Balm, hot and dry, cordial and exhilarating,
sovereign for the brain, strengthening the
memory, and pwerfully chasing away
John Evelyn, Acetaria (1699)
Lemon balm is extremely easy to grow. It self-seeds freely and will root from the smallest piece. As a result, like most mint, it can be quite invasive, I highly recommend planting it in containers and keeping it in check.
The best way is to cut it hard back before it gets a chance to flower in mid-summer. You can clip it into ball shapes at about this time too!
Lemon balm is most potent and fragrant when fresh, but it doesn’t grow all year long so if you want to keep it going all year you need to dry it or freeze it. It can be dried by hanging in bunches, then stripping off leaves. It can also be dried on trays and should be dried in a dark place with good air circulation. Dry within 2 days or leaves may turn black.
For fresh flavor, even in winter, I prefer freezing chopped lemon balm leaves in vegetable oil. The lemon balm and oil combination can be added to baked goods. Another option is to freeze whole or chopped leaves and water in ice cube trays.
So you’ve added lemon balm to your garden, cupboard or freezer, now what do your with those lemony leaves?
Lemon Balm Legends & Lore
Lemon balm is a member of the mint family. It’s a bee-friendly plant, that alone is worth having it in your garden! In fact, I once heard that if you rub the inside of your beehive with lemon balm, then the bees will never leave. I’m not sure if this is true, but beekeepers do agree that lemon balm is beneficial to bees and the quality of their honey. In fact, it’s botanical name, Melissa officinalis comes from it’s association with bees (“Melissa” = “bee” in Greek).
Traditionally* it is considered to have a calming effect, and since it is a kind of mint, aids in digestion. Carmelite water was formulated by the 14th century nuns of the Abbey of St. Just as an herbal tonic and toilet water (yes, it cured all your ails and made your outhouse smell lovely). The basis for Carmelite water is lemon balm, and it can still be purchased today in Germany.
In the 17th century it was often used as an herb for polishing furniture.
There has been some scientific research into the uses of lemon balm, showing it to reduce the oxidative stress status in radiological workers. There have been some other studies which may support the Old Knowledge that lemon balm has a sedative effect and can help reduce stress or reduce anxiety.
Lemon balm has also been shown to have mild anti-bacterial properties, though other plants have a much stronger link. It is also thought to be a strong anti-oxidant, thanks the its high flavonoid content (also the phenolic acids, terpenes, rosmarinic acid and caffeic acids which are present). Lemon balm also contains tannins, which are astringent and contribute to lemon balm’s antiviral effects, and eugenol acetate, which is believed to be one of the phytochemicals responsible for lemon balm’s reported antispasmodic effect.
*I include the traditional uses only as point of interest. Please see more A Word about Herbs and Wildflowers
Lemon balm has so many wonderful uses, and I’ll share some of them with you here.
Lemon Balm Recipes
Falling Day’s Strawberry Lemon Balm Scones Via HedgeCraft
In Iced Tea
I use lemon balm most of all as a fresh infusion in my herbal iced teas. They add a refreshing light lemony taste. I just muddle them a bit, usually with my mortar and pestle (but you could easily just crush them gently between your fingers) and throw them into a fresh batch. You don’t need more than a few sprigs to get enough flavour.
On a Fruit Salad
You can just chop up some fresh lemon balm leaves and sprinkle them onto a fruit salad for a light lemony-lift.
Roasted Lemon Balm Chicken via All Recipes
I find Afterbite works pretty well, but sometimes it’s easier to just reach over and grab some lemon balm out of a planter. I smoosh it up and rub it onto the pesky (usually mosquito) bite
As a Mosquito Deterrent
It’s no DEET, but the mosquitoes do seem to shy away from it. I like to position my lemon balm planters near our sitting areas outside.
You can throw in some finely chopped leaves and a little lemon zest to enhance your muffins and whatnot. It goes especially well with blueberries.
Lemon Meringue Ice Cream with Lemon Balm via BBC Food
Lemon balm is a great herb for this. Just fill a jar with fresh leaves and a little lemon. Pour in cold water and let it cold brew in your fridge for (at least) several hours. Quite refreshing!
Lemon Balm Simple Fresh Liquor
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 1/4 cup water
- 2 cups firmly packed lemon balm leaves and stems
- 1 litre vodka or brandy
- Directions: Combine sugar and water, bring to a boil. Stir until sugar is completely dissolved. Pack leaves/stems in a large glass container. Cool the syrup to lukewarm, then pour over the leaves and add the vodka or brandy. Cap and store in a cool, dark place and steep for at least one month before consuming. Don’t forget to give it a little shake every few days. Strain before you decant it into storage bottles.
Lemon Balm Fresh Tea
Put fresh leaves into your teapot (that has a strainer!) and pour hot water over them. Let them steep until it’s ready to drink! This can be helpful for a sore tummy.
- 3/4 cup fresh lemon balm leaves
- 1/4 cup honey
- Directions: put lemon leaves into a small saucepan and add just enough water to cover the leaves. Simmer, partially covered, until the liquid is reduced by about half. Take out about 1/2 cup of the liquid and stir in the honey. It can be stored in the fridge for about a week.
- 1 part lemon balm, catnip, chamomile, hops and lavender
- cinnamon chips
- Directions: combine all the WELL dried herbs gently. Add about ½-1 cup per sleep pillow pouch. Insert about 6 cloves and 1 teaspoon cinnamon chips per pouch. Place fully “sealed” pouch in the pillow case or below the pillow.
Lemon Balm & Honey Butter
- 1/4 stick butter
- finely chopped lemon balm
- Directions: you can either throw this all in your food processor or blender, or you can just kinda blend it with a spoon.
Candied Lemon Balm Leaves
Oh yes! Beat an egg white with a little water. Dip lemon balm leaves into the mixture, then dip into sugar. Lay on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake them at 200F for 20-45 minutes until they look dry, but not brown.
Add Fragrance to a Homemade Cleaning Solution
If you’re making homemade vinegar cleaner, throw in some muddled lemon balm leaves for a fresh scent.
Lemon Balm Tincture
Using a sterile jar, fill to 3/4 full with fresh lemon balm leaves. Add 80 proof or higher alcohol (I use Absolute vodka ever since they stop selling Everclear) until the jar is filled. Use a non-metallic lid to seal it and store it in a cool, dark place for 4-6 weeks. Make sure you give it a little shake every other day or so. Strain and place into another sterile jar and store in a cool dark place. It should be good for at least a year.
- 8 oz lemon balm distillate
- 1/2 tsp glycerine (or honey)
- Directions: mix well and use a cotton ball or facial cloth to apply to face after washing. Keep mixture in the fridge.
Fill a coffee filter, cheese cloth, clamped tea strainer, clean hose socks, or other kind of bath bag with lemon balm leaves and rose petals and close. Let it soak in your bath water for several minutes while you run your bath.
Sunburn Bath Soak
- ¼ cup dried mint leaves
- ¼ cup dried calendula flowers/leaves
- ¼ cup dried chamomile flowers
- ¼ cup dried lemon balm leaves
- ¼ cup green tea
- Mix the above herbs. Use ½ to 1 cup in a small muslin bag per bath. Let steep in the bathtub. Note: You shouldn’t soak for too long when you have a sunburn. The water is dehydrating and that doesn’t do your sunburn any favours. Keep it short!
Lemony Lip Balm
- 1 ounce of beeswax in a pot.
- 1 cup of lemon balm infused oil.
- Melt the beeswax in a pot. Add the lemon balm oil. Stir and heat on low until melted and mixed well. Pour the balm into tins or small jars.