Soothe the day away with Common lemon balm, a culinary and medicinal herb with a strong lemony aroma. Crinkled leaves resemble mint leaves, a close relative. White flowers are very attractive to bees, so its a great plant for home gardeners to attract pollinators. Common lemon balm grows well in containers and is a great perennial for cold climates, tolerating winters down to USDA Zone 3. It will die back in the cold, but well-mulched plants will re-sprout in the spring from underground roots. Use this versatile plant for herbal teas, flavoring dessert recipes, and in fruit salads as well as potpourri. Lemon balm is considered easy to grow and can (like mint) actually take over in your garden if left untended!
Seed Depth: Press into surface of soil.
Space Between Plants: 12″
Space Between Rows: 12″
Germination Soil Temperature: 55–70 °F
Days for Germination: 10–15
Sow Indoors: 6 weeks before average last frost date.
Sow Outdoors: 1–2 weeks after average last frost date.
Vegetative: Can be propagated by taking stem cuttings. Root in a glass of water, sterile soilless mix, or aeroponic system.
Grows best in a moderate climate. Native to Mediterranean regions and central Asia, it will die back to the roots if exposed to winter frosts but should regrow in spring from well-protected roots. Expect it to survive as a perennial down to USDA Zone 3 with sufficient mulch. In warmer climates, lemon balm will remain green year-round.
Natural: Full sun. Prefers partial shade in hot or dry climates.
Artificial: Will grow well under standard fluorescent lamps, high output fluorescents, and HIDs. Needs at least 6 hours of light daily; however, more is preferred.
Soil: Prefers a well-drained sandy, loamy, or clay soil with a high amount of organic matter. A pH of between 6.0 and 7.5 will keep plants healthy and nourished.
Soilless: Grow plants, germinate seeds, or root cuttings in most soilless media, including coco coir, rockwool, perlite, and soilless mixes.
Hydroponics: Thrives in hydroponic systems including NFT and recirculating media beds using clay pellets or mineral wool.
Aeroponics: Root cuttings in aeroponic systems. Young plants will do will but may start to take up a lot of space.
Water: Requires moderate levels of water. Soil should be kept moist, but take care not to overwater. Somewhat drought tolerant, but be aware leaves will lose flavor in dryer conditions.
Nutrients: Requires low levels of nutrients. Amend with compost before planting and side dress 1–2 times per growing season. Feed with calcium once per 3–4 years. Too much nitrogen will cause the leaves to grow large but be less tasty.
Foliar: Will benefit from foliar feedings of copper, manganese, iron, calcium, and/or zinc. These treatments have been shown to improve growth and yields, particularly in poor or alkaline soils, as well as boost essential oil production.
Pruning: Will benefit from annual pruning in the late summer or early fall. Cut or break off stems near the base, taking about 1/3 of the plant. If plants look stressed or unhealthy, prune them back to 2″ from the ground to allow new growth to form. If you don’t want your lemon balm to reseed, pick off flowers before they mature.
Mulching: Use mulch to protect the roots of plants growing in USDA Zones 4 and below.
Deficiency(s): A calcium deficiency will result in reduced plant vigor.
Rotation: A 3- or 4-year rotation away from all plants in the Lamiaceae or mint family is recommended.
Companions: Grows well with tomatoes, squash, melons, broccoli, kale, cauliflower, and other brassica family plants. Dried leaves can be used as a deterrent to many types of pesky garden insects.
Harvest: Cut the last third of a stem to use the young leaves at any time: this encourages the plant to grow new side branches. Only harvest in the first year if plants are growing well and healthy. Leaves will have the best flavor when picked before the plant starts to flower. Pick plants at the heat of the day to get the most aromatic leaves. Handle leaves carefully, as they bruise easily.
Storage: Fresh leaves or cut stems can be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container for 3–4 days. Alternately, place cut stems in a jar of water and cover the tops with plastic.
Other uses: Fragrant leaves may be used in baths or for potpourri. Also useful as a furniture polish.
Pollinators: White flowers are very attractive to bees, which gives the genus its scientific name Melissa, the Greek word for honey bee. If you keep bees, plant this to help prevent them from swarming.
Other names: Sweet balm, balm mint, common balm, cure-all, dropsy plant, English balm, garden balm, honey plant.
Preserve: Leaves can be dried for later use, though they will lose some flavor. Dry on trays or hanging upside down in a dry place with good air flow. Store dried leaves in an airtight container. They can also be frozen, whole or chopped, in oil or water.
Prepare: Leaves are used as a flavoring for desserts or main dishes. Add chopped or crushed leaves to salads (especially fruit salads), sandwiches, stews, curries, vegetables, crepes, ice cream, dressings, sauces, or oil and vinegar to impart a lemony flavor. Often brewed as a tea or an infusion, using either fresh or dried leaves. Also used as a flavoring in some liqueurs or to make herbal wine.
Nutritional: Provides vitamin(s) A, C, phosphorus, and calcium. A good source of potent antioxidants.
Medicinal: Has anti-inflammatory, antiviral, sedative, diuretic, expectorant, and mild antibacterial properties. Has been studied for the possibility of reducing the effects of radiation-induced oxidative stress in radiology staff. Topical use can reduce redness, itching, and other symptoms associated with vital or bacterial infections. Also used for digestive problems like bloating, gas, and nausea, pain including menstrual cramps and toothaches, and mental disorders including anxiety, Alzheimer’s, and other memory issues, and sleep disorders. Leaves are also used as a mosquito repellent when crushed and rubbed on the skin.
Warnings: May inhibit the absorption of the thyroid medication thyroxine.
Top garden salads with this Lemon Balm Vinaigrette.