The botanical name for lemon balm, Melissa Officinalis, is from the Greek word for bee. Honeybees love lemon balm and are "calmed" by it. The small white flowers which are present July through September attract the honeybees and other beneficial insects. This makes lemon balm an excellent companion plant for the vegetable garden. Lemon Balm will also deter mosquitoes and makes a delightful herbal tea. To deter mosquitoes, place it in your sitting areas and occasionally crush or brush the leaves. The leaves have a lovely lemony fragrance. Some people swear by rubbing the leaves directly on their skin -- be sure and test a small patch of skin first to check for any skin sensitivities. Treat insect bites with a crushed leaf.
Lemon Balm is an easy to grow perennial herb which will return for you in the spring. It is a member of the mint family. To guard against it spreading throughout your garden, plant it in containers and pinch off flowers before they go to seed.
The leaves at the lower part of the plant have the strongest concentration of essential oils. Use the lemony flavored fresh leaves in teas, salads, soups, herb vinegar, game and fish. Leaves to be dried are best if harvested right before flowering and quickly dried in a dehydrator or low oven -- otherwise they may turn an unappetizing black. The dried leaves are nice in teas and lend a lemony fragrance to sachets and potpourris.
- Perennial crop, hardy to USDA Zone 4.
- A member of the mint family.
- Prefers full sun and moist, rich soil.
- Mature plants are 1 - 2 feet high.
- Plants can be started from seed, cuttings and divisions. Seed can be slow to germinate.
- Sow seed shallowly in spring. Transplant into containers after 4 or more leaves appear.
- Take cuttings or divide in spring and fall.
Planting and Tending
- Cut back occasionally to encourage branching and a full bushy habit.
- Cut back hard in fall. New plants will emerge from the roots in the spring.
- Plant throughout the garden to attract pollinators to fruit-bearing vegetables such as tomatoes and beans, and deter mosquitoes and squash bugs.
- Will not negatively affect other vegetables and herbs.
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