Growing Lemon Balm: Melissa Officinalis
The lemon-scented balm, a hardy perennial, has been credited with eating stomach ailments, improving the memory, healing wounds, and own of being a source of everlasting
Nowadays, however, it is generally grown for the more realistic purpose of flavouring salads, halts, sauces and cold drinks.
Balm is a good herb to grow near fruit trees, because it attracts bees which help pollination.
Planning the crop
The plant has tubular white flowers, and it might be worth dotting one or two plants in a perennial border. If you do, bear in mind that it is a fairly tall, bushy plant — up to 4 ft (1.2 m) high, and with a spread of 18 in. (455 mm) —and so needs ample space.
It tolerates light shade and thrives in most average soils.
How much to grow
Bearing in mind its substantial size, even a single plant should be sufficient.
How to grow balm
Sow the seeds 2 in. (12 mm) deep in late April or early May where the plants are to grow. Thin the seedlings to 18 in. (455 mm) apart.
Keep the plants well watered during their first summer, and pick the leaves sparingly until they are well established.
In subsequent years, cut the stems back to about 6 in. (150 mm) from the ground each June to encourage the growth of new shoots. Each October, cut them back to just above ground level. In exposed places, cover the roots with straw for the winter.
Raising new plants
Divide in October, and plant pieces of root with three or four buds.
Pests and diseases
Balm is usually trouble-free.
Gather the leaves and young shoots throughout the summer for immediate use. For drying, pick leaves before the plant starts to flower in June and July.
Cooking with balm
Use the lemon-scented leaves, finely chopped, in salad dressings, or as flavourings for white sauces to accompany fish, such as plaice and sole.
Finely chopped leaves can be used as a substitute for grated lemon peel in sweets, cakes, sauces, mayonnaise and fresh-fruit salads.
Rub chicken portions for grilling with bruised leaves, or use the chopped leaves as a stuffing.