Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis; Zones 3-7) is a European perennial that does as well in shade as it does in full sun. Its delightful lemon scent comes from its high essential oil content. The leaves are best harvested in mid-spring. As a culinary herb, lemon balm makes a delicious tea and the minced leaves are a nice addition to fruit salads. Essential oil of lemon balm is used in aromatherapy as an antidepressant. The herb loses its potency when dried, but the fresh herb can be tinctured to preserve its medicinal properties.
In the garden, lemon balm can be invasive. Prune off the flowering tops before they go to seed.
Lemon Balm Butter Sauce
Serves 4 to 6
• 2 tablespoons fresh lemon balm leaves, minced
• 1⁄4 cup butter, melted
• Salt, to taste
1. Add lemon balm to melted butter.
2. Wait 30 seconds, then toss with cooked vegetables.
Leda Meredith is a botanist, writer and instructor at the New York Botanical Garden and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, specializing in edible and medicinal plants. She is the author of Botany, Ballet, & Dinner from Scratch: A Memoir with Recipes (Heliotrope Books, 2008).
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