Lemon Balm (Balm, Common Balm, Balm Mint)
Lemon Balm is a perennial, herbaceous plant that belongs to the mint family. It grows in most situations however will thrive in moist, semi shaded positions. Like most members of the mint family it can become a long term invasive resident so is best contained in a large pot - underneath a well-used outdoor tap is a good spot. It spreads by sending out thick, matted shallow roots. Watch for it trying to climb over the edge. Cheeky bugger.
Lemon Balm survives hot times but be sure to give it additional water during any prolonged hot spells. Don’t let them dry out completely. You may need to divide your lemon balm after a year or two and give it some fresh potting mix. If the leaves start to yellow, give your plant some fertiliser – compost, worm castings or blood and bone.
Lemon Balm is a bushy herb that grows to approx. 30-50cm tall with bright green serrated leaves. The leaves when crushed have a lovely lemon fragrance. It’s popularly used as a tea or with poultry and fish. I steep leaves in boiling water for a nice pick-me-up tea. I often include slices of fresh Ginger and Cumquat too. When summer returns I’m looking forward to trying it in a Gin and Tonic. The leaves hold their perfume when dried so can add freshness to a pot-pourri. Pick large bunches and hang them in a dry, dark place if you’d like to give this a try.
Lemon Balm was planted near bee hives by Ancient Greeks to increase honey production. The Latin name Melissa literally means ‘bee’ or ‘honeybee’. The ancients lauded this herb for having valuable qualities including soothing wounds, earache, toothache, and sickness during pregnancy, mad dog bites, skin eruptions and crooked necks. Handy stuff. Not to mention its ability to assist women with feeling 'beloved and happy' and the tea promoting long life(1). Note to self: grow more herb, drink more tea.
All information should be used as a guide only. Please do your own research before ingesting herbs that you’ve no experience with. It always pays to err on the side of caution if you’re unsure. I think G&T’s are entirely safe.
Encyclopaedia of Herbs, Marshall Cavendish Ltd 1977, p14