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Featured Plant – Lemon Balm

Lemonbalm1_2 Have you ever grown a plant so long, you started to assume everyone already knew all about it?

It happened to me once when someone visited my garden and said, “What is this lovely smelling plant?” My first reaction was to say “Oh THAT? It’s just lemon balm,” as if it were nothing special. Poor plant!

Lemon balm is something special and just because it seems common to me, does not mean it is common to everyone. It deserves better than that!

So this week, I am featuring Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) as my plant of the week. (Cue the music…)


What makes lemon balm special is its wonderful lemony fragrance. It is a gentle fragrance that is not overpowering. Brush the plant with a hand as you walk by and it fills the area with this delicious scent. It’s leaves are light green and oval-shaped with dainty scalloped edges. It does flower but they are tiny, white and inconspicuous.

I cook a lot with my lemon balm. It adds a gentle lemon zest flavor to foods. Use it just as you would a lemon in cooking with fish, poultry and vegetable recipes. The leaves can also be used in fruit deserts, ice cream, custard and pastry. In beverages, lemon balm works well in hot or cold tea, punch or a tangy lemonade. You can use the leaves fresh or dried.

I also use lemon balm in flower arrangements, adding scent to the bouquet. When the leaves are dry, they do hold the fragrance well, making them good for potpourri recipes.

Lemon balm is related to mint and so it looks a bit like mint when in the garden. However, is not as invasive. Lemon balm grows as a small bushy perennial and reaches about 2-3 feet tall. It spreads in clumps, much slower than mint and is fairly easy to keep under control. I just divide mine every other year and give clumps to friends. Where most people have problem with lemon balm is with the seeds sprouting up in unwanted areas. But in my garden, it has never been an unruly garden guest. It has always acted like a lady, always gently moving without pushing out neighbors and never weedy with its seed.

Grow lemon balm in full sun to partial shade. It can be propagated by seeds, layering or division. The seeds germinate best if left uncovered.

Now, in most areas, this is NOT the time to plant lemon balm. But this lovely plant was on my mind because this it the time of year that I cut mine back.  In my warm winter climate, I cut it to the ground in the fall and it immediately starts all over, looking lovely again by January. (Remember, this is Los Angeles…the home of the Rose Parade…It is warm in January.) In cold winter climates, lemon balm will survive the winter if cut back and then mulched heavily in the fall.


Goodwin Creek Gardens – for plants

Park Seeds – for seeds

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About the Author:

Theresa Loe is the founder of Living Homegrown® and the Canning Academy®. For 9 years, Theresa was the Co-Executive Producer & Canning Expert on the national PBS gardening series, Growing A Greener World®. Theresa homesteads on just 1/10th of an acre in Los Angeles with her husband, two sons and several disorderly but totally adorable chickens. Learn more about Living Homegrown here and about the Canning Academy here.