide a clean and festive atmosphere.
It earns a spot in my herb garden because it is easy to grow and makes a mighty fine tea. Its leaves have healing and culinary uses suitable for every household. Once you have a patch of lemon balm you can harvest leaves year after year and you’ll always have access to its aromatic properties.
The fresh lemon fragrance and flavor go nicely with both chicken and fish dishes, as well as fruit and fruit juice drinks.
Get the Facts on Lemon Balm:
- Name: Melissa officinalis
- Family: Labiatae (La-bi-A-te)
- Growing Conditions: Zone 4 to 5. Needs half a day of sun but will grow in shade. Likes moist, rich soil with a pH in the mid range.
- Perennial (comes back year after year) Top will die back in the fall and reemerge in the spring. It will stay green year round in mild winter areas and in zone 9 and 10.
- Height: 12-24 inches
- Flowers: White or yellow – off and on from June to October. Grown more for its leaves than flower. Attracts bees.
- Leaves: broadly heart shaped with toothed edges. 1 to 3 inches long
- Propagate: from seed in early spring or fall. Best by stem or root cuttings. Can be a nuisance in the garden bed if it goes to seed.
Lemon balm is part of the mint family and like all mints has square stems. It is best known for its fresh lemon scent. Crush the leaves between your thumb and forefinger, it’s unmistakably lemony.
The leaves are oval and have a toothed edge. Notice the vein pattern. It needs at least half a day of sun, but will grow in shade. I have mine in a morning sun – afternoon shade area and it’s thriving.
Fresh or dried, the leaves of lemon balm make an excellent tea. It has a reputation for soothing headaches, indigestion and nausea. Essential oils may aid in depression and help eczema and allergy sufferers.
From Growing and Using Healing Herbs by Gaea Weiss: “Lemon Balm has a history of use in treating the nervous system. Arabian doctors of the ninth and tenth century were perhaps the first to notice its ability to dispel anxiety and heart palpitations. They describe it as a “gladdening” herb and that description is one that has remained with the plant for centuries.”
- For difficulty sleeping, or to reduce indigestion, flatulence, or bloating, consult a knowledgeable provider for the specific dose to best fit your needs. Possible doses may be as follows:
- Capsules: Take 300 to 500 mg dried lemon balm, 3 times daily or as needed.
- Tea: 1.5 to 4.5 grams (1/4 to 1 tsp.) of dried lemon balm herb in hot water. Steep and drink up to 4 times daily.
- Tincture: 60 drops of lemon balm daily
- Topical: Apply topical cream to affected area, 3 times daily or as directed.
- For cold sores or herpes sores, steep 2 to 4 tsp. of crushed leaf in 1 cup boiling water for 10 to 15 minutes. Cool. Apply tea with cotton balls to the sores throughout the day.
How to harvest lemon balm and save it for later
While lemon balm is a member of the mint family, it does not spread by underground runners like its cousin. It will increase in size, making a bigger clump in the planting area each year. To keep it from taking up too much of your garden, cut the plant back to 2 inches tall several times during the growing season.
This keeps the plant bushy, healthy-looking and gives you material to preserve for future use. It also prevents the seeds from ripening, which will keep it from becoming a pest in the herb bed.
Dry the leaves in a dehydrator or in paper bags and then store the dried crushed leaves in a glass jar with a tight fitting lid. Dried leaves will keep at least a year. Light will discolor the leaves and too long a drying time will cause it to lose fragrance and healing qualities. For the longest storage time avoid direct sunlight.
Lemon Balm Simple Syrup
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup lemon balm leaves, loosely packed.
Rinse lemon balm under running water to clean. Stir together all 3 ingredients in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Using a spoon, gently smash them against the sides of the pot to release the flavor.
Remove from heat, and let stand 30 minutes. Pour liquid through a wire-mesh strainer into an airtight container or Mason jar, discarding lemon balm leaves. Cover and chill 4 hours. Syrup may be stored in refrigerator up to 1 month or poured into a plastic freezer container or an ice cube tray and kept frozen for up to one year. Source: http://www.food.com/recipe/lemon-balm-simple-syrup-453383
Homemade Lemon Balm Iced Tea
You’ll be surprised how easy this is to make. Steep clean lemon balm leaves in boiling water and add honey as a sweetener. Get detailed instructions from this post “Homemade Lemon Balm Tea” at Learning and Yearning.
For those taking sedatives or thyroid medications — Although not yet demonstrated in clinical studies, lemon balm may interfere with sedatives and thyroid medications. If you are taking sedatives (for sleep disorders or anxiety) or medications to regulate your thyroid, you should consult a health care provider before taking lemon balm. Source: Possible Interactions with: Lemon Balm | University of Maryland Medical Center
As always, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should consult a physician before taking lemon balm.
HIV medications: It is not clear whether lemon balm interacts with antiretroviral agents. At this time, avoid use of lemon balm if you are taking medication for HIV. Source: Lemon balm | University of Maryland Medical Center