We know lemon balm as lemon balm, although many people are not aware that it is one and the same plant. Lemon balm sounds a little more dated than lemon balm, and Melissa officinalis maybe a little like medicinal tea, but lemon balm is a lot more exciting than its reputation. Healthy, good for some interesting lemonade mix, also a real organic plant, its name means something like “plant that gives honey to the bees”. In addition, it actually grows by itself, in the garden and in the room – lemon balm is an asset for gardens and gardeners.
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This is how you get your lemon balm
There are several ways to get your dream lemon balm (see below) on the window sill or in the garden:
Buy lemon balm
Many supermarkets now offer several types of herbs in pots. Lemon balm is often present all year round. In winter it comes from the greenhouse, in spring and summer (also) from the field. So you can definitely bring your lemon balm with you when you go grocery shopping.
In the spring you can find young plants in many nurseries, in some garden centers and today also at weekly markets.
Growing lemon balm yourself
You can also grow your own lemon balm from seeds. If you want to try one of the strains listed below, you usually have no choice unless you have a specialty herb nursery in your area.
You can sow the lemon balm seeds in seed pots from the beginning of March. Then you will have strong young plants to plant out in May. You can also sow directly into the bed, but then only in May. Lemon balm needs warm soil and temperatures of around 20 °C to germinate.
Location, soil, substrate
The perennial small perennial has its original home in warmer regions around the Mediterranean, so it especially likes it warm. The rest is usually found by itself with the undemanding lemon balm.
Lemon balm in the garden
In terms of location, it should be noted that lemon balm forms rhizomes from which short underground runners branch off. So give her some space all around that she can gradually take up. For a long time – a lemon balm can live up to 30 years. The location must of course be adapted to the growth height of the respective variety and to the need for warmth of the lemon balm. It thrives best in a sheltered spot where it gets bright light for several hours a day.
The soil should be well drained. Lemon balm does not want to stand completely dry, nor does it want to have its feet (roots) constantly wet. In contrast to many typical Mediterranean herbs, which grow best on poor soil, lemon balm develops plenty of green leaf mass with large leaves. She would therefore like to have a nutrient-rich soil under her, a normal, humus-rich garden soil is also acceptable. You do not need to deplete them beforehand by mixing in sand, as other herbs require.
If there is enough sun, the lemon balm even likes to grow in a wetter zone, which usually offers soil that is so nutrient-rich that the plant grows splendidly, but develops a little less aroma.
This means that lemon balm does not have to be limited to the herb bed. The quite attractive perennial can also form a small meadow at the edge of the front yard or find its place at the side of the road. It smells all by itself, without you having to tear off and crush the leaves. The more sun the lemon balm gets, the better and, above all, stronger it smells, and it also provides more aroma in tea or salad. Lemon balm only has no place in locations next to which tender plants, which are perhaps endangered in our climate anyway, are supposed to develop. It can already grow vigorously and could simply overgrow “weaklings”.
Lemon balm in the room
You can also keep the lemon balm as a houseplant (or kitchen plant) if it gets a lot of light, even for quite a long time.
When the lemon balm for the room comes from the supermarket, the first thing to do is to repot it. What she is offered in these tiny little pots is really not enough for her. You should then only use garden soil mixtures that you have mixed yourself. The commercially available substrate can contain all sorts of ingredients that you don’t really want to take via the “detour lemon balm”.
After repotting into a larger pot, the perennial needs rest if you don’t just want to harvest it, but want to harvest it permanently. Then it has to grow properly and then form so much leaf mass that ongoing harvesting (pruning) does not damage it – this can take up to three months. You can tell by looking at your lemon balm when it has developed so splendidly that it can shed leaves.
watering and fertilizing
Lemon balm gets many leaves, which are very large compared to other southern herbs such as thyme. Your water requirement is therefore not very small. But she doesn’t know and doesn’t want waterlogging, and certainly not an ice-cold shower.
It should therefore be watered with the first water that has already acclimatized in the hose, or with rainwater from a barrel. Just enough so that no deep puddles remain. If this happens quickly or the water seems to be running “on the ground”, the soil must be loosened. If it appears very dense, it is best to use green manure with plants that put their roots deeper and more firmly into the ground than the delicate lemon balm.
You can fertilize lemon balm if you want a lot of leaf growth, but first only with organic, natural fertilizer and then with organic fertilizer that does not spoil the aroma. You can later taste what you pour on the plant in the tea. So fertilizing with liquid manure is not such a good idea.
If you’re growing lemon balm to dry, you’ll want to keep it sparse. When used sparingly, it develops more aroma. Sounds illogical? If it isn’t, it will also grow slower and the leaves will stay smaller. The lemon balm simply concentrates on the really important things, aroma = quality instead of growth.
When the lemon balm has grown into a strong bush, around mid/late May, you can start harvesting. Fresh leaves, whenever you need them, bring the greatest pleasure with most lemon balms. Be sure to cut off inflorescences that appear at the beginning of the season just before they bloom, so the lemon balm will keep pushing new shoots. If you can do without or do not want the lemon balm to sow seeds, you can continue doing so until the lemon balm goes into hibernation.
If you want to harvest lemon balm for winter tea supplies, August is your harvest month. In this month, the sun shines most strongly on it, it is already well ripe and thus in a growth stage in which it puts all its effort into developing aroma.
It is best to wait for a sunny and dry day. In the morning, shower the lemon balm very carefully with a fine spray jet (including the underside of the leaves where little animals can sit) and leave them to dry on the bush until midday. You can then harvest at noon, when the lemon balm contains the daily maximum value of essential oils.
Depending on the frequency of the harvest beforehand, there may be flowers on the perennial that can be harvested as well. The twigs are shaken well (insects) hung upside down to dry in a dark, dry and airy place, but lose quite a bit of flavor in the process. Below you will learn about lemon balm varieties that are said to hold the aroma better. If you “only” dry normal lemon balm, a little loss of aroma is not so bad if you have enough lemon balm in the garden – you can then simply add a little more to the tea. The alternative is freezing, but not in very large quantities, at some point the lemon balm loses its aroma even in the freezer.
Propagation by cuttings is possible.
In the case of a large and well-established melissa, you can also divide the entire perennial. Simply cut off a “piece of lemon balm” with a spade.
Lemon balm tea is known from pharmacies, where it is recommended for insomnia and stomach problems, but lemon balm can really do more, even in the area of ”pure enjoyment without healing intentions” (it is of course still good for your health): You can use lemon balm with all sorts of things mixed with other tea herbs, with chamomile and peppermint, fennel and marigold flowers, verbena and rosehip, with orange and sage, this creates the most diverse, often surprising aromas. By trying it out, you can create a very tasty alternative to overly sweet colas and sodas that cover your daily fluid needs in a tastier, healthier and lower-calorie way. If there is a lot of lemon balm, it is always a very relaxing tea that can be drunk every day, just maybe not,
One lemon balm, many flavors
Lemon balm belongs to the mint family and to the tribe Mentheae, in whose 66 genera with around 2,300 species there are many other pretty and interesting flowering and herbal plants: Accentor (Prunella), quendel (Acinos), 130 species of calamint (Clinopodium) and 30 Species mints (Mentha). Oreganum (Origanum, Majorana), savory (Satureja), thyme (Thymus), rosemary (Rosmarinus) and sage (Salvia). Sweet nettle (Agastache), scorpion fish (Dracocephalum), ground ivy (Glechoma), hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis) and catnip (Nepeta).
But first to the “melissa in the narrower sense”, which forms a tiny genus of four Melissa species. The other three species can only be admired once in botanical gardens. Only the Melissa officinalis is cultivated, in several, often very old cultivars:
- Lemon balm, lemon balm, Melissa officinalis, the wild species: Extremely hardy, strong but volatile lemon aroma, green leaves, small white flowers.
- Lime balm, Crete balm, Melissa officinalis ssp. altissima: Despite its origin, it is completely hardy in our country, aroma between lime and tangerine.
- M. officinalis
- ‘Aurea’: Hardly distinguishable from the green lemon balm at first, golden colored foliage from the beginning of June.
- ‘Citronella’: The most fragrant cultivar, up to 4% of essential oil, compact growth, around 30 cm high, extremely hardy.
- ‘Compacta’: dwarf lemon balm, only 25 cm high.
- ‘Gigantea’: The largest lemon balm, grows up to 80 cm high.
- ‘Lemonella’: An improved and even more flavorful ‘Citronella’, is sometimes (incorrectly) called Lemona.
- ‘Lime’: Slightly larger leaves than normal lemon balm, smell more like lime, hardy here.
- ‘Quedlinburger’: Grows up to 60 cm high, was grown for commercial cultivation as a tea herb.
- ‘Quedlinburger Niederliegen’: See above, improved variant with more oil, higher yield and better winter hardiness.
- ‘Variegata’: Colorful yellow lemon balm with interesting variegation, which grows up to 60 cm high.
That was by no means everything in the area of melissa, the sister genera also have melissa to offer (not strictly botanically, but with a view to the aroma). These might be more interesting to gardeners than the Melissa officinalis for several reasons:
White lemon balm, Nepeta cataria ssp. citriodora
subspecies of catnip and thus a real native lemon balm, which used to be found in many cottage gardens and was cultivated by beekeepers on entire fields as a bee food plant. It has a mild aroma with some lemon and a hint of rose and one big benefit. The aroma remains very good even after drying, while the real lemon balm often leaves a lot to be desired. Above all, the tea should taste better fresh than lemon balm tea and should not have a calming effect, but only have a slightly relaxing effect. The best flavor is said to be N. cataria ssp. citriodora develop on clay soils.
Scorpion fish, Moldavian balm, Dracocephalum moldavicum
Annual balm from the Czech Republic and Slovakia, whose mild aroma will appeal to all people for whom the essential oils are otherwise too strong (allergy sufferers, people with liver problems). Also a real blooming beauty with pretty blue lipped flowers that grows very quickly and will self-seed if you let them. Also good as lemon balm for the balcony box.
Scorpion fish, Moldavian balm, white, Dracocephalum moldavicum ‘Snow Dragon’
Can be used like normal Moldavian balm, but snow-white flowers.