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Lemon balm - Melissa officinalis

by Marie Vonow
Edible (34)      Herb (6)      Perennial (4)      Lemon balm (1)     
Marie Vonow
Name: Lemon Balm, balm mint, Melissa balm Melissa officinalis

Lemon Balm

Description:Lemon balm is a perennial bushy herb with green leaves and white flowers.

Lemon Balm
Lemon balm flowers

It has a lovely lemon scent when the leaves are crushed. The leaves can be added near the end of cooking some dishes to impart a lemony flavour. A handful of leaves can be placed in the cavity of a chicken or large fish before baking. Leaves can be frozen in ice blocks and added to cold drinks.

The leaves can be used to make a pleasant tasting, relaxing tea or added to a bath. Lemon balm is said to help relieve anxiety and insomnia. Claims of medicinal benefits have been made dating back to about 300BC when the Greek philosopher and plant historian, Theophrastus made reference to lemon balm.

Lemon Balm
Lemon balm leaves

Lemon balm attracts bees so is a good addition to any area of the garden where bees are needed for pollination.

Size: Lemon balm can grow to about 60 cm (24 inches) high.

Conditions: Lemon balm grows well in moist, rich, well draining soil. Mulch well to keep the soil moist. It likes sun but will grow in light shade. It can be grown in pots or in the garden. If it becomes invasive pull out unwanted young plants.

Lemon Balm
Lemon balm will grow well in a pot.

Lemon balm and passionfruit are good companion plants. It is said to make tomatoes grow better and have a better flavour. Lemon balm thrives near thyme, calendula, the onion family, scented geraniums and lemon grass.

Propagation: It can be grown from seeds or seedlings purchased at a nursery.

Packet Of Lemon Balm Seeds
Packet of seeds

Space seedlings about 30 to 38 cm (12 to 15 inches) apart.

Lemon balm can also be propagated from cuttings or by digging up an established plant and dividing it in autumn or spring. New plants need to have about 6 new shoots.

Leaves can be harvested as soon as the plant is large enough to handle being cut back. The leaves can be used fresh or dried or frozen for later use. Dried leaves lose some flavour but are good in pot pourri. Hang bunches of lemon balm leaves in a cool dry place to dry and then store in an airtight glass jar for up to 6 months.

Lemon balm bushes benefit from being cut back hard each year after flowering. The application of some liquid fertiliser at this stage will encourage regrowth.

When to Plant: Plant seeds in spring after risk of frost is over. Cover seeds with a light layer of soil or seed raising mix. Keep seeds moist. They will germinate in 12 to 21 days.

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