Lemon Balm

The light lemon fragrance and flavour of lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) makes this an appealing summer herb. While its flavour is more subtle than a lemon, the leaves still add that lemony freshness to salad dressings, herb vinegars, summery drinks and desserts.

But there’s more to it than just flavour. Lemon balm is a tonic herb that helps to strengthen the immune system as well as being a calming herb that soothes and relaxes, especially for sufferers from chronic fatigue or anxiety. Sipping a cup of lemon balm tea aids digestion too.

How to make lemon balm tea

Pick lemon balm leaves in the afternoon when its essential oils are strongest. Coarsely chop 2 tablespoons of fresh leaves, put in a cup, or glass jug and pour over 1 cup of boiling water. Cover and let it stand for 5 minutes, remove the herb and drink. Add honey for extra flavour. Drink after a meal or before going to bed.

Good to know

Lemon balm tea can be used as a disinfecting rinse for cuts and other wounds. To make the rinse even more effective, add 2 teaspoons unrefined sea salt to each cup of tea and stir to dissolve. Simply pour cold or room-temperature tea over the injury.

A bee in your bonnet

This herb is loved by bees. The tiny white blossoms it bears in summer are so sweet they attract the bees, making it a good companion plant in the veggie garden, especially for veggies that need insect pollination like squashes, cucumbers and tomatoes.

How to grow lemon balm

This compact perennial (30cm high and wide) grows easily from seed. It can be planted in full sun to partial shade and is ideal for window boxes and containers.

It doesn’t mind poor garden soil if the drainage is good. Water regularly during hot days. Feed with an organic fertiliser that will supply all the needed elements for optimum growth as it is a heavy feeder and can quickly show deficiencies making the plant more susceptible to diseases. However, an oversupply of nitrogen causes soft growth that has less medicinal value. The more often you pick, the more leaves it produces.

In very cold areas it dies down in winter but will sprout again in spring. In too much shade, the plant will become infected with fungal diseases during the rainy season.

Foodie suggestions

  • Add chopped balm leaves to fruity health shakes. It pairs well with mango, parsley and celery.
  • Use chopped lemon balm leaves instead or sage for stuffing for pork, veal or for poultry.
  • Incorporate finely chopped fresh leaves into white sauce or mayonnaise for fish.
  • When grilling fish or vegetables in foil parcels, wrap springs of lemon balm around the food before closing the foil.
  • Bruise and tear about 12 lemon balm leaves, put them into a bottle with a teaspoon of coriander seeds (lightly cracked) and two strips of lemon peel. Add half a bottle of white wine, seal and shake and refrigerate for at least 12 hours. Strain and serve for a refreshing alcoholic drink.

Other uses

Fill a spray bottle with lemon balm tea and use it as an air freshener. Add two or three drops of citronella essential oil and it will serve as an anti-mosquito spray.

The Gardener