Growing lemon balm indoors

Growing Tangy Lemon Balm Indoors

Lemon Balm is true to its name having a very distinct lemon scent and flavor. Among many things it is a stunning garnish especially for sorbet!

Medicinal and Nutritional Benefits

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), is a flavorful member of the mint family, is considered a calming herb. It was used as far back as the Middle Ages to reduce stress and anxiety, promote sleep, improve appetite, and ease pain and discomfort from indigestion (including gas and bloating, as well as colic). Even before the Middle Ages, lemon balm was steeped in wine to lift the spirits, help heal wounds, and treat venomous insect bites and stings. Today, lemon balm is often combined with other calming, soothing herbs, such as valerian, chamomile, and hops, to help promote relaxation. It is also used in creams to treat cold sores

Culinary Uses

Lemon Balm has a delicate lemon flavor, and can be used in many dishes. The fresh leaves of the lemon balm plant can be used eye-catching garnish. The chopped fresh leaves of lemon balm can be tossed into a salad or added to a dish to add a lemony zest to sweet or tangy dishes.

Lemon balm is a wonderful addition to fruit salads, herb butters, fruit drinks, and sorbets. It can also be used in many egg dishes, custards, a variety of soups and casseroles. Lemon Balm makes a great addition for stuffing for poultry, lamb or pork. Its subtle flavor is a perfect for sauces and marinades for fish. Lemon balm combines well with many spices including chervil, pepper, thyme, and parsley.

Fun Fact

Lemon balm is great for attracting bees to your garden. Its Latin name, Melissa officinalis comes from the Greek word “melissa” which means “honey bee”.

How To Grow Tangy Lemon Balm in an Urban Cultivator

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Lemon balm’s Latin name is taken from the Greek word for bee (Melissa), and from the ancient belief that a swarm of honeybees could be attracted to an empty hive simply by placing sprigs of the plant inside. Follow these How to Grow Lemon Balm from seeds instructions and grow some wonderful “Lemony” flavour. Grow in container or contained area of the garden as this plant spreads.

Latin
Melissa officinalis
Family: Lamiaceae

Difficulty
Easy

Season & Zone
Season: Cool season
Exposure: Sun or part-shade
Zone: Hardy from zone 5 and above.

Timing
Start indoors 6 to 8 weeks before last frost, and transplant out or direct so in late March to mid-April.

Starting
Barely cover the tiny seeds. Use a sterilized potting soil, and keep watering to an absolute minimum – just enough to keep the medium from drying out. Germination takes 10-14 days. Once seedlings are large enough to handle, transplant at a spacing of 45cm (18″) into the garden.

Growing
Choose a shady spot or a location where plants can be protected from midday sun. Lemon balm prefers a fertile, moist soil in a cooler part of the garden. Plants grown in partial shade will be larger and more succulent than those exposed to full sun.

Harvest
Pick leaves throughout the summer for fresh use. The aroma is rapidly lost when dried or stored.

The common name for lemon balm – Melissa officinalis. An aromatic, sweet herb perennial related to the mint family and grown in herb gardens for seasoning purposes.

The herb is also used in liqueurs and used historically as a medicine. Growing up to 2-feet tall with 2-lipped flowers during the late summer.

The lemon balm leaves carry a lemon scent and flavor, it’s also listed as one of our 13 mosquito repellant plants.

Lemon balm originated from the old-world but is widely naturalized in America.

The preferred soils to plant the perennial herb are fertile well-drained clay or sandy loam.

How To Grow Lemon Balm

When growing lemonbalm it grows in clumps and spreads by seed as well as vegetatively. It can grow well in containers, outdoors and hydroponics. The herb should be planted 12-15 inches apart and will grow in a relatively wide pH range from 5.6 (acidic) and 9.0 (strongly alkaline) but the preferred range is 6.0 to 7.5.

While planting lemon balm outdoors, plant in a full sun location. In a dry climate, it grows best in partial shade. When growing lemon balm indoors, it grows satisfactorily under a high-intensity fluorescent sun lamp. The plant will remain green during winter. The seeds germinate between 12 to 21 days.

When planting the herb indoors from seeds, plant the seeds for at least 8 weeks before the last date of spring frost. When planting the seeds outdoors, plant in late fall in full sun.

Lemon balm grows in zones 4 through 9. In US zone 7, lemon balm can be harvested until the end of November.

Its fragrant blossoms attract bees, butterflies and birds and being drought resistant makes it useful in xeriscaping.

Lemon Balm Care

Watering Melissa Officinalis

Water plants when the foliage begins to look wilted. When growing in high temperatures water at least once a week. When planted in cool and shady corners, they will require less water. When watering be sure to water deeply and saturate the roots.

Allow the top soil to dry before watering again as soggy soil may cause rotting of the plant. For container-grown lemon balm may require daily watering.

Mulching The Herb

Adding 1-2 inches of mulch (compost or grass clipping) will benefit lemon balm and require less fertilizer. Mulch improves soil quality and helps moisture and cooler root temperatures during hot and dry weather.

Fertilizing Lemon Balm

Use an All Purpose Fertilizer during spring and after harvest if growth appears stunted. Follow the manufacturer’s directions when applying fertilizer. Do NOT over fertilize as excessive use can cause lush growth and reduces aroma and flavor.

Pruning And Trimming

Lemon Balm Melissa Officinalis responds well to pruning. Remove spread blooms immediately to reduce the chances of the plant going to seed aggressively. Cut plants back to only a few inches tall several times during the growing season. This allows the herb to remain vibrant, and keep it from going to seed.

NOTE: As a rapid grower plants can easily overtake a whole herb garden, grow Lemon Balm in containers to prevent spreading.

Propagating From Stems Cuttings

Lemon balm plants propagate easily via cuttings. Take cuttings during mid-summer and with 3 to 4 buds. Dip the cutting in a rooting someone and plant lemon balm cuttings in a well-drained soil out of direct sun. Give the plant some extra humidity by adding a “humidity dome” – easy to do with soda bottles.

Pests And Diseases

This sturdy, disease resistant plant does not like high humidity and soggy soils. Too much moisture leads to diseases such as powdery mildew and root rot. Water the plant early in the morning to allow time for the foliage to dry before evening. The best option is watering at the base or use drip irrigation to keep foliage.

Good spacing of 18-24 inches allows air circulation hence preventing diseases. Harvesting the plant leaves early also promotes air circulation. Tiny red mites, thrips and whitefly also enjoy dining on the plant.

Herbal Properties And Uses Of Lemon Balm

Used in treating a wide range of health disorders. Used to treat insect bites, stings and wounds when steeped with a little wine. Studies shows the medicinal herbs as effective aid for herpes simplex. Further studies show when combined with chamomile, valerian and hops, as a remedy for insomnia and nervousness. The fresh leaves are widely used for preparing lemon balm teas while the essential oils find use in aromatherapy, steamy facials and skin cleansing.

Some people may experience contact dermatitis with the herb, test yourself first before using these medicinal plants in any way.

A Caution

Some consider lemon balm a noxious weed and in other areas as an invasive plant. The herb self-sows freely, remove flowers if you do not need volunteer seedlings.

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Modern medicine is wonderful. I am so grateful for all the life-saving advances the medical community has made, several of which have saved lives within my own family. You better bet, if I get into a car accident or break my arm or get really sick, I’m heading to the hospital.

That being said, as wonderful as modern discoveries like antibiotics or the MRI machine are, I don’t believe that they completely erase the benefits of the natural medicines we humans have relied on for centuries. I like to think of modern medicine as a glorious addition to our awesome arsenal of tools to keep ourselves healthy—and I personally want to have that entire arsenal at the ready. One thing having Lyme disease has taught me is that you shouldn’t rule out anything that might help you—especially when it can’t hurt you.

Herbal medicine, in particular, is one of my favorite ways to help supplement conventional medical care. Herbalism is incredibly safe (I don’t know of many folks that have ODed on peppermint leaves), it’s affordable, it’s accessible, it’s gentle, and it has centuries worth of anecdotal and scientific evidence to back it up.

Diving into the world of medicinal herbs can be incredibly overwhelming. There are literally thousands upon thousands of plants that our species has used as medicine. But that doesn’t mean you can’t dip your toes into the herbalism waters.

In fact, there are three plants you can pick up right now at your local nursery or hardware store that are a great entry point into herbal medicine. And you don’t even have to have a yard to grow them. Just a sunny window and some pots, and you’re on your way to creating your own mini medicinal herb garden. Let’s dig in.

Aloe Vera

Aloe vera probably isn’t a stranger to most of you—in fact, chances are, this is one medicinal herb that you have already used when you last got a sunburn! Aloe is an incredibly easy plant to grow and it thrives indoors.

What It Does

Snap open an aloe leaf and you’ll see tons of clear gel—that clear gel is an excellent home remedy for all kinds of skin ailments. Slather it on sunburns, cold sores, minor cuts, and rashes (but always consult with your healthcare professional if something seems serious) to soothe pain and help speed up healing. Because of its skin-soothing properties, aloe is also an excellent addition to homemade beauty products like soaps and moisturizers.

The gel can also be taken internally to help with digestive issues. Just like it helps heal tissue topically, aloe gel can help heal tissues in the digestive system, too. The one caveat here is that you need to be careful ingesting too much of the aloe latex—which is the yellow-ish sap that seeps from the leaf when cut. It tastes bitter and can act as a strong laxative for some people. To avoid this, most people open up a whole leaf, then use a spoon or knife to scoop out the gel (this video shows you how)—leaving the outer green leaf and latex behind. You can then puree the gel in a blender to make it smooth and easy-to-spread (and eat!).

Where to Get It

Check out the houseplants/indoor plants section of your local big box hardware store or nursery. Chances are, they’ll have a section of aloe plants. Sometimes they’re also stocked with the succulents—since aloe is, in fact, a succulent (who knew something so helpful was also so trendy?). A small pot will run you about $5.

Don’t want to grow it yourself? Many larger supermarkets—especially international supermarkets—will carry whole aloe leaves that you can take home and extract the gel from yourself. Aloe vera gel will spoil relatively quickly on its own—it’ll last about a week in the fridge. To naturally preserve it, mix in a few drops of Vitamin E oil. That’ll get you 6-8 months in the fridge. Here is a great article on to make aloe vera gel at home.

How to Grow It

Aloe plants, like all succulents, prefer a dry, loose soil. Aloe plants don’t like being wet, so you want to make sure your pot has plenty of drainage holes and your soil is amended with lots of perlite or sand (you can also buy special potting soil designed for cacti). Allow the soil to go completely dry before watering. Aloe plants are hard to kill, but 9 times out of 10, if you kill it, it’s because you’ve given it too much water. Definitely err on the side of too little water. Aloe plants don’t really need regular fertilizer—they’re pretty low maintenance.

Because it is a desert plant, aloe likes lots of sunshine and lots of warmth—don’t try to grow it in the basement. A sunroom or bright window is perfect.

Peppermint

You’re probably familiar with peppermint, but did you know that in addition to tasting awesome, peppermint also is an amazingly powerful medicine that can help soothe upset tummies and get rid of headaches?

Peppermint—especially in the form of tea—is a rockstar for tummy troubles. It’ll settle upset stomach caused by motion sickness, indigestion, or even morning sickness (I will say though, peppermint didn’t put a dent in my extreme morning all-the-time-for-nine-straight-months sickness). Peppermint is a natural antispasmodic—which means it can help reduce stomach cramping. I make a habit of having a cup of hot peppermint tea after anytime I have a big meal.

Peppermint is also a great herb to use if you’re prone to headaches (and especially if you are prone to migraines that give you nausea—two birds, one stone). Peppermint can help reduce the pain and duration of headaches when taken as a tea or in a tincture. I’m actually creating a headache tincture right now that uses peppermint, lavender, and chamomile.

Peppermint plants are easy to track down—you should be able to find them in the herb section at any nursery or hardware store. Sometimes, I also see mint (and other culinary) herb plants in pots in the produce section at my local grocery store.

How to Grow It

If you can’t get your hands on a plant, mint is also really easy to start from seed, and easy to grow indoors. In fact, one of the biggest issues with mint is that it spreads like wildfire—making it bit of a troublemaker in the outdoor garden. I prefer to grow my mint in containers. Keep it by a sunny window, keep it watered regularly, and you’ll have mint for making tea for as long as you like! When the weather warms up, feel free to move your mint pot outside to enjoy the fresh air. Then, when it cools down again, bring her back in to stay cozy for the winter.

Lemon Balm

Lemon balm—which is a member of the mint family—is probably the least known on this list, but one of my favorite medicinal herbs to grow! Not only does it smell and taste amazing, but personally, it’s medicinal qualities have been incredibly helpful in my life.

What it Does

Lemon balm is a rockstar herb for taking the edge off of mild anxiety and depression. Obviously, don’t throw out your antidepressants and stop seeing your therapist because you started drinking lemon balm tea—but if you have mild situational anxiety or depression, lemon balm might be something worth exploring to see if it helps you weather the storm.

Part of the reason why it works so well is that lemon balm is a mild sedative—it helps relax the nervous system. For me personally, it’s mild enough that I don’t feel sleepy, just relaxed. I used lemon balm tea frequently when I was dealing with intense bouts of anxiety during the first few months of battling Lyme disease. Did it completely remove my anxiety? No. But it did the same thing my 0.5mg prescription of Ativan did—took the edge off just enough for me to cope. (Note: I didn’t stop taking my prescription to start taking lemon balm. I had a short-term prescription, and when I ran out, I explored other options—and landed on lemon balm.)

Lemon balm is also a strong antiviral—in particular, it works well to help combat both shingles and herpes. Another awesome benefit of lemon balm? It’s a natural mosquito repellent. And since the leaves are bursting with essential oil, basically all you have to do is brush up against a plant to release a ton of mosquito-stopping scent into the air.

One caveat with lemon balm: In some folks, it can inhibit thyroid function when ingested regularly. This isn’t a problem if you have a normal thyroid, but if you are hypothyroid, only use lemon balm under the guidance of a healthcare professional who is keeping an eye on your levels.

Tracking down a lemon balm plant is a bit more tricky, but I’ve seen them at some of the big box hardware stores that have robust nursery sections. Check with the herbs and other vegetable garden plants.

Lemon balm grows similarly to peppermint—it’s a perennial in zones five through nine, and likes good quality soil (what plant doesn’t?), lots of sunshine, and regular watering. Lemon balm doesn’t spread in the overwhelming way mint does, so if you do eventually want to put your plant in the ground, you can without worries. But it’ll live happily in a pot in a sunny window, too. In fact, lemon balm can handle a little bit of shade, so if you don’t have a super sunny window, lemon balm might be the answer. I will say, bees love lemon balm! So if you have the space to grow a plant outdoors, go ahead and put one out—our bee friends will thank you.

There are of course so many other plants that you can grow indoors that have medicinal benefits. In fact, pretty much any culinary herb is a robust medicine, too—basil can help with nausea, thyme is a powerful disinfectant and is great for treating coughs, rosemary can help improve your memory, sage is a hormone regulator—you get the picture. You have an entire apothecary in your herb garden and might not even know it! Aren’t plants amazing?

Growing Lemon Balm in Containers

Lemon balm is a member of the mint family. It is an aromatic perennial herb easily grown in containers. A versatile plant, lemon balm is widely used as a seasoning for cooking, an ingredient for potpourri, and medicinally in teas, salves, and treatments for cold symptoms.

1. Location

Lemon balm likes a bright, sunny location but tolerates shade well. It is drought tolerant when established, but is happier with moist soil. Mulch will provide protection from harsh winter weather. It also holds moisture cooling the plant in hotter or drier regions. Container grown lemon balm thrives on a patio or porch where it is protected from drying winds and midday sun. It makes an excellent indoor houseplant as well. Lemon balm grows well on a sunny windowsill or under “grow lights” of any type.

2. Propagation

Propagate lemon balm by seed, cuttings, or division. Grown outdoors, lemon balm will propagate vegetatively with rhizomes as well as seed. Left unattended in the garden or yard, it can easily become invasive.

3. Seed

Lemon balm seed is small, and has a hard coat. Soak seeds overnight in warm water to soften the seed coat before planting. Sow the seeds in good quality potting soil at a depth of ¼ inch. Use a container that allows good drainage. A pot with a saucer allowing water to be wicked up from underneath and the excess drained away would be ideal. Water the seeds by misting if bottom watering is not practical. Avoid knocking the seeds out of the soil or burying them too deeply with a heavy stream of water. Keep the container in a sunny spot, the soil moist but not wet. The seeds will germinate in 12 to 21 days.

4. Cuttings

Stem cuttings taken from areas of vigorous new growth are easily rooted. Cut a four to six-inch piece from the parent plant with at least two to three nodes. Scrape around the stem at the bottom. Apply rooting hormone, tapping off any excess. Plant the cutting in fresh potting soil. Water it in well. The plant will root in two to three weeks.

5. Division

Divide lemon balm in the spring or fall. If divided in the fall, allow adequate time for the new plants to become established before the first frost. If needed, move the container to an unheated garage, or bring it inside until the weather is mild. Dig up or un-pot a mature plant carefully. Shake loose soil clinging to the roots. Using hands or a sharp knife, cut the crown of the plant into sections. Woody or dead portions of the plant or its roots can be discarded. Ensure that at least three buds and a good amount of root are separated with each new plant. Carefully repot or plant the lemon balm with some fresh potting soil. Water it well to firm the soil.

6. Maintenance

Aside from regular watering, lemon balm requires little care. Fertilizer is usually unnecessary and should be used sparingly. If the container is kept outside, the lemon balm’s seed may well spread to the surrounding area with the wind. Cut or pinch off blooms before the seed matures to prevent this.

How To Grow Lemon balm

Melissa officinalis

Common name for Melissa officinalis, an aromatic, sweet herb of the Mint Family grown in the herb garden for seasoning, and also used in liqueurs and historically, as a medicine. Lemon balm grows to 2 feet tall and has small 2-lipped flowers in late summer, and leaves of a decided lemon odor and flavor.

Of Old-World origin, it is widely naturalized in America. It is easily propagated by division or alternatively, by seeds sown in garden beds or coldframe.

Growing the Herb Lemon Balm

Lemon balm is relatively easy to cultivate outdoors in United States Department of Agriculture Plant Hardiness Zones 4 through 9. In zone 4, it needs winter mulch and a well-drained sandy soil to survive.

In zone 7, it can be harvested at least until the end of November. It is moderately shade-tolerant, much more so than most herbs. In dry climates, it grows best in partial shade.

Lemon balm grows in clumps and spreads vegetatively as well as by seed. In mild temperate zones, the stems of the plant die off at the start of the winter, but shoot up again in spring. It can be easily grown from stem cuttings, or from seeds. Under ideal conditions, it will seed itself prolifically and can become a nuisance in gardens.

Lemon Balm Growing Cultures

Outdoors, in containers, and hydroponics.

Lemon Balm Plant Height

Lemon balm usually grows to a height of 12 to 18 inches (30 -45cm).

Lemon Balm Plant Spacing

Lemon balm plants should be spaced between 12 and 15 inches (30 and 38 cm) apart.

Lemon Balm Preferred pH Range

Lemon balm will grow in a relatively wide pH range between 5.6 (acidic) and 9.0 (strongly alkaline) with a preferred range of 6.0 to 7.5.

Lemon Balm Propagation

From seed. Start seeds indoors six to eight weeks before last frost.

Lemon Balm Seed Germination Period

Lemon balm seeds germinate between 12 and 21 days.

Lemon Balm Number of Seeds per Gram

There are approximately 2,000 Lemon balm seeds per gram.

Lemon Balm Soil Requirements

Lemon balm prefers a fertile, well-drained clay or sandy loam.

Lemon Balm Alternative Growing Media

Soilless potting mixes (Pro-Mix, Sunshine Mix, etc.), perlite, vermiculite, rockwool, coco peat, Oasis Rootcubes.

Lemon Balm Time From Seed to Saleable Plant

Seeds to finished plugs, 6 weeks; plugs to saleable plants, 5 weeks.

Lemon Balm Sun & Lighting Requirements

Lemon balm grown outdoors prefers full sun, but is mildly shade-tolerant. In dry climates, it grows best in partial shade.

Lemon balm will grow indoors satisfactorily under standard fluorescent lamps, and exceptionally well under high output fluorescent, compact fluorescent, or high intensity discharge (metal halide or high pressure sodium) plant growing lights. Keep standard fluorescent lamps between 2 and 4 inches from the tops of the plants, high output and compact fluorescents approximately one foot above the plants, and HID lights between 2 and 4 feet above the plants, depending on wattage.

Have an oscillating fan gently stir seedlings for at least 2 hours per day to stimulate shorter, sturdier, and more natural plant habit.

Lemon Balm USDA Hardiness

Perennial. Zones 4a to 9b.

Lemon Balm Water Requirements

Requires consistently moist soil, do not let soil dry out in between waterings. Water on a regular schedule, taking care to not overwater.

Lemon Balm Potential Plant Pests and Diseases

Lemon balm can be susceptible to whitefly, spider mites, thrips and powdery mildew.

Lemon Balm Special Notes

Lemon balm may be considered a noxious weed or invasive plant in some areas. Lemon balm is drought tolerant and is useful in xeriscaping. Lemon balm is known to attract bees, butterflies and birds and has fragrant blossoms.

Lemon balm self-sows freely; remove flowers (deadhead) if you do not want volunteer seedlings the following season.

Buy Lemon Balm Seeds by Botanical Interests

Organic Heirloom Lemon Balm Seeds
Relax on a hot, summer day with a glass of iced lemon balm tea.

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