Planting Lemon Balm
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), also known as English balm, honeyflower, heart rind or bee herb, belongs to the family of labiates (Lamiaceae). The plant has been used as a medicinal herb for over 2000 years. It was once cultivated as a bee pasture, hence probably the name “melissa”, the Greek word for “honey bee”. Originally, the plant was native to the eastern Mediterranean region. Because it has been cultivated in such large numbers, including by Benedictine monks in monastery gardens, and has become slightly wild, lemon balm is now widespread in all warm regions of Europe. It grows wild mainly on wooded areas and forest roads.
The perennial, herbaceous growing medicinal and spice plant has a strong rootstock and spreads very quickly through runners as well as through self-seeding. The plant grows to a height of between 40 and 90 centimeters and has thin upright and clearly square stems.
The hairy stems of the lemon balm are covered with light green or yellowish green, egg-shaped to heart-shaped, toothed stem leaves with a coarse veining. They become about five centimeters long, are bluntly rounded at the tip and occupied with small oil glands on both sides. Especially when rubbing the leaves with the fingers, the plant exudes its typical lemon scent.
The white, yellowish or bluish flowers of the lemon balm do not appear until the second year of standing. Flowering time is between June and August. The lemon balm is a popular fodder plant among bees and other insects and attracts them to the garden in large numbers.
The ovary of two pistils breaks down into four single-seeded subpods when ripe.
Lemon balm thrives best in sunny to semi-sunny and sheltered locations. You can also cultivate the herb in pots, but it is so vigorous that it has to be re-potted all the time and requires a larger pot.
As a weak eater, lemon balm needs a permeable, not too dry soil with sufficient nutrient content. Loamy-sandy garden soil is suitable as substrate for the pot.
If you want to cultivate lemon balm as a medicinal and aromatic herb for domestic use, one or two plants are sufficient. You can buy them in specialist shops in spring as young plants. Alternatively, you can also sow lemon balm yourself in March or April under glass at 15 to 20 degrees Celsius in boxes or bowls. Only cover the seed thinly with soil. Germination takes place after three to four weeks. After about six weeks, the young plants can then be placed outside at a distance of 30 x 30 centimeters.
Young plants should always be kept moist at the beginning. When kept in good conditions, the lemon balm quickly begins to grow and spreads by itself. Since the plant forms strong flat roots, you should only chop very carefully in its environment. In order to stimulate fresh shoots, the plant is pruned back when the buds begin to set or when the lower leaves begin to yellow for the first time. For cultivation in tubs, we recommend supplying the lemon balm with organic fertilizer every two to three weeks from April to August.
Of course, the fresh leaves of the lemon balm can be picked and used individually throughout the summer. Shortly before flowering in June or July, however, it has stored most of the aroma substances. Then cut the aromatic herb off ten centimeters above the Soil. A second harvest is possible in September. If the leaves are not processed immediately, they can also be dried. However, the lemon balm loses a large part of its aroma and is no longer really suitable for seasoning food – but all the more so for teas or tinctures.
Winter protection or hibernation
Lemon balm is frost hardy and only needs winter protection in the bed when temperatures are extremely cold. To bring the spring harvest forward, the plant can also be placed in the greenhouse. Potted plants should be better spent the winter in a cool and bright place in the house. Cut the plant back before putting it away and water it only moderately afterwards. From April, the lemon balm can then be put out again on balcony or terrace.
Lemon balm is considered the right choice for all nervous disorders, such as problems falling asleep or inner restlessness: it strengthens the nerves. As the plant contains many tannins, bitter substances and rosemary acid in addition to essential oil, it also has an antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory effect. Lemon balm can alleviate gastrointestinal problems and have a healing effect on colds and circulatory problems. A positive influence on herpes viruses is also attributed to her. Lemon balm is usually administered as tea or, in higher concentrations, as tincture.
Use in the kitchen
The lemon balm is also a popular aromatic herb in the kitchen. With the fresh, deliciously lemon tasting leaves salads, fish dishes, sauces, jams and drinks can be refined. Tip: For hot dishes, add the leaves at the very end. In this way the aroma unfolds better and is not “overcooked”. The leaves can be brewed as tea or used as a bath additive, especially in dried form. They are also often found in potpourris and herbal cushions.
There are different varieties of lemon balm available on the market, which differ mainly in the colour of the leaves. For example, ‘All Gold’ sprouts bright yellow foliage, but does not tolerate full sunlight. The variety ‘Variegata’ has yellow variegated leaves and is an eye-catcher in the herb bed or in the herb spiral. Citronelle’ has a very high oil content, ‘Binsuga’ and ‘Limoni’ have a particularly aromatic taste. The lemon balm ‘Compacta’ grows – as the name suggests – compactly and is therefore also somewhat more suitable for cultivation in pots. However, the variety does not produce any flowers.
Older plants can be propagated in spring by dividing the rootstock or using cuttings. In addition, propagation by sowing is possible. However, this is expensive and not really worth it – especially since lemon balm usually spreads quickly by itself anyway and starts to grow quickly, especially in the garden.
Diseases and pests
Lemon balm is an extremely robust medicinal and aromatic plant. Occasionally aphids or the green turtle beetle are infested, rarely leaf spot diseases or powdery mildew.
Lemon balm in the our store-Shop
I am Don Burke, one of the authors at My Garden Guide. I am a horticulturist that cultivates, grows, and cares for plants, ranging from shrubs and fruits to flowers. I do it in my own garden and in my nursery. I show you how to take care of your garden and how to perform garden landscaping in an easy way, step by step.I am originally from Sydney and I wrote in local magazines. Later on, I have decided, more than two decades ago, to create my own blog. My area of specialization is related to orchid care, succulent care, and the study of the substrate and the soil. Therefore, you will see many articles dedicated to these disciplines. I also provide advice about how to improve the landscape design of your garden.