A great herb to grow in your home garden is lemon balm. A member of the mint family with a light citrus flavor, lemon balm has many uses in the kitchen from fish and chicken to sweet summer drinks. Lemon balm is also great for repelling insects, and for adding fragrance around your home. This lovely smelling herb is easy to grow and, with a little work, a well cared for plant can help provide for your family for several years, adding a bright beautiful green to your flower bed, vegetable garden, or potted plants collection.
How to grow lemon balm
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is not a picky plant, growing in almost any soil, though they flourish best is in full sun. Partially shaded areas are also okay. The soil must be kept moist but not waterlogged, making a well draining soil with plenty of organic matter essential for growing lemon balm. Mixing compost into your soil before planting, is the best way to give your lemon balm a great start. Though, if your soil is heavy clay, add in extra compost and old mulch which will help break the clay up.
Growing from Seeds
Lemon balm seeds can be planted after the risk of the last frost has passed, or started indoors 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost, to give them a head start on the growing season. When starting lemon balm seeds indoors, use well draining starter mix. Mist with a spray bottle of clean water daily to keep the soil moist. Then, plant your seedlings out into the garden after the risk of the last frost has passed.
Growing from Cuttings
Lemon balm can be started from cuttings by putting a 3 to 4-inch cutting in water. Change the water daily for 4 to 5 days until new roots have formed. Once your lemon balm has strong roots you can plant it in your garden.
Lemon Balm Plants
Lemon balm is a perennial that will come back in full force year after year. Every few years to avoid overcrowding you should pull up your lemon balm and divide it to help ensure that your lemon balm continues to have room to grow.
You can fertilise your plants monthly to encourage more growth, but should stop at least 6 weeks before harvest to avoid fast growth with little to no flavour. For a stronger, more concentrated flavour avoid fertilising your lemon balm and just add fresh compost each growing season.
Lemon balm loves to spread like other members of the mint family and can quickly become invasive. This makes them a great candidate to grow in pots. Due to its mosquito repelling nature, you can plant your lemon balm pots near entertainment spaces to help protect your family when spending time outdoors.
This fragrance of this lovely smelling herb can help deter insects that attack the cabbage family crops, so plant it near cabbage family plants, including broccoli and cauliflower. It also helps attracts honeybees, so plant near fruit trees to aid with pollination. It also goes well when planted near hollyhocks, Angelica and nasturtiums.
This plant is susceptible to verticillium wilt, mint rust and even powdery mildew. Make sure to keep plants well spaced to allow for good air circulation and spray with a compost tea, which is a great natural fungicide.
More Herbs and Spices Resources
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- How to Harvest, Preserve and Use Basil
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- Make Celery Salt
- Uses for Rosemary
- Homemade Garlic Powder
- How to Grow, Harvest and Use Stevia
How to harvest lemon balm
This bushy, herb has a lovely lemon smell with small white flowers. Harvesting the leaves of this herb is easy and can begin after your plants have formed a minimum of six sets of true leaves. This can take about six to seven weeks. At this point, you can harvest a small amount for fresh use.
When harvesting your lemon balm use clean shears and avoid taking more than one-third of the plant at a time. This will leave enough for the plant to remain strong and keep growing.
Be careful when harvesting the leaves as they do bruise easily, so will need to be handled with care. Older leaves will have the strongest aroma.
If you are looking to dry the leaves for things such as tea and potpourri, harvest just before the plant flowers. The leaves can also be used in cooking, refreshing drinks and as an insect repellent. Why not try making this delicious lemon balm jelly!
Preserving Lemon Balm
Freshly picked lemon balm leaves can be frozen.
As lemon balm leaves can bruise easily, carefully remove the leaves from the stems and dry on trays in a warm, shady place or in a dehydrator. If the leaves are not dried within two days of being harvested, they will start to turn black. Dry at a temperature of around 90˚F or 32˚C which will help them retain their bright, green colour. Dried leaves will not have as much flavour as the fresh leaves.
Dried leaves can be stored in an airtight container for up to six months.
Lemon balm has also been used medicinally for its mild sedative properties, to help relieve gas, and reduce fever as well as for its antibacterial and antiviral properties.
With so many uses and such as lovely fragrance, it’s time to sure you have a lemon balm plant in your garden!