Lemon Balm ~ Melissa officinalis Plant Care Guide
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), also known as balm or balm mint and not to be confused with bee balm (which is genus Monarda), is a perennial herb in the mint family Lamiaceae, native to center-southern Europe and the Mediterranean region.
It grows to 70–150 cm tall. The leaves have a gentle lemon scent, related to mint. During summer, small white flowers full of nectar appear. These attract bees, hence the genus name Melissa (Greek for ‘honey bee’). Its flavour comes from citronellal (24%), geranial (16%), linalyl acetate (12%) and caryophyllene (12%).
Melissa officinalis may be the “honey-leaf” (μελισσόφυλλον) mentioned by Theophrastus. It was in the herbal garden of John Gerard, 1596. There are many cultivars of Melissa officinalis, such as:
- M. officinalis ‘Citronella’
- M. officinalis ‘Lemonella’
- M. officinalis ‘Quedlinburger’
- M. officinalis ‘Lime’
- M. officinalis ‘Variegata’
- M. officinalis ‘Aurea’
(M. officinalis ‘Quedlinburger Niederliegende’ is an Improved variety bred for high essential oil content.)
Melissa’s sweet lemony scent and mint like leaves make it a nice plant to have in the garden. It is both a culinary and a medicinal herb. With its mild lemon flavor and scent we use it often in teas and in potpourri.
Lemon Balm is another mint family member which makes it pretty darn easy to grow. It can be grown as a perennial plant in zone 5-9. In colder regions you might want to consider it as an annual, or it can be over-wintered indoors.
You can grow Lemon Balm in containers or in the garden.
It seems perfectly happy in either place. Just remember it will need more attention in a pot- it can get thirsty in hot weather and may need frequent watering and an occasional light feeding. Don’t let it wilt TOO much or it may take awhile to recover.
Lemon Balm may become invasive
…if you live in moist climates, have a lot of rainfall and don’t trim off seed heads. That may be why many people choose to grow it in containers. I don’t have a problem with it spreading too much in my occasionally soggy, humid Midwest garden, but I usually manage to clip off seed heads before they drop all over the place.
Lemon Balm is easy to grow from seed. Press the seeds into damp soil. You don’t even have to bother covering them. Keep the seeds moist and wait. Germination may take a few weeks and you may have seedlings popping up over a period of two to three weeks.
Once your Lemon Balm is growing well, keep it trimmed back regularly for the best flavored leaves and to keep the plant looking good.
When it sports its pretty little white flowers you may find lots of bees and other pollinators flocking to it. They seem to like it as much as I do! These Lemon Balm flowers will dry and produce tiny seeds.
Want to save some seeds and grow more ‘from scratch’ ?
This is what the flower stalks look like before the little seeds are dried and ripe….
Now you can see they are dried and brown. The seeds within are usually black and ready for harvesting at this point.
When your Lemon Balm flowers you can clip off most of the flower spikes and just save one or two for seeds. Clip off any you won’t be saving before they turn brown and start dropping seeds. That way you don’t have runaway Lemon Balm all over the garden.
To extract the seeds try rolling the dried seed head or each individual dried flower between your fingers. You will be rewarded for your work with a few tiny seeds.
You can also stick the seed heads upside down to dry in a paper bag. Many of the seeds will eventually drop in to the paper bag relieving you of all that exhausting seed head rolling
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