Growing lemon balm in the backyard is easy and adds a
mild lemon flavor to herbal teas. Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is in the
mint family and is a perennial herb that once established will come back each
year in climates of zones 4 through 9.
The small white flowers attract bees in the summer which adds pollination in the vegetable garden. Lemon balm is often grown in crops for medical and the cosmetic industries. Mildly calming, lemon balm is combined with mint and chamomile for a relaxing tea.
Lemon balm can be grown from seed or propagated from
mature plants. Seeds can be bought from most seed companies and they need light
and temperatures around 70 degrees F for germination.
Seeds can be started indoors or direct sow outside.
Direct sow seeds outside 2 weeks before last frost.
Start your seeds indoors 8 weeks before last frost for better control over germination. Lemon balm seeds are very small but once they are established you can divide the mature plants and replant in other areas of the garden.
Fill containers with starting soil. Sprinkle seeds on top
of soil. Water the soil and press seeds into soil with finger. To make a small
green house place plastic wrap over cups and secure with a rubber band. Place
in a warm sunny spot or under your grow lights.
Seedling should appear in about 5 to 7 days. Remove the plastic wrap when the seed have germinated.
As the seedling grow, keep them moist. Add a weak
solution of compost tea after 3 weeks.
Transplant outside in the spring when all danger of frost
is past. The plants will need to be hardened off a week before transplanting
outside. Lemon balm grows best in sunny or partial sunny locations with moist
soil. Plant 18 to 24 inches apart.
Divide mature plants in the spring. Water well until the plants is reestablished. Lemon balm grows in clumps and the leaves can be harvested any time.
Cut stems off down by the crown leaving several leaf buds
on the stem to re grow. Stems can be dried, frozen or used fresh in salads,
sauces and in fish and chicken dishes.
Lemon balm is used medicinally in teas, tincture and as an essential oil. Medicinal properties include; relieving insomnia, aiding digestion and is good for colds with antiviral properties.