Lemon Balm: Plant profile
Lemon Balm, Common Balm, Balm Mint, Bee Balm, Sweet Balm, Melissa
Lemon Balm is a herbaceous plant native to southern Europe and western Asia that has naturalized in other regions around the world. In Britain and Ireland, it can be found growing in the wild as a garden escapee.
Where to find Lemon Balm
Lemon balm can be found in a variety of locations, including parks, gardens, and urban areas. It’s a hardy plant that can thrive in many different environments, and it’s often found growing feral in fields, meadows and along roadsides.
When to find Lemon Balm
Lemon balm can be harvested for its leaves during the spring season. This is when the plant typically produces the freshest and most flavorful leaves.
How to identify Lemon Balm
Lemon balm is a perennial herbaceous plant with bright green leaves that are broadly oval to heart-shaped and sparsely haired with prominent veins. The plant produces small, pale white, and labiate flowers.
The stem of the lemon balm plant is square, which is a unique characteristic of the mint family. The whole plant is highly aromatic, emitting a pleasant lemony scent.
Lemon Balm lookalikes
Although Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is a member of the mint family, it can be distinguished from other plants in the same family by its unique lemony aroma and appearance.
While it may resemble other plants such as Spearmint (Mentha spicata), Watermint (Mentha aquatica), or Deadnettle (Lamium album) in some ways, none of these plants have the same distinctive scent as lemon balm.
In addition, while the flowers of spearmint and watermint may look somewhat similar to those of lemon balm, they do not have the same pale white colour or labiate shape.
All about Lemon Balm
Lemon balm is a fragrant and aromatic herb that boasts a subtle yet delightful citrus scent, making it a popular choice for herb gardens.
Its inconspicuous white flowers also attract bees in large numbers, making it an excellent plant for supporting pollinators.
Although not native to the British Isles, lemon balm can often be found growing in the wild due to its rapid growth and ability to colonize vast areas quickly.
Medicinal properties of Lemon Balm
Lemon balm tea is known for its ability to relieve anxiety, depression, stress, nervous exhaustion, and insomnia due to its mild sedative properties. Drinking a cup of tea before bedtime can promote relaxation and help you achieve a good night’s sleep.
In addition to its calming effects, Lemon Balm tea can also aid in digestion, particularly after meals, by reducing flatulence and bloating.
Lemon balm also has insect-repelling properties, making it a useful herb to have on hand during the summer months.
Culinary uses and recipes with Lemon Balm
Lemon Balm is a versatile herb that boasts a pleasant lemony flavour with a hint of mint.
The young leaves can be tossed into salads for an extra burst of flavour, and they can also be used as an aromatic herb in dishes such as tomato bruschetta, fish marinades, and aromatic salsas.
In addition to savoury dishes, lemon balm can also be used in a variety of sweet desserts and beverages. Its fresh flavour is a great addition to fruit desserts, refreshing drinks, ice cream, and cakes.
Safe Lemon Balm foraging
Avoid harvesting Lemon Balm from areas that have been treated with pesticides or other chemicals.
Ecological importance of Lemon Balm
Although Lemon Balm is not a plant commonly found growing feral, it can sometimes escape from gardens and quickly spread into nearby hedgerows.
Bees are particularly attracted to the nectar produced by Lemon Balm flowers. The plant’s delicate, pale white blooms offer a sweet source of nourishment for these important pollinators.
Sustainable Lemon Balm foraging
Lemon balm is not a native species and is typically growing cultivated or found as a garden escapee.
While harvesting lemon balm leaves for personal use is unlikely to cause harm, it’s important to leave some flowers on the plant as they provide a valuable source of nectar for bees and other pollinators.