Lemon Balm was probably my first potted herb. I have long had container gardens, never living anywhere long enough to put down roots. The smell was probably what attracted me. Every time I walk by I crush a few leaves in my fingers just to catch another whiff of the intoxicating smell.
What: (Melissa officinalis) A member of the mint family, Lemon Balm has rough, very fragrant leaves. It is a great starter plant for a garden because it is so easy to grow and has so many uses. Give the plant generous room to grow and it will start to expand fast. For me this is also a good indicator plant for watering; meaning, the leaves quickly lose their pep when water is needed but pop right back within minutes of watering.
When: Lemon balm has been a popular herb for something like 2000 years. It has historical uses as a sedative, antiseptic, room sweetener, even furniture polish! But it’s height in popularity was most likely in the 1500’s when it was often mentioned in texts, including in multiple works by Shakespeare.
Who: Cultures along the Mediterranean Sea have the oldest history with lemon balm. Works written by the Greek physician Dioscordes describe treating bites of all kinds with Balm. It is also one of the 27 different herbs and spices in the liquor Benedictine, created by a Venetian monk to “revive” his fellow monks.
Arabian culture is thought to be the first to have introduced lemon balm’s many uses to the European countries. Probably because it was used for trade, grown as an herbal cash crop. This introduction of lemon balm into Europe is thought to have occurred around the tenth century.
Where: Native to Southern Europe and North Africa, this plant has almost ‘gone native’ in North America where it is widely used as a garden plant but often makes a leggy escape. Lemon balm prefers sun but will happily grow in dappled shade, too.
Why: Choose this herb for it’s ease to grow and dead usefulness. Place the plant somewhere close and you will find yourself walking by just to rub the leaves between your fingers. This plant is in the same family as Citronella, so keep it near outdoor seating. The pleasant lemon scent is useful for aromatherapy because it generally makes you feel as sunny as it smells.
How: Try rubbing the fresh leaves of lemon balm into the walls of a bee hive to make it more inviting to a swarm. Use the essential oil for therapeutic massage to treat things like eczema and shingles. Balm can be administered to aid in treatment of a plethora of ailments. Reminder: always consult a professional for healing treatments with herbs.
Drink fresh or dried lemon balm as a soothing tea and add to your general cooking herb repertoire. Use as you would parsley or mint, pairing with seafood or poultry. Try in a salads and desserts or with fruits.
Ideas! Lemon balm scented rice, balm and rosemary sauce on chicken, a flavoring for custard or balm and blackberry sauce as a topping for anything.
To beat the heat, try a Lemon Balm Mojito.
You will need:
- 2-4 sprigs lemon balm
- 1tsp extra fine sugar
- 2 thick slices lime
- 3 oz of white rum
- splash soda water
Muddle together the balm, sugar and one slice of lime with a little ice in the bottom of a tall glass. Add rum and shake/stir. Fill glass with more ice and a splash of soda water. Garnish with fresh balm and a slice of lime. Sit back, sip, and enjoy the hot day with your tasty refreshment.