We do find that trimming OFTEN during the growing season
best quality fresh Lemon Balm. And, this also helps to keep the plant from seeding and
spreading. The seeds are numerous and very viable.
Harvesting for drying can be done any time
before flowering. Lemon Balm's delicate flavor diminishes even further when dried.
Take care not to bruise the cuttings and hang in a dry place. Any moisture
present during drying can cause the Lemon Balm stems to rot.
Not a particularly gorgeous herb, Lemon
Balm does make a nice dark green ground cover with stems that rise during
flowering to about 18 inches. The flowers are pretty ho hum, but the bees like
them. Today we know Melissa officinalis as Lemon Balm but there was a
time it was called Bee Balm. In fact the Greeks, who noted the affinity of bees
for the plant, called it melisphylla or the bee plant. Today we use the common
term Bee Balm to refer to
Monarda didyma, also a favorite of bees. According to Stearn's
Dictionary of Plant Names for Gardeners, Melissa is also the name of a Cretan
Princess who first discovered how to get honey.
Great for the bees, but, as we mentioned, Lemon Balm
is really only a so-so
culinary herb. There is some lemon taste when fresh, but not much and there is even less
when dried. This is probably why most recipes that have Lemon Balm as an
ingredient also call for lemon juice.
It is fragrant, sort of, and can be used for
potpourri. In the absolutely gorgeous book by Penny Black, The Book of Potpourri, she lists it
as one of the subtly scented herbs good for drying and she includes it in
her Lemon Mix and in her Marigold, Lemon and Mint Mix. But, even she has it
listed on the ' well, if you have it, you can use it list.'
So why is Lemon Balm so
Centuries of healing!
For centuries, Lemon Balm was highly
prized for making a healthy cordial known as
Eau de Carmes (named after the Carmelite
Friars who invented it). To make this the brothers would take lots of
leaves, that they bruised, and combined them with lemons, other herbs like
Angelica and spices like cloves and then steeped the whole batch in alcohol.
It was highly prized for stomach ailments.
(along with about 26 other ingredients) is still used in the liqueur
Benedictine which is used as an after dinner digestif.
is also reported to be one of the 130 herbs that make the liqueur Chartreuse
which again was originally made to be a health giving tonic.
In Herbal Healing
for Women, Rosemary Gladstar recommends Lemon Balm and
as the perfect way to relax after a stressful day. She also suggests these
for headaches, depression and insomnia. For pregnant women, she advises
as a non toxic tea for allergy sufferers.
Here is an excellent online link that points out the great contributions Lemon
Balm makes to the world.