Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is a perennial herb in the mint family Lamiaceae, native to southern Europe and the Mediterranean region. It grows up to 2 feet tall in wild and usually 30-40 cm tall in container or pot. The leaves will reach 1-3 inches (2.5-7.5 cm) long and are broadly ovate with a lemon scent. At the end of the summer, little white flowers full of nectar appear. These attract bees, hence the genus name Melissa (Greek for 'honey bee').

Planting Season
Spring or early fall

How to grow
This herb can be easy to cultivate in United States Department of Agriculture Plant Hardiness Zones 4 to 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. While it prefers full sun, moderately shade-tolerant, much more so than most herbs. In dry climates, it grows best in partial shade. It can also be easily grown as an indoor potted herb.

Lemon Balm requires light and at least 70 degrees Fahrenheit to germinate so it is best to plant indoors or in spring and not to cover the seeds. It requires consistently moist soil, do not let soil dry out in between watering. Lemon balm plants should be spaced between 12 and 15 inches (30 and 38 cm) apart.

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 rooted in water, or from seeds. Under ideal conditions, it will seed itself prolifically and can become a nuisance in gardens.

Days to maturity
30-40 days

Lemon balm is useful when over anxiety is causing digestive problems such as indigestion, acidity, nausea, bloating and colicky pains. It is also useful for cold sores, chickenpox and shingles. Fresh sprigs are used to top drinks and as garnishes on salads and main dishes. Fresh or dried leaves make a refreshing tea, either iced or hot. Dried leaves are used as an ingredient in many pot-pourris and the oil is used in perfume.

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