Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Lemon Balm- Herb of the Week

   I discovered several lemon balm plants flourishing in my herb garden this morning, as well as a few volunteers coming up willy-nilly around the yard.  That's the good and bad news about lemon balm.  If it wasn't  so useful and aromatic, it might become a bit pesky.  It self-seeds quite freely and the since the flowers are nondescript, it takes a bit of effort to keep it from setting too many seeds.

  I'm a bit laissez-faire when it comes to this sort of thing, so the uninvited are welcome  in my yard, for the most part.  If they get in the way, I harvest them and plant something else in the spot.

  Lemon Balm, also called 'Melissa,' which means bee in Greek, is a relative of the mint family and , like it's names suggest, it has a lemony scent and is loved by the bees.

 I grow it  primarily to use in teas.  It has some mild medicinal properties which  are a welcome addition to my winter teas.   The leaves can be used in salads and
I've also used it in several herbal vinegar recipes.

    Lemon Balm is well known traditionally as a relaxing herb that lifts the spirits and " causeth the mind and heart to become merry.."  according to Nicholas Culpepper, a well-known British herbalist of the 17th century.  I add it to my 'cold and flu' tea blend  for this soothing effect and also because it seems to chase away the chills that often accompany a cold.

  I begin harvesting  Lemon Balm as soon as I see flowers forming because that is the time when the leaves are the most aromatic and flavorful.   Harvesting  in mid-morning on a dry day, I cut the plant down to within inches of the ground, discard any damaged leaves, wash and dry the leaves quickly but thoroughly.  With  lemon balm, I can usually harvest two or even three times in a season.

My preferred method of drying is to lay the herb on paper towels, under a ceiling fan to dry. I've also hung them up side down in bunches in my kitchen, and I've tried drying in a dehydrator. When the leaves are completely dry, I place them in a glass jar , label them and store out of the light.

  In September or October, after all my herbs are dried, I make the tea blends. Lemon balm can also be added fresh to iced tea during the summer.  I add it when the tea is brewing, remove the spent leaves before serving, then add a fresh sprig when serving. Lemon balm is one herb that is best used with other herbs, since it's flavor is subtle.  I like it with black tea, lemon verbena, mint or chamomile.

Today's Take-Away - Lemon Balm , beloved by the bees, is easy to grow, makes a nice addition to tea and is calming and  soothing.

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