Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is a perennial herb, and is part of the mint family. The leaves, which have a mild lemon aroma, can be used for cooking, medicinal and other applications.
The plant generally grows 30- 90cm high. It produces small white flowers over summer, which attracts bees to the garden (hence the genus name Melissa which is Greek for ‘honey bee’). Lemon balm prefers rich moist soil and partial shade. It can tolerate direct sunlight but the leaves may yellow slightly during hot summers in full sun – plants grown in shade tend to be larger and more succulent. Lemon balm is a good companion to fruit trees, plants from the onion family, tomatoes and roses.
As the leaves contain citronella, crushed leaves can even be rubbed on your skin to repel mozzies whilst in the garden!
Leaves bruise easily; handle with care between picking and use in the kitchen. Preserve lemon balm by drying or stashing in vinegar.
The fresh leaves can be used as a garnish for drinks, desserts and savoury dishes. It adds zing to salads, herb butters, dressing and sauces. Lemon balm butter with a little pepper added goes well with corn, broccoli, beans and asparagus or add to marinades/sauces to accompany fish or chicken. One of the most common uses is an infusion of lemon balm as a refreshing, uplifting tea, said to relieve anxiety and help with sleep problems. Lemon balm is also used as a herbal remedy for nervous headaches and for digestive problems such as nausea, bloating and colic.