Melissa Oficinalis: Growing and Using Lemon Balm

| 5/24/2011 10:19:36 AM

H.CardenasHeidi Cardenas is a freelance writer and gardener in Lake County, Illinois, with a background in human resources. She has written about gardening for various online venues and enjoys The Herb Companion’s valuable resources.  

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is one of the first herbs to show up in the chilly, damp spring soil in my yard. Its cheerful green leaves are a welcome sight after months of brown and gray. Lemon balm is a prolific, hardy perennial herb native to the eastern Mediterranean region and western Asia. Melissa is the Greek name for honeybee, a reference to the way it attracts bees. Volunteer and escapee plants show up in every nook and cranny of the yard and garden, begging to be transplanted to a well-tended garden bed or flower border. I am happy to oblige. I would grow a whole field of lemon balm if I could.

Lemon balm is a versatile culinary, medicinal and personal care herb.

How To Use Your Lemon Balm

I love lemon balm. It is such a beautiful, fragrant green herb. It has so many uses as a culinary, medicinal and personal care herb. And it is so prolific that it’s easy to use fresh and dried all year long. A few clipped stems steeped in boiling water with raw sugar or honey and a slice of fresh orange makes a delicious hot or iced beverage. The leaves are tasty additions to summer green salads and fruit salads. Try mixing fresh pineapple chunks, red delicious apple chunks, fresh chopped lemon balm leaves and a light drizzle of orange blossom honey and chill for an hour. Top with chopped walnuts, granola or your favorite bran cereal. Fresh lemon balm leaves are easy to candy, along with rose petals and spearmint sprigs. Just brush with frothed reconstituted egg whites, sprinkle with crystalized sugar and let dry until crispy.

Lemon balm pops up here and there in the yard and garden.
Photos by Heidi Cardenas