Early American colonists used it as flavoring and medicine. Many put lemon balm on dog and scorpion bites, or in wine for patients to drink.
The true fans of lemon balm, however, were the Arabs, who believed that lemon balm was good for heart disorders and for lifting the spirits.
Lemon Balm, a shallow-rooted member of the mint family, is native to the mountainous regions of southern Europe and western Asia, but is now grown world wide.
Lemon Balm is a vigorous hardy perennial that dies back to the base each year with new shoots appearing in spring.
Lemon Balm can grow as high as 3 feet (1m) with mint style four-sided stems producing strong lemon-scented, rough surfaced leaves.
The Lemon Balm plant produces small white flowers in later summer.
Lemon Balm grows in any well-drained soil, and will tolerate poor sandy soils and full sun. In the hotter climates it is best to provide midday shade. It does best in moist soils but under those conditions can also be susceptible to mildew.
USDA Plant Maturity Zones: Zones 5-9
Sunset Gardens Growing Zones: Zones 1-24
Planting Lemon Balm Seeds: To germinate, the seeds of lemon balm need both light and moisture for several weeks, and can be very slow to germinate. Replant lemon balm seedlings outside in partial shade when they are several inches tall.Root division of Lemon Balm in the spring is by far the most effective method of propagation.
Unlike many herbs, Lemon Balm is best harvested in the afternoon, or shortly before the the flowers open.
Rinse the lemon balm cuttings in fresh tap water and pat dry with a paper towel.
Clip the lemon balm leaves from the stems and arrange the leaves in a single layer on a screen for drying.
How Long to Dry Lemon Balm depends entirely on the method of drying lemon balm you have chosen.
Place the screen in a warm, dry location for several day, out of direct sunlight, until the leaves crunch into pieces when squeezed.
Or, slide the screen into your food dehydrator/herb drier, set the temp for 90-95˚F for several hours or until the same resulting dryness is reached.
One of the benefits of Lemon balm as a medicinal herb, was in past centuries when it was used like a mild form of valium. The oil of lemon balm appears to inhibit viruses and bacteria. It was also used for treating colds, flu, depression, headache and indigestion.
Lemon Balm is also known as Melissa, or is at times, incorrectly called bee balm. Lemon Balm leaves can be added to salads, vegetables, stuffing, marinades for fish and fruit salads.
Lemon balm reportedly cleanses the skin; steamy lemon balm facials are recommended for those with acne.
Lemon balm attracts bees. In fact, beekeepers once rubbed lemon balm inside hives to encourage new swarms to stay. It is said to repel other bugs, and can be tossed into a fire so bugs will not gather around it.
Lemon balm oils can also work as well as lemon-scented furniture polishes.