Among the herbs known to man, one can argue that lemon balm best represents the positive good vibe feeling especially when you get to feel the healing and relaxing effect of lemon balm through food, drinks, or essential oil. It tastes good. It smells good. It feels good. This is why lemon balm is popular thanks to its medicinal as well as culinary and aromatic properties.
A lemon balm plant, which is also known as common balm or balm mint, can grow as high as 5 feet. The leaves of this perennial herbaceous plant smell like lemon with a hint of mint. White flowers appear during the summer and its nectar attracts bees.
Species: M. officinalis
Binomial name: Melissa officinalis
Lemon Balm Trivia
- These are the words of 17th-century English writer John Evelyn regarding lemon balm: Balm is sovereign for the brain, strengthening the memory and powerfully chasing away melancholy. Evelyn is also a gardener, hence, his interest in lemon balm.
- Theophrastus’ work Historia Plantarum (300 BC) made mention of lemon balm; however, he used a different name: honey-leaf.
Lemon Balm Buying Guide
Your first choice should be to visit your local farmers market or nursery. Source your lemon balm from local suppliers and support local businesses. Plants, freshly-cut leaves, dried leaves, seeds, and oil are also sold in the market or grocery, although there is no guarantee that all of these are available. If your need is urgent and dire and you haven’t found the lemon balm product you need in these locations, your last resort is online vendors.
If you are buying freshly-cut leaves like lemon balm online, part of it is risking purchasing leaves that could be wilted, bruised, and overall not in the same standard as genuinely fresh-cut and freshly-packaged leaves sold in groceries, markets, and stores. It is best to set your expectations accordingly.
You can buy lemon balm plants, freshly-cut lemon balm leaves, dried lemon balm leaves, powdered lemon balm, and lemon balm liquid extract and essential oil. If you see a fresh bundle of lemon balm in the market and plan to buy it, go ahead and inspect it first. The leaves should have a vibrant color and should look clean. Smell it also. The aroma of lemon balm leaves should be enough to indicate whether it is fresh or if it has been in the display for too long. If the leaves have wilted stalks and bruised or broken leaves, do not buy it.
If you are unsure if it is lemon balm, feel free to ask the vendor or store attendant. Fresh produce sold in grocery or supermarket should be labeled to avoid confusion, especially since herbs and other leafy items sometimes look similar. If you do not have any plans of preserving or storing freshly-cut lemon balm leaves, buy just enough for use.
Lemon balm has several varieties. Some items like cut leaves, seeds, or potted plants are expected to be labeled accordingly so that you’ll know what specific variety of lemon balm you are buying. For extracts and essential oils, there is no real way to ascertain which type was used or sourced, unless specifically indicated by the manufacturer.
- M. officinalis ‘Citronella’
- M. officinalis ‘Lemonella’
- M. officinalis ‘Quedlinburger’
- M. officinalis ‘Lime’
- M. officinalis ‘Variegata’
- M. officinalis ‘Aurea’
- M. officinalis ‘Quedlinburger Niederliegende’
Lemon Balm Production & Farming in Texas
Lemon balm’s growing zones are Zones 4 to 9. This means you can grow lemon balm anywhere in Texas because Texas is divided into regions ranging from Zone 6 to Zone 9B in the USDA Hardiness Zone.
Lemon balm prefers a sandy loam soil, although as a hardy plant, it can grow in almost any soil with 6.7 to 7.3 pH provided that it is not very wet; therefore, watering should be minimal and exposure to sunlight is required.
Lemon balm is an excellent companion plant. If you plant it with broccoli, cauliflower, and other cabbage family plants, lemon balm will help in keeping the insects attacking the crops away. Plant it near fruit trees as well because the nectar in lemon balm flowers attracts bees and this helps in pollination.
The lemon balm plant is a natural insect repellent. However, this plant is still vulnerable to insects and other threats, the most common of which are spider mites, aphids, leafhoppers, thrips, Botrytis blight, and powdery mildew.
- Azadirachtin – use against spider mites
- Bifenthrin – use against leafhoppers
- Copper fungicide – use against powdery mildew
- Endosulfan – use against leafhoppers
- Fungicide – use against Botrytis blight
- Horticultural oil – use against spider mites, aphids, thrips
- Insecticidal soaps – use against aphids and thrips
- Malathion – use against leafhoppers
- Neem oil – use against spider mites and aphids
- Piperonyl butoxide – use against thrips
- Pyrethrins – use against spider mites, leafhoppers, and thrips
- Sulfur plant fungicide – use against powdery mildew
- Systemic insecticide (acephate, imidacloprid, or disulfoton) – use against leafhoppers
Lemon balm is native to Europe particularly the southern and central regions. This is also native to the Mediterranean Basin as well as in Iran and Central Asia. This plant is naturalized in the Americas and different regions of the world. Lemon balm was introduced to Spain in the 7th century and from there, it spread all across Europe. It was brought to America by the colonists in the 17th century. Hungary, Egypt, and Italy are among the major producing countries of lemon balm.
You can buy freshly-cut lemon balm leaves sold in a plastic clamshell container which allows you to see the condition of the leaves inside. Some manufacturers use sealed, polythene bags to keep the freshly-cut lemon balm leaves fresh. Dried and powdered lemon balm products are sold in bottles.
Enjoying Lemon Balm
Like most herbs, lemon balm can be eaten raw or cooked. if you are eating food flavored with lemon balm, you can pair it with food that contains almond, apricot, basil, berries, black pepper, cardamom, cherry, citrus, coconut, hazelnut, ginger, mint, nectarine, peach, plum, prickly pear, rosemary, thyme, tropical fruit, or vanilla. If you are drinking a lemon balm-flavored alcoholic beverage, you can mix it with rum, vodka, and nut and orange liqueurs. Quite noticeable when eating food or drinking liquids flavored with lemon balm is the clean, lemon flavor that seems to cleanse and refreshes the mouth.
You can put freshly-cut lemon balm leaves in the refrigerator. Put the lemon balm leaves inside a plastic bag and put the plastic bag inside the refrigerator. You can also wrap it in a paper cloth or towel before putting it inside the refrigerator to extend the freshness of the lemon balm leaves for at least 10 to 14 days. You can also freeze it – put the lemon balm leaves in an ice tray, fill it with water, and freeze.
Another option for storing lemon balm is by drying the leaves. To dry lemon balm leaves, spread these out on a drying screen and then place this in a warm, dry room to allow it to completely dry. Make sure to turn the leaves every two days to make sure these dry out evenly. You’ll know these are completely dry when they turn brittle. Putting dried lemon balm leaves in a jar or bottle to preserve the aroma and taste. Place it in a cool, dry place away from sunlight.
Here’s a tip: for recipes requiring the use of lemon peel, you can use lemon balm leaves instead. Try this when making soups or sauces. If you are marinating meat, fish, or seafood, adding lemon balm leaves help create that fresh taste. If you are thinking of making pasta, garnish it with ground or cut lemon balm leaves.
You can also use lemon balm to bake cookies and other pastries. In an article published by The Augusta Chronicle, Ari LeVaux wrote about how one farm stand in Augusta, Georgia was able to attract visitors who came to buy produce and home-made lemon balm cookies. “Shoppers couldn’t get enough plant starts, as they prepared to homestead in their backyards until the pandemic passed. They bought Lemon Balm Cookies, too.”
Lemon balm leaves are a good source of vitamins, electrolytes, and minerals. The leaves of lemon balm is a zero-calorie herb while those who eat the shoots and stems ingest essential oils and other antioxidant phytochemical compounds that are good for the body, possessing carminative, tonic, anthelmintic, antispasmodic, and digestive properties.
- Calcium: 0.2mg
- Iron: 0.08 mg
- Potassium: 9mg
- Sodium: 20mg
- Magnesium: 1mg
- Zinc: 0.04mg
Found in the lemon balm leaves are citral (lemonol), citronellol, caryophyllene, linalool, citronellal, and polyphenols like eugenol and geranial, and tannins – anti-viral and nerve-soothing compounds to relieve fatigue, headaches, nervousness, and giddiness. Food or drinks infused with lemon balm is considered a memory booster and improves one’s cognitive faculty. If you have digestive or eating-related problems like loss of appetite, gastric ailments, flatulence, or colicky pains, or if you have high blood pressure, a hyperthyroid disorder like Grave’s disease, morning sickness, nausea, and heartburn, ingesting lemon balm or drinking lemon balm-infused liquids will help alleviate the condition.