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I don't wish to curse us with a spell of bad weather, but I think it's safe to say that summer is here! My garden tells me this, although I'm away at the moment so my wife is very kindly posting photo updates onto my Facebook page! Helped by a glorious April and May, one of the many plants currently thriving in my garden is lemon balm, Latin name Melissa oficinalis.
In fact, it's thriving to the extent that its been discovered growing quite unexpectedly in the onion patch and various pots, none of which are anywhere near the pot that contains the lemon balm where I intended it to be!
Once germinated, lemon balm is a hardy perennial that will die off down to ground level over winter but you will see green shoots as the plant regenerates in early spring. To grow from seed, if you place the seeds thinly onto moist compost or vermiculite then seal inside a polythene bag (I use clingfilm over the seed tray - as it's see-through I can tell when the seeds have germinated) and keep in a warm place for between one and three weeks you shouldn't go far wrong.
When the seedlings are big enough to handle, after being put into whatever container you wish to grow them on in, they should be gradually hardened off before being left outside permanently. Mature lemon balm bushes can have woody stems (similar to rosemary) and the bush itself resembles mint - after all it is in the same family. Most common lemon balm is green, although you can get variegated leaves with yellow streaks and blotches in them.
As a neighbour to other plants, it is a bit of a bully with expansionist tendencies - as I said above I have found lemon balm sprouting in all sorts of places around my garden. As a feature to the garden, and for those with an interest in sensory gardening, lemon balm is a delight to rub between the fingers - it will leave a wonderfully fresh sweet citrus scent on your skin which reminds me of lemon meringue. Also, the variegated varieties are a pleasure for the eye and can brighten any bare unloved patch of soil.
The bushes grow to approximately half a metre high, and have small delicate white flowers with a tinge of pink, similar to nettle flowers. Like most herbs that originate from the Mediterranean zone, it prefers well draining soil and will not tolerate having it's roots sitting in wet, heavy clay over winter. It doesn't seem to mind the 'cut and come again' style of harvesting of it's leaves, which are excellent when added to stuffing, fish, poultry and jugs of fruit juice with ice cubes to be drunk in the garden on sunny afternoons. The leaves of lemon balm can also be brewed and drunk as a tea which has a calming effect. Lemon balm also has antibacterial and antiviral properties.
In summary, I'd recommend anyone with a spare plant pot to try growing lemon balm this year, it has many culinary uses, smells wonderful, is easy to grow and the variegated types are a pleasure to look at. Also, it has herbal medicinal properties. I have awarded lemon balm 4 out of 5 stars, I have taken one star off for it's capacity to spread like wildfire.
Lemon balm can grow to about 4 ft tall. The leaves are oval in shape. When they are crushed, they have a lemony smell. There are little white flowers. Lemon balm is a bee plant, and comes from the word 'balsam', meaning balm for your sorrows. ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ It can be good for a number of conditions:- ~ Nervous complaints ~ Internally for viral complaints, such as cold sores, shingles, cold and flu ~ Externally for cold sores ~ In menopause, to ease symptoms ~ To help regulate periods and reduce period pains. The parts used are the leaves and flowers. You can take it as an infusion. Take 200 ml (8 fl oz) 3 times a day for headaches and nervous conditions. You can prepare it as a cream or ointment to use on cold sores. Or use it as an essential oil in an oil burner to uplift your spirits, or you can add it to your bath to relieve stress and tension. *Do not* use the oil internally. And *don't* add the oild to a baby's bath, as the baby can digest some of it by sucking their fingers. ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ To make an infusion, simply warm up a teapot, and add the leaves of the herb. Boil the kettle and add boiling water. Leave the pot to stand, letting the tea brew for about 10 minutes. Use a tea strainer and pour the tea into a cup.
Lemon balm is a delightful herb. I first came across growing happily in my new house's garden. Just brushing past it releases a wonderful scent. Imagine lemon, but without the tartness. I love watering it in the evenings, not because it needs it, but because this releases more of the scent. It grows very fast after being cut, but not so fast so that it's invasive. In the autumn, it starts to die off. Cut the stems as they will never grow leaves again. What I do is is scatter the cut stems on a path, and stepping on them releases even more of the lovely scent. Don't worry about the remains of your lemon balm plant. It will grow again nice and vigorously in the spring, bushier than ever. Enjoy the smell, and plant it next to a path or doorway where you can brush it with your body or hand as you walk past.
Lemon balm is very easy to grow and once established in your garden it will self seed around the plant. Lemon balm needs a fair amount of area to reach its true potential height of about 3 - 4 feet. In summer it produces tall spikelets of white/yellowy cream flowers that attract bees and butterflies. It needs free draining soil in a sunny position and will withstand full sun although it approves of gentle watering through the dry summer months. It also thrives on arrid soil without a hint of organic matter so you will be surprised where the seedlings grow. It will also appreciated some well rotted organic compost. It needs to be cut back in Autumn after the seeds have developed or if you want to keep it at bay, cut back before the seeds dry. The leaves of the lemon balm are very aromatic and when brushed release a heady lemon aroma. They can be used to make a tisaine - steeped in hot water to produce a lemon flavoured tea with a hint of mint. It can also be used as a fabric freshener on a rinse cycle - a cooled strained steeped mixture can be poored into the conditioner part of your machine to leave your clothes with a hint of lemon. It is an allrounder for the herb garden although can be invasive if not kept on a short rein.