Common name: Lemon balm, common balm, balm mint, melissa
Botanical name: Melissa officinalis
Family: Lamiaceae (Mint)
Worldwide distribution: Native to southern Europe and western Asia. Naturalised elsewhere.
Local distribution: Britain and Ireland.
Habitat: Park, gardens and urban areas.
Foraging season: Leaves in spring.
This member of the mint family with subtle and pleasant citrus scent is an aromatic herb of great medicinal interest. The attractive foliage makes lemon balm a decorative plant to have in your garden and the inconspicuous white flowers will attract bees in numbers.
Lemon balm is not a native plant but it’s often found growing in the wild as a garden escapee because it spreads rapidly and colonises vast areas in no time. It’s an adaptable plant that easily thrives both in shade and in full sun, though only sheltered spots will guarantee green leaves all year round.
Pick the leaves in early spring until summer, preferably just before the flowers open, as they become tough and harsh as the plant mature.
A lemon balm tea helps to relieve anxiety, depression, stress, nervous exhaustion and insomnia due to its mild sedative properties. It’s also good after meals to aid digestion, flatulence and bloating. You can even rub the leaves on your skin as an insect repellent.
Lemon balm has a pleasant lemony flavour with a hint of mint. Toss young leaves into salads and use as aromatic herb in tomato bruschetta or fish marinades and salsas. The fresh flavour is good in fruit desserts, refreshing drinks, ice cream and cakes.