Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
Lemon balm is an attractive herb with yellow or variegated leaves smelling strongly of lemons. Is is a great addition to any garden since it is very attractive to bees. A tea made from the leaves is said to relieve tiredness, sooth headaches, and calm nerves.
This vigorous plant will readily spread throughout the border. It reaches a height of 3 feet with a spread of 2 feet. The oval, almost heart-shaped leaves have slightly serrated edges and a pronounced network of veins; they can be up to 2½ inches across. The flowers, which bloom from mid- to late summer are small, white, and insignificant.
Seeds are slow to germinate and are so fine that they hardly need covering at all. An alternative method of propagation is to take cuttings in late spring and root them in water. Plant in warm, moist soil in a sunny location. Good sun and moisture are necessary for the production of essential oil and good fragrance. Cut back to soil level in the fall to encourage strong growth. The plant will not tolerate high humidity. Lemon Balm performs well in containers.
Use fresh leaves in salads and as a garnish for fish and other dishes. When candied, the leaves make attractive cake decorations. Chopped leaves can be added to fish and chicken dishes and sprinkled over fresh vegetables. Add the leaves to cooked dishes in the last few minutes. They can also be added to summer drinks and fruit salads, and make a good substitute for lemon peel in recipes.
Lemon balm is traditionally used to restore nerves. It helps relieve anxiety attacks, palpitations with nausea, mild insomnia and phobias. It combines well with peppermint to stimulate circulation, and can also be used for colds and flu.
An infusion of leaves makes a refreshing skin toner and can be used in rinse water for clothes. A stronger infusion makes a good rinse for oily hair. Use as a facial steam for dry skin. Dried leaves add a lemony scent to Potpourris.