Newest Review: ... green shoots as the plant regenerates in early spring. To grow from seed, if you place the seeds thinly onto moist compost or vermiculit... more
Sweet lemony leaves with medicinal properties
Member Name: Stewwydablue
Advantages: Makes a pleasant addition to many different dishes
Disadvantages: A bit of a bully in shared beds
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.
Summary: An easy to grow herb with a variety of uses