How to care for lemon balm?

Quick Guide to Growing Lemon Balm

  • Plant lemon balm during the warm weather of late spring, once all chances of frost have passed.
  • Space lemon balm 20 to 24 inches apart in an area with partial shade and fertile, well-drained soil with a pH of 6.5 to 7.0.
  • Start the growing season off right by mixing several inches of aged compost or other rich organic matter into your native soil.
  • Check soil moisture every few days and water when the top inch becomes dry.
  • Maximize leaf production by regularly feeding with water-soluble plant food.
  • Harvest lemon balm leaves anytime once your plant reaches 6 to 8 inches tall; avoid harvesting more than one-third of the plant at a time.

Soil, Planting, and Care

Growing lemon balm is a warm weather activity. Be sure to start with young lemon balm plants from Bonnie Plants®, which has been helping home gardeners succeed for over 100 years. After all danger of frost has past, set lemon balm plants 20 to 24 inches apart in rich, well-draining soil where it will receive some shade during the day. Improve your existing soil’s nutrition content and drainage by mixing in a few inches of Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics™ All Purpose In-Ground Soil with the top layer. Or, fill containers with Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics™ All Purpose Container Mix. Both are enriched with aged compost and provide a strong nutritional start for your plants.

Lemon balm will remain green during mild winters, such as those in zones 9 and 10. This plant responds well to cutting, growing back twice as thick. Whenever your plant is looking tired due to drought, hail, insects, or other stress, just cut it back and let it rejuvenate itself with fresh, new growth.

While rich, fertile soil is a great foundation for growing lots of lemon balm, you’ll have even more success if you feed regularly with a water soluble fertilizer like Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics™ All Purpose Plant Nutrition at the rate recommended on the label, or work plenty of organic nutrients from compost, blood meal, or cottonseed meal into the soil.

How to Grow, Harvest and Use Lemon Balm

By Jill Henderson

I always get excited when I talk about herbs, especially when I talk about medicinal culinary herbs like lemon balm. Lemon balm’s simplicity, beauty, flavor, ease of care, and exceptional medicinal properties make it one of my favorites.


I particularly like the way lemon balm attracts beneficial insects and butterflies to my garden, and occasionally even the hummingbirds find it intriguing.

I am also partial to lemon balm tea, especially on a cold winter night, when its deep, earthy, lemony flavor brings back a touch of summer sunshine.

Sometimes referred to as Melissa or Sweet Melissa, Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) is a member of the Lamiaceae, or mint family, of plants. Like other mint family members, lemon balm has scalloped, oval- to heart-shaped leaves that grow opposite one another on square (four-sided) stems. Its leaves are bright green on top and whitish below.

Lemon balm is a great herb to share with kids because the leaves are wonderfully fuzzy to touch, and they leave a trace of lemon scent on the fingers. Most people don’t stop to look at the flowers of lemon balm because they are very small. Up close, the tiny white to pale pink two-lipped flowers form whorled spikes that are quite pretty.

Harvesting the long stems of lemon balm.

Lemon balm is one of those herbs that isn’t thought of all that much beyond tea. But in reality, this sometimes rambling and invasive “mint” has played a crucial role in the health and well-being of humans and animals alike for thousands of years. It’s easy to grow, looks nice, and smells and tastes even better! If you have a little room to spare in the yard or garden, you might want to give this little herbal gem a try.

How to Grow Lemon Balm

Depending on the type of soil you want to build and amount of sunlight, this spreading perennial herb can reach heights of 1 to 3 feet with an equal spread. Like mint, lemon balm is quite hardy and can be overwintered as far north as hardiness zones 4 and 5.

It is always a good idea to mulch plants year-round, but winter mulch is of the utmost importance. Mulch helps keep the ground frozen in areas where the ground freezes and keeps it warmer in areas where it doesn’t. Mulch also helps prevent the plant from being heaved out of the ground in times of repeated freeze and thaw cycles. Lemon balm will grow almost anywhere in the garden and isn’t particularly fussy about the quality of soil it grows in.

Klaas Martens: Soil, Testing & Fertility from the 2009 Eco-Ag Conference & Trade Show. Listen in as the popular agronomist and successful organic farmer teaches his methods for managing soil testing, data and inputs.

In general, your plant will be larger and more productive when grown in full sun and fertile, loamy soil. In regions with very hot or dry summers, lemon balm appreciates a bit of afternoon shade and soils that retain moisture. If you plant lemon balm in soil that is both very fertile and loamy, it will spread like wildfire throughout your garden. We have a lot of red clay soil here in the Ozarks, and I find that my lemon balm not only grows well, but that it also stays relatively close to where I plant it. And while lemon balm prefers moist soil, healthy and mature plants easily endure extended periods of heat and drought.

Like most mint family members, lemon balm is easily started from seed. For outdoor culture, seed can be sown either in mid-spring after all danger of frost has passed or in early fall to late winter.

While both are good, I personally feel that winter sowing has advantages over spring sowing. Winter-sown seeds have a feel for the seasons and germinate only when the weather is optimal. They also have higher germination rates, and their seedlings are hardier and grow more vigorously than those sown indoors. But best of all, winter-sown seeds don’t take up any room in the house or require artificial heat or light.

To start lemon balm indoors, sow seeds six to eight weeks before the last frost. Start with small pots filled with a light seed-starting mix and barely cover.

I prefer to sprinkle seeds on the surface of the soil and then lightly scratch them in before watering. Seeds take seven to fourteen days to germinate at 70°F, but longer if indoor temperatures are cooler.

Once seedlings have their second set of true leaves, either thin them to one or two per pot or repot individual seedlings into larger containers. After all danger of frost has passed, seedlings should be set in the garden 12 to 18 inches apart.

Although sowing seed has its advantages, there is one crucial drawback that most gardeners are not aware of. As is the case with many herbs, each lemon balm plant that is grown from seed will be slightly different. They will generally look alike, but they may not smell or taste the same. This is why I highly recommend starting lemon balm from established plants, be it rooted stem cuttings, root divisions, or seedlings from a nursery. This way, you can smell and taste the leaves before investing a lot of time and money into a plant that has an inferior smell and taste.

Be sure to leave ample space between lemon balm and nearby plants, as it has a penchant for sprawling and crawling.

To keep plants tidy and within bounds, pinch or cut the stem tips back regularly throughout the growing season. And to prevent scraggly or spindly growth, divide mature plants every three to five years.

How to Harvest Lemon Balm

Many gardeners like the idea of planting an herb garden, but aren’t always sure what to do with the herbs once they are mature. You can harvest handfuls of lemon balm leaves for fresh use almost any time during the growing season. For a large harvest of leaves that will be dried for tea or medicinal use, it is preferable to wait until the plant begins to put on flower buds or just as the flowers begin to open. This is when the volatile oils in the leaves are at their greatest concentration.

When you are ready, cut each stem just above a pair of leaves using a very sharp pair of scissors or pruning shears. You can cut the plant down to within six to eight inches of the soil. A good rule of thumb is to remove no more than two-thirds of the vegetative growth at any one time. Finish the job by pruning stray stems and shaping so the plant looks tidy, and then water it deeply.

A second harvest may be possible in the fall if the plant is healthy and has regenerated many new leaves, but the first harvest is always the sweetest and most fragrant.

How to Dry & Store Lemon Balm

Once you have your basket full of cut stems, you will need to process them for drying. There are many ways to dry herbs, all of which are a bit tedious, depending on where you live and how you approach it. Drying is the only way to preserve the quality and flavor of lemon balm for long-term storage, though.

Over the years, my husband, Dean, and I tried many methods of drying herbs until we finally found one that suited our schedule and our taste buds.

The author dries lemon balm in stainless steel metal baking pans.

We start by stripping the leaves from the stems. Yes, this can be a bit monotonous, but trust me: it saves a lot of time later on and your leaves don’t get crushed in the process.

To strips the leaves quickly (relatively speaking) we ‘zip’ the leaves off with our fingers. To do this, start by holding the tip (top) of the stem firmly between your left thumb, index, and ring fingers. With the same three fingers of your right hand, pull firmly downwards along the stem.

This zipping technique quickly pulls off all leaves and branching stems in one fell swoop. Repeat the ‘zipping’ with all stems until all leaves have been removed.

At this juncture, tradition has it that you should use a dehydrator to dry your herbs, or that you should spread the leaves on screens or hang them in bunches and dry them in a cool dark place. The problem I have with these methods are: a) I don’t have a dehydrator, nor do I want one; b) a dehydrator can’t possibly hold the quantity of leaves we process each year; and c) my climate is too humid to properly dry leaves in a “cool dark place.”

When I lived in the drier areas of the north and northwest United States, drying herbs was a snap, even in the shade. Here in Missouri, though, summers can be unbelievably humid. Because of this, I have come to rely on a very unconventional drying method.

After some disappointing attempts at drying basil and sage (two of the trickiest herbs to dry properly) the traditional way, my husband suggested we try a different approach. He had noticed how some of the leaves from the “zipping” process that we had left on the concrete walkway dried up extremely quickly. He proposed that the rest of our herbs would dry there just as quickly.

After so many trials and mediocre results, I was game for anything. We laid our stripped leaves in a single layer on shiny stainless steel baking pans, which we then set on the concrete walk in the sun. Most often the herbs dried in one day — in some cases within hours. In every batch, the herbs came out vibrantly green and extremely fragrant.

Let it be known that I fully understand that the standard rule for drying herbs is to never (ever) dry them in the sun. The theory is that prolonged exposure to high heat and bright light can evaporate the delicate volatile oils that make herbs flavorful and medicinal. I hated to ignore the herbalist in my head, but the method worked so beautifully that, 15 years later, I can’t even imagine doing it any other way.

In order to clear my conscience, I placed two different thermometers in the pan to see how hot the herbs — and the pan — actually got during the course of the day. The pans were placed in full sun on a 92°F (33°C) day and only reached 130°F (54°C), which is absolutely acceptable in terms of drying temperatures for herbs.

To retain maximum medicinal value in the leaves, the temperature should have been a little lower, but that can be easily achieved by choosing a cooler day or by placing the pan in dappled shade. If you decide to try this method, it is very important to monitor the herbs in the pan just as you would if you had a cake in the oven. Use a meat thermometer to gauge the temperature, stir the herbs often, move them into the shade when they start to get crisp, and always allow the herbs to cool completely before storing.

When the leaves crumble to pieces when pressed, they are ready to store in airtight jars or plastic bags in a cool, dark place. Keep in mind that whole herbs retain their flavor and medicinal properties longer than those that are crushed or ground.

How to Use Lemon Balm

The smell and taste of common lemon balm is not as sharp or crisp as a lemon, but is rich, deep, and woody, especially when dried. Newer cultivars have an improved lemony aroma. Lemon balm is wonderful when used to make hot or cold tea, and its flavor blends very well with black tea and other herbs such as apple mint, lemon verbena, anise, fennel, and fenugreek. The leaves and flowers make unique, flavorful jelly or herbed vinegar. They can also be added to creamy dressings, dips, and spreads. Add young leaves to fruit punch and green or fruit salads.

One of my favorite things to make with lemon balm is shortbread or sugar cookies. Simply pick out your favorite generic recipe and add to it a handful of fresh, chopped lemon balm leaves and a few toasted nuts.

Although there are many great ways to use lemon balm in the kitchen, the real magic of this sometimes-beguiled herb lies in its medicinal properties. And make no mistake about it: lemon balm is a powerful and useful medicinal.

To begin with, lemon balm is a super-strong anti-inflammatory and gentle sedative that can help relieve mild insomnia, depression, and tension. Herbalists also recommend it to treat infection and inflammation of the upper respiratory tract and to reduce symptoms of cold and flu. It is especially effective at soothing indigestion, heartburn, and stomachaches. When taken orally, lemon balm has similar actions to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen, without these drugs’ dangerous long-term side effects.

Lemon balm also contains constituents that fight all kinds of viral infections, and it is one of the very best treatments I have ever found for the treatment of cold sores. In fact, scientific studies have proven that internal and topical application of lemon balm reduces the severity, duration, pain, and recurrence of cold sores, mouth ulcers, and other viral eruptions like shingles, which are all caused by the herpes virus.

For many years, I was plagued by repeated outbreaks of large, painful cold sores on my lips and around my mouth. On two occasions, cold sores on my mouth were infected by Streptococcus bacteria and resulted in impetigo, a very serious and contagious skin infection.

By applying a strong infusion of lemon balm to the affected area at the earliest onset of symptoms, and by consuming up to three cups of lemon balm tea every day for the duration of the outbreak, I was able to rid myself of both the cold sores and the severe case of impetigo. Within a few months of using lemon balm to treat recurring outbreaks, the herpes simplex virus literally went dormant. And thanks to lemon balm, I have had no more than a half dozen cold sores in over 15 years. The few that I did get were relatively small and short-lived.

In addition to reducing the severity of cold sores, lemon balm also appears to speed healing and to reduce or inhibit secondary infections. Externally, it can be used to treat rashes, hives, insect bites, swelling, and minor wounds. Researchers are reportedly even using extracts of lemon balm to try to treat mild Alzheimer’s disease.

Although it has been suggested that lemon balm may support normal function of the thyroid gland, anyone with hypothyroidism (low thyroid function), goiter, Hashimoto’s disease, or those taking any kind of thyroid hormone such as anti-cholinergics or cholinergics should not take lemon balm in medicinal doses without first consulting a professional.

Lemon balm is an exceptionally attractive herb that lights up any garden path. And while the flowers are not excessively showy and can at times give the plant a leggy or ragged appearance, they attract many beneficial insects to the garden. Lemon balm is not only a fragrant and flavorful culinary herb, but also a powerful medicinal that deserves a spot in every garden. If nothing else, the simple beauty of its soft, sculpted leaves and pleasant smell will do much to cheer up any gardener.

This article appeared in the February 2014 issue of Acres U.S.A.

Jill Henderson is an artist, author and organic gardener. She is currently the editor of Show Me Oz, a blog featuring articles on gardening, seed saving, nature ecology, wild edible and medicinal plants, and culinary herbs. She has written three books: The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs, A Journey of Seasons: A Year in the Ozarks High Country, and The Garden Seed Saving Guide.

Each Acres U.S.A. magazine issue features an in-depth interview with a top eco-farming industry or trend expert. Subscribe here!

Mint Plant Varieties: Types Of Mint For The Garden

Mint is a fast-growing, aromatic herb plant in the Mentha genus. There are literally hundreds of mint plant varieties and far too many to name here. However, a number of these mint types are commonly grown in the garden. Keep reading for information on how to grow some of these different varieties of mint.

Growing Different Mint Plant Varieties

Most types of mint require the same, or similar, growing conditions. They like full sun to partial shade and most prefer moist but well-draining soil.

Another aspect that most mint types have in common is their invasive tendency. Therefore, regardless of the types of mint grown, care should be taken in keeping these plants under control — preferably with the use of containers.

In addition to their invasiveness, consideration must also be given to spacing when growing various mint plant varieties in the garden. Different mint types should be planted as far apart as possible — like opposite ends of the garden. Why? True mint varieties are known to cross pollinate with other types of mint when planted within close proximity. This can result in characteristics from different mint types to appear in one plant, leading to the loss of the plant’s integrity with unfavorable scents or flavors.

Choosing Mint Plant Varieties

Each mint variety has its own flavor or scent, though some may be similar. Most, however, vary greatly between mint types. Be sure the type you choose not only is well suited to your growing region, but also its intended use in the garden.

Not all mint varieties are used for culinary purposes. Some are better utilized for their aromatic properties or aesthetic appearances while others, like field mint, are normally treated as medicinal plants.

Types of Mint for the Garden

Listed below are some of the more commonly grown varieties of mint for the garden:

  • Peppermint
  • Spearmint
  • Pineapple mint
  • Apple mint (Woolly mint)
  • Pennyroyal
  • Ginger mint
  • Horsemint
  • Red Raripila mint
  • Catmint
  • Chocolate mint
  • Orange mint
  • Lavender mint
  • Grapefruit mint
  • Calamint
  • Licorice mint
  • Basil mint
  • Chewing Gum mint
  • Watermint
  • Corn or Field mint

The little, red squirrel was determined, I’ll say that much. He, I assume it was a he because he couldn’t take a hint and go away, kept jumping on the patio door window and trying to climb inside. He wanted to join me while I watched the evening news. I don’t know why; there was nothing of interest on the news. Never is.

It was annoying, though. It didn’t seem to matter how many times his head banged against the window, he kept trying again and again. Finally, I told my dog, “Get.” The barking scared him away. Until the next time, the next day, again during the news. And the next day and the next. I had to do something.

My little piece of country paradise is a shared paradise. One where animals, big and small, roam free, sometimes annoyingly so. I didn’t want to be labeled the neighborhood animal hater and start killing off the little critters, but I also didn’t want to endure the nightly routine of the red squirrel banging his head on the patio door window.

Mint As Natural Squirrel Repellent

I did some research. I discovered that growing fresh peppermint detracted the squirrels. Worth a try. I had all kinds of mint elsewhere in my gardens, including spearmint and chocolate mint. Why not put some in a pot on the patio by the window? It was a resilient plant that would grow anywhere. And it smelled so good. At least I thought so, even if the squirrel didn’t.

Which he didn’t! I found that out very quickly the night after I placed my peppermint pots on the deck by the window. The squirrel came back. He made a dash for the window and then quickly swirled away. For the next ten minutes, he ran around in circles on the deck, presumably trying to initiate his nightly attack on my window. He didn’t get very close.

Tim Walker / Flickr (Creative Commons)

The peppermint was repelling him. I was amazed. And I made a quick decision to plant lots of mint … everywhere. The more natural repellents in my garden, the less likely there would be squirrel destruction. And I would have lots of mint to harvest for my oils and baking.

I used to think there was only peppermint in the mint family. That is until I visited a wonderful nursery called The Herb Garden. It was a place dedicated to nurturing all kinds and varieties of every herb available. It’s where I found mint heaven with a wide selection of mints for my garden. The ones that instantly attracted me were the chocolate mint and the apple mint. My love for chocolate and apples, not together, of course, drew me to these plants.

A Bit About The Mint Family

Lamiaceae or Labiatae is the botanical name for mint. Or more specifically, a family of flowering plants we commonly refer to as mint. Another name attached to this family is deadnettle. The plant is known for its aroma. And surprisingly, the mint family includes such a wide diverse assortment of culinary herbs like basil, rosemary, sage, oregano, thyme, and lavender, to name some of the more recognizable herbs.

There are more – lots more. In fact, there are more than 7500 varieties of Lamiaceae (mint). Some are grown as trees or shrubs, others are edible, and some are merely ornamental.

Niall McNulty / Flickr (Creative Commons)

The most commonly known species of Lamiaceae is the selection that we call mint: peppermint, spearmint, chocolate mint, lemon mint, and so on. Since this is a very easy-to-grow herb, mint of any variety is a common addition to herb gardens.

However, beware, mint can also be very invasive and take over the entire garden. Never mind that. It smells good. In fact, my most prolific mint garden surrounds my compost – a good way to mask the smell of rotting, decomposing food.

So, how many types of mint do you know? How many types do you have in your garden? I have to admit I only grow five: peppermint, spearmint, lemon mint, chocolate mint, and lavender mint. But here’s a good healthy list of mint varieties that will benefit your garden and your harvest.

Peppermint

Mentha piperita, or in its wild form Mentha balsamea, is a hybrid, a cross between watermint and spearmint. Like all mints, peppermint is very invasive. It doesn’t multiply by seeds, as it doesn’t produce any, but rather, by runners that spread out in every direction. Originally from Europe and the Middle East, this mint is grown in many regions around the world, and it’s also commonly found in the wild.

It’s known to grow as high as 3 feet tall and prefers a moist, marginally shady area for growing. The dark green leaves exhibit reddish veins and along with the stems, are slightly fuzzy. The purple flowers whirl around the stem in thick, blunt spikes.

Both the leaves and the flowers are used, though the wild form is not as suitable for eating. Peppermint is popular as a garnish to sweet desserts, added to puddings, salads, and salad dressings. It may be added to sweet or savory dishes, fresh or dried.

Brewed in a tea, peppermint also makes a good curative for stomach ailments like nausea. Also in tea, peppermint has a calming influence and is often used to help a person relax and go to sleep. Fresh peppermint infused (soaked) in honey keeps well for a tasty additive to winter teas, hot chocolate (mint of any variety goes well with chocolate) and in sweet treats. It makes a tasty addition to cold drinks as well, like lemonade, iced tea, and cocktails.

View this post on Instagram

Picked a bunch of peppermint this morning. This is about the size of James’ head lol. And this isn’t even a quarter of what my plant has to offer. Going to make a tincture from it. So excited! This is my first try. #herbalremedies #herbgarden #peppermint #tincture #pepperminttincture

A post shared by Amanda Kafton (@tattooedmother) on Sep 3, 2014 at 8:38am PDT

Peppermint can rejuvenate externally as well. Its cool feeling when placed on the skin helps rejuvenate tired, achy feet. Peppermint is useful around the house, inside and out. Mice, chipmunks, and squirrels don’t like the smell of peppermint. Soaking cotton balls in peppermint essential oil and placing these balls in cabinets and holes where rodents might sneak in, discourages their infestation.

Growing peppermint close to the house discourages these rodents from coming too close, as I found out with the annoying red squirrel. Since it contains some antiviral and anti-fungal qualities, peppermint is an ideal additive to cleaning products.

Peppermint has a sweet, attractive odor. Just smelling the herb makes one feel clean and fresh. Chewing peppermint can be medicinal as well as freshen one’s breath. In fact, before chewing gum was invented, people used to chew on peppermint leaves.

Spearmint

Mentha spicata or Mentha viridis is a variety of mint with many names. Spearmint is also known as garden mint, common mint, lamb mint (it tastes delicious as a jelly to accompany lamb or sprinkled fresh on the lamb as it roasts), and mackerel mint. The plant grows tall, sometimes up to 3 feet, with long, narrow leaves and pink or white flowers that grow in slender spikes.

The name ‘spear’ in spearmint addresses the pointy leaf tips that look like a spear. Like most mints, spearmint is invasive with its runners that spread out in every direction. Growing spearmint in a pot is the best way to control its invasive nature.

View this post on Instagram

Spearmint in full bloom. Love the monsoon season in Flagstaff. #theforagerspath #earthmedicine #ariz #coloradoplateau #northernarizona #spearmint #mentha #menthapiperita #aroma #aromatherapy #aromaterapi #

A post shared by The Forager’s Path (@mikemasek.herbalist) on Aug 27, 2018 at 12:29pm PDT

The leaves may be used fresh, dried or frozen, but it’s best to harvest the leaves before the plant flowers, as the leaves will then lose their flavor and aroma. The leaves are also good preserved in salt, sugar, a sugary syrup, alcohol, or oil. Spearmint is a popular flavoring for toothpaste and various confections. It’s particularly popular in mixed drinks, sweet tea, and iced teas. It can sometimes be found in shampoos and soaps. As a fumigant, spearmint makes an effective insecticide against moths.

Lemon Balm

Andrea_44 / Flickr (Creative Commons)

It is an excellent additive to salads, teas, wines, and liquors, and it’s particularly popular as a flavoring to seafood and meat dishes. It’s also used as a flavoring in desserts. Medicinally, lemon mint tea can be used to treat colds, coughs, fevers and various respiratory ailments. Since lemon balm contains citronellal, it makes an excellent insect repellent, especially for fleas and mites.

Chocolate Mint

Its name says it all. With slightly brown stems and brown markings on the leaves, this mint smells and tastes slightly chocolatey. Imagine a garden plot that smells like your favorite chocolate-mint patty! And it’s perhaps the best mint to complement chocolate in baking for the ever-so-tasty chocolate mint flavor.

Chocolate mint prefers a cool, shady location with moist soil. It likes the sun but not the extreme heat. Once you find the perfect location, it’s an easy-care mint. Just keep it well watered and the chocolate mint will prosper for years. And spread like a weed!

View this post on Instagram

These are so amazing in smoothies! #chocolatemintplant #chocolatemint #springtime #organic #oregon #pnw #pacificnw #portland #fitlife #fitness #firstharvest #exercise #cleaneating #smothie

A post shared by Jeff Baker (@jeffery_baker) on May 27, 2015 at 7:29pm PDT

Like many of the other mints, chocolate mint makes a delicious tea. Fill a mug about half full of fresh chocolate mint leaves and cover with boiling water. Steep and spoon out the leaves. Add a little chocolate milk or chocolate almond milk for a thicker, richer treat.

Chocolate mint may also be added to puddings and baked goods for a chocolate mint delight. It can even be added to whipped cream and blended in an ice cream maker to create a chocolate-mint ice cream without adding chocolate. Definitely my favorite mint!

Lavender Mint

Mentha piperita Lavendula, like all the mints, is very hardy, versatile and invasive. With its delicate purple flowers, lavender mint is a pretty addition to any garden. It’s a useful and beneficial mint, both for its medicinal qualities and for culinary purposes.

View this post on Instagram

#homegrown #lavendermint to use when dry in #yogaeyepillows and #heatpacks 💕

A post shared by M E S S Y P E A C H🍑 (@tutor_designer_maker) on Jul 27, 2018 at 9:16am PDT

Best known for its use (dried) in teas and potpourris, lavender mint is also found in shampoos, creams, and even lip balms. A sprig of fresh lavender mint will enhance the flavor of savory dishes like salads, pasta, and soups.

Some people enjoy fresh lavender mint added to a glass of cold lemonade or surprisingly, with a dish of fresh strawberries. Though I have to admit, the idea of adding anything to fresh strawberries doesn’t appeal. Strawberries, I believe, are best eaten just as they are.

Ginger Mint

This mint, also known as slender mint or scotch mint, is a cross between corn mint and spearmint, though it smells very much like spearmint. Like all the mints, ginger mint is easy to grow and will actually do well in any type of soil, including a heavy clay, just so long as it’s well watered.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Solstice (@solsticefood) on Jun 13, 2018 at 12:14am PDT

Ginger mint makes a tasty addition to melon salads, hot or cold teas, and lemonade. Add freshly chopped or dried to butter for a tasty spread. It also makes a nice marinade for meat and poultry.

Banana Mint

Mentha arvensis is a hardy mint with pale, lilac-colored flowers that makes an attractive addition to any herb garden or as a border for a floral garden. It can grow to about 1 foot and prefers a sunny location. The bright lime-green leaves have a heavy mint scent.

View this post on Instagram

Really? .. Really! 😊 #bananamint #herbgarden #bletchingdon #andnowwhatdoidowithit

A post shared by Mariella Bliss (@mariellabliss) on Jul 10, 2017 at 5:14am PDT

When eaten, it leaves an aftertaste similar to that of a banana, hence the name. Bees and butterflies love this mint. Banana mint leaves may be used as a garnish for puddings and summer drinks as well as, sparingly, in salads.

Corsican Mint

Mentha requienii, or Corsican mint, native to Corsica, is a low-growing variety of mint. It’s considered to be one of the smallest members of the mint family. Its bright green leaves, small and oval in shape, emit a strong minty smell when trampled. The mauve flowers are tiny but attract insects, which help pollinate the plant. Like all mints, Corsican mint is very invasive.

Corsican mint is a popular bedding plant, and since it can be trampled without killing the plant, it’s often grown between stepping stones and lining walkways. It likes the shade, but it doesn’t like too much water, as it will make the plant rot.

David Eickhoff / Flickr (Creative Commons)

It makes a good companion plant for broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower as it repels some of the insects that destroy these crops. Corsican mint also enhances the flavor of vegetable crops nearby.

The most famous use of this mint is as a flavoring for crème de menthe. It has medicinal properties as well. It makes a good antiseptic, and it can relieve flatulence and reduce fever. It also makes a good rodent deterrent as rats and mice dislike the smell of this mint.

Egyptian Mint

Mentha niliaca, or Egyptian mint, is one of the many mints argued to be the actual mint of the Bible. It’s interesting to note that, in Biblical times, mint was tithed, a clear indication of the value of this herb to the Pharisees.

View this post on Instagram

Trying to keep Anubis alive through the winter. You can do it little buddy! #egyptianmint

A post shared by Pia Nikoline (@princ3sspia) on Nov 19, 2014 at 6:39am PST

And its value? Well, the aroma, of course, and the sweet taste it provides when added to various dishes. Egyptian mint has a flavor very much like apple mint. However, Egyptian mint, very much a wild mint, is a robust plant with sturdy stems and large gray leaves with a velvet texture. It grows up to 3 feet tall and boasts purple flowers. It grows well in full and partial sun, and it’s known to attract butterflies.

Apple Mint

Mentha suaveolens, also known as apple mint, pineapple mint, woolly mint, or round-leafed mint, is native to the Mediterranean region of western Europe. This is a large plant. It can grow up to 3 feet tall. Like all mints, it spreads, this one spreading by runners.

View this post on Instagram

I love how the Apple Mint comes back year after year! I like to take a few apple mint leaves and some lavender flowers plus local honey to make tea in the morning! #applemint #mint #frontyardgarden #epicgardening #ediblegarden

A post shared by Epic Yard Farm (@epicyardfarm) on Apr 17, 2018 at 9:13am PDT

The light green leaves, slightly wrinkled, are somewhat hairy on top. The pink or white flowers grow in whorls on long spikes. This is an attractive plant and is often used for ornamental flower gardens. Like most mints, it’s hardy and easy to grow, to the point of being invasive. It prefers full sun.

This aromatic plant has a flavor that is both minty and fruity. Among many other culinary uses, the leaves of apple mint are used to make apple mint jelly and apple mint couscous. It makes a delicious fruity flavored mint tea, and it’s often used as a garnish or in salads.

Pennyroyal

Mentha pulegium, best known as pennyroyal or pennyrile, is also known as squaw mint, mosquito plant, and pudding grass. The leaves, when crushed, smell very much like spearmint. Pennyroyal is an old herb used for folk remedies as far back as the Greeks and Romans.

The Latin name is derived from pulex (flea), describing one of its most basic folk remedies: to drive away fleas. The Greeks and Romans also used Pennyroyal as a cooking herb, usually in combination with other herbs like oregano and coriander. Although popular in ancient cooking, pennyroyal has lost its lure in contemporary recipes.

Medicinally, pennyroyal had many uses in ancient times, taking particular note of its toxic abilities to expel: including a method of aborting a dead fetus as well as a method of eradicating pests. and in some areas, rattlesnakes.

There are more positive attributes to this herb. Pennyroyal can assist in various gastrointestinal ailments like constipation and hemorrhoids. It’s also good for skin conditions and toothaches.

“T”eresa / Flickr (Creative Commons)

Contemporary use of pennyroyal is minimal, although its oil is still commercially available, probably due to the uncertain toxic attributes of this herb and that in unknown quantities, it can be unsafe to use. In fact, recent history records multiple cases of deaths caused by pennyroyal poisoning.

Editor Note: It’s important to note that this particular case involved an individual that ingested a large amount of pennyroyal oil, rather than the leaves of the plant.

There are many more varieties. More types of mints, hybrids, and wild-growing mints, all with their own unique aroma and use, be it edible, medicinal or merely ornamental. But of my few favorites, the most versatile, sturdy and interesting mint, in my opinion, is the chocolate mint. It will always be my all-time favorite.

Lemon Balm

Since ancient lemon balm has been used to calm and lift spirits, which is probably how this perennial got its name. Grown for its oils for aromatherapy and leaves for flavoring, lemon balm also makes a great addition to most gardens (especially plots of fruits and vegetables) because it attracts honeybees and other pollinators. You may want to plant this member of the mint family near walkways where people can brush against its quilted green leaves and enjoy their pleasing odor. Add its edible leaves to soups, salads, sauces, or vegetables. Mix dried leaves into potpourri. Toss a few stems onto a hot grill or rub fresh leaves on your arms while gardening to drive away mosquitoes. Include lemon balm in bouquets of fresh flowers.

genus name
  • Melissa officinalis
light
  • Part Sun,
  • Sun
plant type
  • Herb,
  • Perennial
height
  • 1 to 3 feet
width
  • 1-1/2 to 3 feet
flower color
  • White
foliage color
  • Blue/Green
season features
  • Summer Bloom
problem solvers
  • Deer Resistant,
  • Drought Tolerant
special features
  • Low Maintenance,
  • Attracts Birds,
  • Fragrance,
  • Good for Containers
zones
  • 3,
  • 4,
  • 5,
  • 6,
  • 7
propagation
  • Division,
  • Seed,
  • Stem Cuttings

Lemon Balm Care Must-Knows

Native to southern Europe, lemon balm has become a garden staple in much of the United States. This herb grows best in well-drained soils with average moisture. Once established, the plants are drought-tolerant but appreciate supplemental watering during the heat of summer. Lemon balm tolerates poor soil conditions as long as the soil doesn’t remain soggy, which encourages root rot. In colder climates this plant needs winter mulch to survive.

For the most prolific blooms and highest oil content, plant lemon balm in full sun. In southern climates where summers can get quite hot, it fares better in part shade. However, too much shade causes them to become leggy. In summer, small white blossoms (which often display two tiny lips) appear in clusters at the stem tips. While not showy, these flowers attract honeybees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.

Unlike spearmint and peppermint, which spread by underground runners, lemon balm spreads via self-seeding. Luckily the seedlings are easy to pull up. You can also propagate lemon balm through cuttings and plant divisions. Cut it back after blooming to maintain a pleasing shape, and encourage fragrant new growth.

Spice up your daily water with these fruit-infused water recipes.

Harvesting Lemon Balm

To cook with lemon balm, gather the leaves early in the morning after the dew has dried. Lemon balm pairs nicely with tarragon to spice up marinades for fish and lamb and makes a comforting tea for upset stomachs. (Simply steep the leaves in boiling water for a few minutes.) Freeze lemon balm leaves in ice cubes to make colorful garnishes for lemonade. Preserve large amounts of lemon balm by hanging the stems upside down to dry in a cool, dark place. BTW: It’s a good idea to nourish this plant with an all-purpose fertilizer every couple of months if you harvest it on a regular schedule. Follow the manufacturer’s directions carefully.

Learn more about growing your own herbal tea here.

More Varieties of Lemon Balm

Variegated Lemon balm

Image zoom

Melissa officinalis ‘Variegata’ has green leaves splashed with golden yellow. It is less vigorous than the species, growing just 18 to 24 inches tall and wide. Otherwise, its qualities are similar. Zones 4-11

Garden Plans For Lemon Balm

Image zoom

Tips For Growing Lemon Balm

Lemon balm plants tend to be pass-along plants that a gardener ends up with from plant swaps or as gifts from other gardeners. This can leave a gardener wondering what to do with lemon balm and what is lemon balm used for exactly. While not as popular as other herbs, lemon balm is nevertheless a wonderful herb to have in your garden. Keep reading to learn more about how to grow lemon balm.

What is Lemon Balm?

The lemon balm plant (Melissa officinalis) is actually a member of the mint family and is a perennial herb. It grows as a bushy, leafy herb with a pleasant lemon smell and small white flowers.

If not carefully controlled, lemon balm can quickly become invasive in the garden. Often, people mistakenly think that lemon balm is invasive due to its roots, like its cousins peppermint and spearmint, but in fact it is the seeds of the lemon balm plant that cause this herb to suddenly take over a garden. Removing the flowers of the plant as soon as they appear will make your lemon balm far less invasive.

How to Grow Lemon Balm Plants

Growing lemon balm is very easy. The plants aren’t picky about where they grow and will grow in almost any soil, but they prefer rich, well drained soil. Lemon balm plants will grow in part shade to full sun, but flourish best in full sun.

It isn’t recommended that you fertilize lemon balm, as this can cause the strength of its scent to be reduced.

Lemon balm is easily propagated from seeds, cuttings or plant divisions.

What is Lemon Balm Used For?

Once established, lemon balm can produce large amounts of its sweet, lemon smelling leaves. These leaves can be used for a variety of things. Most commonly, lemon balm leaves are used in teas and potpourris. You can also use lemon balm in cooking, in making essential oils and as an insect repellent.

Lemon Balm
Botanical Name: Melissa officinalis

A clump-forming perennial with heart shaped, deeply veined leaves that are covered with stiff hairs, it grows 30cm – 90cm high. . It looks very similar to mint in appearance, but it is not as invasive and easier to control. Here in south east Queensland lemon balm does not flower.

Lemon Balm has a delicate flowery lemon flavour and has a wide variety of uses. The fresh leaves can be used as a garnish for drinks, desserts and savoury dishes. It adds zing to fruit salads, garden salads, fruit drinks and punch, sorbet, herb butters, dressing and sauces. Lemon balm butter with a little pepper added goes well with corn, broccoli, beans and asparagus. Use in marinades or sauces to accompany fish or chicken. It is also nice stirred through sautéed shellfish.

Lemon balm livens up any apple dish, add chopped lemon balm to apple sauce to serve with meat or mix some into the apple in apple crumble or apple custard. A baked cheesecake will be transformed by the addition of lemon balm and a little honey.

An infusion of lemon balm makes a refreshing uplifting tea served either hot or cold.

Lemon balm is a useful medicinal and combines nicely with other medicinal herbs. An infusion of the leaves will induce perspiration to help cool a fever associated with cold and flu. It is also a relaxing tea to relieve anxiety and mild depression especially when these conditions cause nervous indigestion. Lemon balm is also used for nervous headaches and for digestive problems such as nausea, bloating and colic. The juice from the leaves or a strong infusion can be dabbed on cold sores and in studies has been proven to reduce healing time and lessen re-occurrence. Bruised fresh leaves can be applied to insect bites, cuts and grazes.

Growing Conditions

Lemon balm prefers rich moist soil and partial shade. It can tolerate direct sunlight but the leaves may yellow slightly during hot summers in full sun, plants grown in shade tend to be larger and more succulent. Lemon balm is a good companion to fruit trees, plants from the onion family, tomatoes and roses.

I’m helping to revive and replant the ethnobotanical garden at the University of Kent. One of our tasks is to revamp the garden’s plant catalogue to make it interactive, as well as more useful for a range of disciplines.

One of the plants in the catalogue – lemon balm – stands outs as an ideal plant for people to engage with and learn about. One plant of lemon balm in a garden quickly turns into many, as it self-seeds readily in flowerbeds or even gaps between paving. It is a common but underappreciated garden plant, possibly because it is easy to grow – it is tolerant of a range of conditions, including drought, and isn’t affected by many pests and diseases.
Lemon balm has a scientific name – Melissa officinalis – that came to life with bees. Blooming plants attract scores of bees, which feed on the tiny white flowers, and the genus name Melissa is derived from the Greek word for bee. It has square stems and leaves in pairs, which are characteristic of the Lamiaceae (mint) plant family. These are easy features to look for without any equipment, making it a simple plant for botanical beginners to get to grips with. Lemon balm exudes a strong lemon scent when the leaves and stems are crushed, and this is a readily detectable feature for initiating discussion of phytochemistry: investigating compounds made by plants, what their function is in plants, and how they can be useful to people. Best of all, even a small scrap of stalk will readily root in a glass of water, making it a plant for garden visitors to take home and grow on a windowsill or in their own garden.
Lemon balm produces an essential oil that is one of the most expensive to buy; production costs are high because yields are low. Although the lemon scent can be replicated using cheaper citrus and lemongrass essential oils, pure lemon balm essential oil is valued for its properties in aromatherapy where it is considered to be uplifting and calming, and in skincare as an anti-inflammatory. Lemon balm is one of those plants with a long history of medicinal use. Small laboratory trials report antiviral, antioxidant and calmative properties. But the results are not good enough to turn it into a prescribed medication. Some folk remedies may never be wonder drugs. Perhaps lemon balm is best appreciated on a sunny morning as a cup of tea in hand while watching and listening to bees on its flowers, or at dusk with a few stems crushed underfoot to keep mosquitos at bay and a glass of lemon balm wine. Below, courtesy of Pauline Pearce from the National Guild of Wine and Beer Judges, who has won many awards with this particular recipe.
Lemon balm wine (ingredients for 1 gallon)

2 quarts lemon balm
2 large oranges large (juice and rind)
1lb sultanas
1 lemon (juice and rind)
1kg sugar
1 tsp nutrient
1 tsp tartaric
1 tsp pectic enzyme
Gervin or any general purpose wine yeast
Campden tablets

Strip the leaves from the stalks (discard the stalks) then wash leaves in cold water. Drain and put into a clean container and pour over 4 pints of boiling water, add one Campden tablet, stir, cover and leave for 48 hours.

Strain the liquor from the leaves (discard theleaves) into a sterilized bin, add rind (no pith) and juice of the oranges and lemon, the washed and chopped sultanas, acids, pectic enzyme, nutrient and yeast. Ferment on the pulp for four days, stirring twice daily, keep well covered.

Strain into jar, add sugar and stir, top up to shoulder with cold boiled water, fit air-lock and leave to ferment out. Rack in the usual way.

This wine can either be served dry as an aperitif, or sweeten to taste and drink as a social type wine.

Can be drunk within three months but improves with keeping for a further three months.

• Susanne Masters is an ethnobotanist who writes for a number of magazines, and is doing PhD research on edible wild orchids in Turkey. This is the latest in a series of posts about the redevelopment of the ethnobotanical garden at the University of Kent.

This article contains affiliate links, which means we may earn a small commission if a reader clicks through and makes a purchase. All our journalism is independent and is in no way influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative. By clicking on an affiliate link, you accept that third-party cookies will be set. More information.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *