Using and Growing Lemon Balm
Using and Growing Lemon Balm
Designed by Brenda Hyde
All Rights Reserved
I discovered lemon balm (Melissa Officinalis) when I picked it up on a bargain table at my local garden center.
It's a hardy perennial that grows into a bush about 24 inches round. Lemon Balm belongs to the mint family and looks very similar, with light green, ridged leaves.
Lemon balm is an easy to care for herb that grows similar to mint. It likes some shade during the hot part of the day or it will wilt slightly.
I find it very drought tolerant and rarely give it extra water unless we go quite awhile without rain. In fact, it doesn't like wet feet, and prefers a loose, fairly fertile soil. It will tolerate dry soil as well.
I harvest my plant at least 3 times each summer and still have more than I can use with just one plant. It can be harvested within 2-3 inches from the base of the plant each time and it comes back with vigor! I've read that in some parts of the United States it's becoming known as a pest, but I've found that if you keep it harvested and don't allow it to go to seed it stays under control.
You can divide lemon balm in the spring or fall. You can also take cuttings in midsummer to bring in for the winter. It can be grown from seed in the spring, or started indoors in late winter and transplanted.
Lemon balm is not considered an ornamental herb, but I think the leaves are pretty, and I can't resist grabbing one each time I pass it to smell the lovely lemon scent. My daughter is three and it's her favorite plant. I have mine located next to my sage plant, which is great for snipping both herbs quickly to stuff the cavity of a roast chicken before cooking.
To harvest, cut the whole stems within a few inches of the base of the plant, gather into groups of 5-6 stems, tie and hang in a warm, airy location. When dry, strip off the leaves, store in a covered container and use as needed.
A handful of fresh lemon balm and mint make an excellent hot or iced tea when honey is added. It can be used in place of lemon peel in recipes. Add it to your favorite sugar cookie dough for a pretty tea cookie.
I think of it as much more than a tea herb! I add it to herbal vinegars along with dill and nasturtiums for a pleasant variety of vinegar that can be used in seafood marinades or salad dressings.
Roasted Lemon Balm Chicken
Handful of fresh lemon balm leaves, stems removed
1/4 cup or so of fresh sage leaves
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, softened
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 large roasting chicken
1 teaspoon garlic powder
2 tablespoons olive oil
Preheat oven to 400°. Trim herb leaves from stems; wash and pat dry. Set sprigs aside. Chop two-thirds of the leaves, and combine with the butter, salt, and pepper. Rinse chicken and pat dry. Loosen the skin in several places and insert the herb butter underneath. Rub chicken with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Insert the remaining herb sprigs into the cavity of the chicken. Place breast-side-down in a roasting pan. Bake 30 minutes, then turn chicken over. Bake about 20 minutes longer.
Makes 4 to 6 servings
Lemon Lover's Tea
1/4 cup dried lemon balm leaves
2 tablespoons dried lemon thyme leaves
1/4 cup dried lemon verbena leaves
1/4 cup dried lemon geranium leaves
2 tablespoons dried lemon grass leaves
1 tablespoon dried lavender blossoms
Mix all together and use a tsp. or so per cup of boiling water. If you are missing any of the lemon herbs, just use more of the ones you do have.
Lemon Mint Sun Tea
1/2 cup mint
1/2 cup lemon balm
1/2 cup chamomile flowers
3 black tea bags
Place in a gallon container and add cold water to fill the jar. Set in the sun for several hours. Strain our tea and herbs. Pour over ice and refrigerate the leftovers. Sweeten with honey or sugar if desired.
Rose and Herb Tea
1/2 cup dried red rose petals (make sure no sprays were used)
2 tablespoons dried lemon balm
1 tablespoon dried rosemary
Mix well. Use 1 teaspoon for each cup and pour boiling water over the herbs, then strain after 5 minutes or so. Sweeten as desired.
Lemon Balm Vinaigrette
3 tablespoons light olive oil
1/8 teaspoon salt
6-8 leaves lemon balm
Fresh black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons wine vinegar
Stack the lemon balm leaves together and roll, then with a very sharp knife cut thin strips, and then chop finely. Combine with the other ingredients and serve with steamed vegetables or mixed salad greens.
Lemon Orange Cheese Spread
2 ounces unsalted butter, softened
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 Tbsp. orange marmalade
1 tsp. orange zest
1 Tbsp. fresh orange juice
3 Tbsp. chopped fresh lemon balm
Blend the butter and cream cheese until smooth. Mix in the other ingredients. Chill overnight and serve at room temperature.
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon balm
1 cup witch hazel
Combine the ingredients in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Allow to steep for 1 week. Strain. Use 1 teaspoon per application with a cotton ball. Refrigerate if you wish.
Lemon Herb Butter
2 tablespoons lemon balm, chopped fine
2 tablespoons thyme, chopped fine
1 cup butter, softened
Cream butter and stir in herbs. Chill for at least 3 hours to allow flavors to blend. Use with seafood or vegetables.
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