The lemon balm plant (botanical name Melissa officinalis) is a plant that comes from the mint family (and indeed looks similar to mint) and is a popular herb. As its name suggests, it has a beautiful lemon smell, so some people use it in potpourri. When in flower, it has little white blossoms. If not carefully controlled, this plant can immediately become invasive in your garden. It is, however, quite simple to control. Pinch out the flower heads to prevent is dropping seeds everywhere.
The common name for this plant is Bee Balm. This is because bees love the flowers – so it is a question of striking a balance with nature. Remove the flowers to stop it from spreading, and you deprive the bees… it’s your call on that one.
Point to note: The plant can grow up to 2 feet tall.
Sowing Lemon Balm
Plant lemon balm in full sun, although it will endure some shade. Grow the plant in any reasonable soil. It is not too fussy. The only thing that it does not like very much is the soggy earth. Sow seeds in springtime, obviously waiting until the frosts have passed.
The seeds need light to sprout, so either don’t cover them or cover them delicately with some fine soil.
If you have got it right, germination will happen in around 14 days.
As with many other plants, you can start them off in your greenhouse or a warm place.
You can split up the roots of established plants quite easily, but give them some protection after replanting using straw, fleece, etc.
Furthermore, you can overwinter a plant in your greenhouse or another warm place. By doing so, you should be able to pick the leaves off all year round.
Sow lemon balm seed ¼ inch down; as stated earlier, lightly cover with soil so the seeds can obtain the light they need. Keep the seedbed slightly damp until the seed grows. Once they begin to germinate, they will need thinning out to about 8″ apart, and later on thin them out even more, to 18 inches (45 cm).
Growing Lemon Balm
I like to grow my lemon balm where it gets the sun, but it can also have a little shade, especially in the heat of the day. Add a little fertiliser to keep the plants perky, and as with all your other crops, get rid of any weeds that will pop up.
Harvesting Lemon Balm
When the plant is growing well, gather small bunches of the leaves fresh for use practically any time during the season, as and when you want them. The leaves don’t take kindly to being picked and not used for a while, so use what you need at that time, and then freeze the rest as ice cubes, ready to use when you need them.
If your plants get a little straggly or you have cut lots of leaves off, tidy up the plant with a pair of scissors or shears. It will soon grow back again, giving you new leaves for use in your kitchen or as a medicine. Lemon balm tea infusion is said to be good for headaches and as a relaxant.
Try chewing a leaf to give yourself very fresh breath, and a crushed leaf on a bite from an insect helps take away the sting or itchiness.
Lemon balm isn’t usually affected by much. Indeed, this herb can prevent bugs etc., from attacking your crops due to its heady scent.
There is a great website by The Nerdy Farm Wife outlining 12 things to do with lemon balm. Check it out – it is really good.
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