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Double-Duty Perennial Herb: Lemon Balm

| 5/19/2011 9:52:32 AM

Heidi CardenasBased in Lake County, Illinois, Heidi Cardenas has been freelancing since 2000. She studied business administration at the College of Lake County and has a background in human resources administration. She has written for "Chicago Parent Magazine" and guest blogs for The Herb Companion, Natural Living and TribLocal. She enjoys writing on a wide range of topics, but especially gardening, natural living, and home and family eco topics. 

Even if you have never grown herbs before, you can easily grow lemon balm. It does double duty in the garden and home as an attractive plant and useful herb. It is very easy to grow from seed or plant divisions, grows well in most soils, is hardy and drought tolerant, and grows with little attention. Put it in your garden, grow it on the patio or just keep it on a sunny windowsill and you’ll fall in love with this versatile herb. It has many culinary, medicinal, cleansing and personal care uses in the natural home. In the garden, lemon balm returns year after year, delights and attracts bees, and is a prolific spreader. One plant this year will provide at least four plants next year, and probably more. Some describe it as invasive, but my experience with it as an easily multiplied perennial herb means many free plants to fill my kitchen garden, share with neighbors and pot up to give as gifts. 

lemon balm plant 
Lemon balm is a lovely perennial in the garden. Photo By Heidi Cardenas. 

With lemon balm in your garden, you’ll have it on hand to use its deliciously scented fresh green leaves all summer long in beverages, salads and savory dishes. Make a delicious tea to drink hot or iced by steeping lemon balm leaves and fresh orange slices in boiling water, sweetened with honey or raw sugar. Add a sweet lemony tang to summer green and fruit salads by adding chopped lemon balm. Try paper-thin sweet onion slices, chopped lemon balm leaves, shredded grilled chicken and diced oven-browned potatoes, topped with your favorite shredded cheese for a light lunch or dinner. Lemon balm is tasty in fruit salads as well. Add chopped lemon balm to mango, oranges and pineapple pieces and toss with your favorite yogurt. Add finely chopped lemon balm leaves to sugar cookie or scone dough for delicious herb-baked treats. 

Medicinally, lemon balm is useful for its sedative, antispasmodic and antiviral properties. Use it in tea as a soothing stomach tonic, a gentle natural sleep and anti-anxiety aid, and a fever reducer. Its essential oils have ferulic and caffeic acids with antioxidant properties that prevent inflammation, stimulate digestive processes, protect against cancer and suppress harmful fungi and bacteria. Hot lemon balm tea with honey is good to drink when you have a headache, the flu or a cold with fever. Fresh leaves blanched in boiling water and applied to boils and skin sores from eczema, chicken pox or shingles provide soothing relief and speed healing. If you have a large harvest of lemon balm, dry the leaves and powder them for tea and fill capsules for a supply of natural headache, indigestion and anxiety relief. 

lemon balm leaves 
Add lemon balm leaves to summer salads or a hot bath. Photo By Heidi Cardenas.

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