What Is Lemon Balm

What is Lemon Balm
For such a wonderful and popular herb, it's surprising more people don’t know about lemon balm (Melissa officinalis). I recently blogged about making lemon balm liquor and received a puzzling number of emails from people who wondered what lemon balm is and what makes it a keeper in the garden.

I forget sometimes that there are lots of folks around who do their herb shopping in the produce department of the market and not the local nursery. For a few herb newbies, if you can't eat it, it must be a landscape plant. That's okay fine, but there are thousands of herbs around, and only a fraction will be straggling along the shelves of your market -- usually next to the mushroom bin or the tofu display. Parsley, sage, dill, cilantro, thyme, tarragon and chives are good eating herbs that can add a lot of flavor value to your recipe repertoire, but there are many other herbs that can pack a power wallop, too.

What Is Lemon Balm, Anyway?

Lemon balm is a plant in the mint family. It doesn't smell like a mint, though. It has a light, sweet, lemony fragrance that most closely resembles the perfumes used in many furniture polish products (which I think are sometimes made with a similar aromatic herb, lemon verbena). It is sometimes marketed as: Sweet Mary, Melissa, Dropsy Plant, Sweet Balm or Honey Plant.
What is Lemon Balm
In the garden, lemon balm likes regular watering. It can exist in poor soil, but it does like a little soil amendment papering now and again. It can thrive in dappled or full sunlight (if it's protected during the hottest part of the day in sweltering areas). Like other herbs plants in the mint family, lemon balm can be invasive, so contain it in a pot or put it in a location where it can sprawl. If you do let it go native, you probably won't be sorry. The light green leaves and wonderful aroma of lemon balm make it a good addition to the garden.

What is Lemon Balm
In cooking, lemon balm isn't a super star. Unlike the herbs mentioned above, it loses its strong fragrance when cooked, so it plays better when used in cold dishes or as a garnish. I add it to salads, especially fruit salad. I also make a refreshing tea with lemon balm (the aroma survives a dunking in boiling water), include it in casual summer flower bouquets and use it to make a very refreshing liquor (with the help of lemons, sugar and vodka).
Although the official word hasn't come in yet, lemon balm may have some effectiveness in treating the early symptoms of Alzheimer's disease and a number of stomach ailments and sleep disorders.

Honestly, lemon balm is one of my absolute favorites. It's friendly. If you have a garden favorite inhabiting a shady spot on your property, you probably know what I mean. If you're new to gardening -- wow, you have some fun surprises in store. Make lemon balm one of them.

To learn how to grow and use this fun and interesting herb, visit my post: How to Grow Lemon Balm


"Drug and Natural Medicine Advisor." Time Life Books. 2003.

Houdret, Jessica. "Practical Herb Garden." Anness Publishing Ltd. 2003.

Wolters Kluwer Health. "Lemon Balm." 2009. (7/20/11).

University of Maryland Medical Center. "Lemon Balm." 3/22/2009. (7/20/11).
Photo 1
448px-200707_x_Mélisse_01.JPG By I, Semnoz [GFDL (, CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.
Photo 2
Lemon_balm_(2).jpg By Datkins (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo 3
800px-Lemon_balm_2.JPG By Datkins (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (], via Wiki


  1. I am reading your post while drinking a cup (actually, a mug) of black tea with several lemon balm leaves from my garden. Thanks for the info! Yes, it spreads around the garden if you don't control it. But what a beautiful gift it makes!

  2. Tatyana,

    Every once in a while, I accidentally drag the garden hose over a corner of my lemon balm patch. It's a fragrant surprise every time it happens.

    Thanks for sharing.



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