Lemon balm plant: lemon-scented herb

Lemon balm is a perennial leaf herb from the mint family with a strong but pleasant lemon scent. Like most herbs, lemon balm is a hardworking multitasker that looks great with its lush, bright green leaves and has numerous medicinal and culinary uses. Most importantly, the uplifting and refreshing lemon scent is so fragrant that it can be enjoyed all over the garden from late spring to autumn.

Medically known as a calming herb, lemon balm has been used for centuries to aid sleep and relieve restlessness associated with stress, anxiety, and depression. It is used to promote calmness in aromatherapy and to increase cognitive functions including memory and focus.

For a tangy kick to culinary dishes, add fresh lemon balm leaves to herbal teas, fruit salads, desserts and cocktails. Its lemon flavor goes perfectly with fish, chicken, and vegetables, but make sure you add leaves towards the end of the cooking process for the best flavor. Lemon balm can also be dried and stored for longer use.

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Brief instructions for care

The lemon balm is a popular addition to any herb garden. Source: Kathleen Farley

Common name (s) Lemon balm, bee balm, sweet balm, blue balm, panacea, balm, mint, garden balm
Scientific name Melissa officinalis
Days to harvest 30-40 days
Bright Full sun to partial shade
water Ordinary water
floor Fertile, moisture-retaining soil
fertilizer Mulch, liquid nitrogen supply in spring
Pests Aphids
Diseases Powdery mildew

Everything about lemon balm

Sweet balsam flowersIt is also known as sweet balm or bee balm. Source: deamentiaemundi

The botanical name for lemon balm is Melissa officinalis. Melissa comes from the Greek word for "honey bee", the Greek word meli or melitos also means "honey". Officinalis indicates the medicinal or culinary use of the herbs. In ancient times, the Greeks believed that lemon balm would attract bees to settle in an empty beehive. Similarly, lemon balm grown near a beehive would encourage a swarm to stay. Garden grown lemon balm is still a great way to attract beneficial insects.

There are many common names for lemon balm, including blue balm, panacea, garden balm, and balm gentle, to name a few. Lemon balm is native to the Mediterranean, Central Europe and North Africa, but has easily become naturalized throughout North America and Northern Europe.

As a member of the mint family Lamiaceae, lemon balm spreads outwards from the base every year and is a productive self-sowing. It is a hardy perennial that grows up to 30 inches (75 cm) tall and 18 inches (45 cm) wide. Leaves resemble mint in appearance; soft, oval, with serrated edges and a bright green color, and they grow opposite to each other on square, densely branched stems. A strong lemon aroma is released when lemon balm leaves are gently squeezed or heated by the sun. The white flowers are small and insignificant and stand in lively clusters on leaf spikes.

In temperate zones, lemon balm can retain some foliage throughout winter. Severe winters can kill any above-ground growth, but the plants will rejuvenate from the base in the spring. Young leaves have the best taste and the more you harvest, the more the plant will produce. If left to their own devices, the plants bloom in early summer and set the seeds lignified with dull, coarse leaves. This plant responds well to pruning and grows vigorously. The more you prune, the more it will grow back.

Lemon balm is grown for its fresh or dried leaves, and many use lemon balm for culinary herbs as well as medicinal plants. In the Middle Ages, the chopped leaves were considered a panacea for medicinal uses to repair crooked necks, soothe minor wounds, and treat toxic bites and stings, to name a few. Today, lemon balm is used to combat migraines, colds, fevers, catarrhal conditions and to aid sleep.

A great tip on how to get the most out of that delightful lemon flavor in the garden is to plant lemon balm in a spot where you brush its leaves and release those lemony essential oils into the air.

There are many types of lemon balm, but we love All Gold, a delicate variety of golden lemon balm with yellow and green leaves that grows up to 2 feet tall. Another great variety is Aurea, a variegated lemon balm with variegated golden and dark green leaves that is harder than All Gold and reaches the same height.

Plant lemon balm

Lemon balm, Melissa officinalis, is sown from seeds in early spring and planted out after the last frost. Varieties such as 'All Gold' or 'Aurea' should be propagated from vegetative cuttings in spring / summer or bought as fully grown plants.

The grafts should be placed in a bright, sunny spot in fertile, well drained, moist soil, 30-38 cm (12-15 inches) apart. Water the young plants until they are established and water regularly during dry periods. In hot climates, plant lemon balm where it will have some shade during the hottest time of the day.

Grow lemon balm in containers or raised beds to control its overflowing habit, but be careful not to let the containers dry out. Do not allow waterlogging in the containers even in wet winters. Put the plants in a sheltered place and put the containers on their feet so they can drain freely.


Close up of lemon balmA close up of lemon balm leaves. Source: Wendell Smith

Lemon balm is easy to grow and a great addition to the herb garden. Your friends and family will be blown away by the scent. Follow the tips below to grow lemon balm at home.

Sun and temperature

Lemon balm prefers a sunny location, but also tolerates light shade. This hardy perennial shrub can withstand temperatures as low as -30 ° C and grows well in USDA Zones 4 through 9. Although lemon balm likes to grow in full sun, suffering from extreme heat can protect it from scorching direct sunlight. Good spring mulch will help retain moisture, and winter mulch will protect the roots from severe frosts.

Water and moisture

Consistent regular watering is the key to healthy plants. Plants will tolerate a brief period of drought, but try not to let the soil dry out between waterings to avoid permanent wilting. Watering early in the morning will allow the plants to absorb as much water as possible before the full heat of the day. Use timed soaking hoses or watering cans aimed at the base of the plant. To avoid waterlogging in winter, water only when necessary and move potted plants to a protected location.


Lemon balm prefers high-quality compost or fertile, moist, freely permeable soil based on clay. A mulch layer of compost or well-rotted manure in spring and autumn helps to retain moisture and protect the root ball from frost. The preferred pH is 6.5 to 7.


Fertile soil and good mulch are enough to grow lemon balm. A liquid nitrogen-rich feed is recommended when the plants need a boost at the beginning of the season. However, over-fertilizing lemon balm can negatively affect the taste of the leaves.


Lemon balm grows vigorously in the spring and summer and benefits from hard pruning each month to control size, encourage fresh new growth, and prevent self-seeding. Cut the stems back in half and within a few weeks the plant will be twice as bushy. Cut brightly colored varieties like 'Aurea' back in early summer for good color variation, and prune all plants at the end of the season to keep them looking neat over the winter.


From March to May, sow the seeds on the surface of the pre-watered compost in a seed tray. Cover lightly with vermiculite or sifted compost and place in a warm place. Germination takes between 1 and 3 weeks.

When the seedlings are big enough to touch, carefully pull them out and plant them one at a time in small pots or individual cells in a modular tray.

Softwood cuttings can be taken before the plant blooms. Take a non-flowering cutting that is approximately 5-6 inches long. Remove the lower leaves from the stem and place the cuttings around the edge of a pot filled with compost. Always keep the cuttings moist, but never too wet as this will rot the stems. After 6-8 weeks, roots should have developed. Repot the rooted cuttings in their own pots and plant them outdoors after they have started.

Plants can get tall and crowded if not divided every few years in the fall. To divide, dig around the entire plant to loosen the root ball. Carefully remove the plant from the ground and use two forks inserted back to back into the center of the plant to slowly spread the forks apart until the root ball is divided in two. This process can be repeated for smaller sections to create even more plants. Divisions can be replanted immediately at new locations.

The cultivation of lemon balm almost always leads to the appearance of free plants that have been sown yourself throughout the garden. These can easily be transplanted where you want them to be.

Harvest and storage

Lemon balm leavesThe jagged edges of the leaves of Melissa officinalis are easy to spot. Source: Wendell Smith

Lemon balm is all about the harvest. Follow these tips to ensure bumper crops and successful storage.


Harvest lemon balm leaves throughout the growing season when the plant has fresh young leaves. The lemon balm essential oil in the leaves is strongest in the afternoon. Pick leaves as needed or harvest all of the leaves at once to dry them for longer term use by simply pruning all of the stems back in half. In just a few weeks, you'll be rewarded with a flush of new greens.


Fresh lemon balm stems can be stored in a glass of water in the refrigerator for up to a week or wrapped in damp kitchen paper. Use lemon balm as the fresh leaves for the best flavor.

To dry the stems, hang or lay flat in a dark, cool, well-ventilated place until the leaves feel crispy. After drying, the leaves can be kept for up to a year in an airtight container. Although dried leaves don't retain as much flavor as fresh leaves, they still retain a lot of goodness. Add a slice of lemon, dried chamomile, mint, or other herbs to dried lemon balm tea leaves to complement the flavor and therapeutic value of an herbal tea.


Lemon balm flowersLemon balm flowers are small and tender, but pretty. Source: jmunt

Lemon balm is very easy to grow and has very few growth problems.

Growing problems

The main problem with growing lemon balm is its Tendency to self-sowing. If you don't keep an eye on those flowers that are sowing, you will find plenty of baby lemon balm plants scattered all over the garden. Don't worry as they are very easy to identify and remove and make great gifts for friends and family.


Lemon balm can be attacked by Aphids, tiny pests that feed on the sap of the new growth. A companion planting with marigolds or marigolds will help deter aphids and encourage beneficial insects in the garden to feed on them. Alternatively, spray with an organic insecticidal soap or neem oil. Crushing aphids with your fingers or a quick jet of water can also help reduce numbers.


Lemon balm is prone to mildew when plants are overloaded or overshadowed. It grows as thick dust on leaves, inhibits photosynthesis and hinders growth. Maintain good garden hygiene and remove infected leaves to prevent the disease from spreading and re-infecting in years to come. Make sure there is sufficient sunlight and good air circulation. Treat affected plants with an organic fungicide such as sulfur or potassium bicarbonate before or when disease first appears. Serious infections can be fought with copper fungicides.

frequently asked Questions

Large lemon balmLemon balm can grow up to 2 feet tall. Source: cheese slave

Q: What is lemon balm used for?

A: Lemon balm is a soothing herbal tea that can reduce stress and aid sleep. It can also be used to add a hint of lemon flavor to fish, chicken, or vegetable dishes.

Q: is lemon balm edible?

A: The leaves and stems of lemon balm are edible.

Q: Does lemon balm come back every year?

A: Lemon balm is a hardy perennial that will grow back bigger and better year after year.

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