Lemon Balm – “Of Many Virtues”

(Melissa officinalis – Lamiaceae)

melissa officinalis

Melissa officinalis, common name Lemon Balm, is also known as Melissa, Melissa Sweet Balm, Balm Mint, Garden Balm, and English Balm. Its botanical name, Melissa, in Greek means honeybee, and honeybees are certainly attracted to the highly fragrant herb. Melissa is a member of the mint family, Lamiaceae, and its similar appearance is often mistaken for mint. It has a citrusy aroma and taste as the common name indicates, and versatile uses include culinary, scent in household products, repellent for flies and mosquitos, among others. Its blossoms are light colored (white, pinkish, or slightly yellow), and its leaves are scalloped shaped similar to traditional mint leaves.

Common varieties of lemon balm include “Lime” and “Lemonella.”

Lemon Balm should not be confused with Bee Balm (Monarda sp.).

Care and Cultivation

Lemon balm is a hardy perennial that is easily grown in almost anywhere in the United States (and many other countries). Winters with temperatures below 20 degrees can kill a plant, but it is possible for Melissa to survive even those temps. For areas with colder winters, Melissa can be grown in containers and overwintered indoors.

Plant in mostly sunny position with some shade. If planted in area with too much sun, the leaves can be scorched, especially leaves that are more yellow colored. Sandy soil is ideal, as good drainage is essential, especially for wintering over. Melissa is resistant to drought, which adds to its easy nature.

Propagation can be done by direct seed into pots or from cuttings. Seeds need direct light to germinate, so just pat into soil and don’t bury. It can be more difficult to directly seed in the ground due to this requirement, so starting in pots is recommended. Keep soil moist during the germination process. To propagate from cuttings, snip from new growth or soft wood, which means taking cuttings is best done in late spring and early summer. Use rooting hormone for best results. Place cuttings in pot with moist soil. It can be more difficult to directly seed in the ground due to this, so starting in pots is recommended.

According to Easy Growing: Organic Herbs and Edible Flowers from Small Spaces, variegated ‘Aurea’ and golden ‘All Gold’ are propagated by cuttings only, but those two varieties are not very common in North America.

To reduce competition, keep area weeded until plants are established.

Divide plants in spring or fall.

Lemon balm grows best in moist soil, but allow to dry out between waterings. If plant doesn’t get enough water, they can become tough and bitter. Fertilization isn’t necessary with lemon balm and when over done it can mean less flavor. Growing in a container is recommended if you don’t want it to spread in the garden, however any rogue wanderers are also easily removed. Lemon balm plants will typically grow to 24″-30″ in height with 18″ spread.

Companion plants to lemon balm include fruits, vegetables, and other herbs.

Harvest and Preservation

More to come.

Culinary And Other Uses

More to come.

See also Melissa Essential Oil.

Recipes and Ideas

  • More to come.

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