The following information will be inserted into The New England Unit's Guide to the Teaching Herb Garden in 2007. We'll be featuring lemon balm and other lemon-scented herbs in our garden this year to give visitors a chance to observe and learn more about them.
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) is this year's star. Lemon Balm is a member of the plant family Lamiaceae, native to Southern Europe, West Asia, and North Africa. Lemon Balm has a clean, fresh, lemon scent and is beloved by bees. The word Melissa, from the Greek, means honeybee. This perennial grows 12-18 inches tall, with square stems, ovate toothed leaves and pale-yellow or white flowers. It prefers moist, semi-shaded sites in average garden soil. Lemon Balm is easily propagated by seed, division and stem cuttings. There are several varieties, some having yellow or variegated leaves and dwarf forms.
Some German species are bred for their high oil content and used commercially. Lemon Balm is an ancient plant that has been in used medicinally since the early Greeks. The cut plant is dried and used in infusions, extracts, tinctures, and ointments. In ancient days it was infused in wine for recreation or cure. An old-fashioned wine drink is Claret Cup. In addition to Lemon Balm, it contains borage, cucumber and orange in red wine. Carmelite Water, of which Lemon Balm is the main ingredient, is reputed to result in long life. Made as a tea, hot or iced, it is a soothing and refreshing drink enjoyed today.
Lemon scented plants are useful in repelling some summer insects. There are many lemon-scented plants, so one could plant a special lemon scented garden. A few to consider: Lemon Basil (Ocimum x citriodorum); Lemon Verbena (Aloysia triphylla) a small deciduous tree from Central America; Lemon Thyme (Thymus serpyllum var. citriodorus); upright or creeping, Lemon Geranium (Pelargonium crispum); Lemon Marigold (Tagetes tenuifolia); Monarda citriodora; Lemon Grass (Cymbopogon citratrus) a tender Asian plant; Rhus ovata, a native shrub known as the lemonade berry bush or Sumac. Winter Savory (Satureja montana ssp. citriodora) is small and spreading. Lemon Balm is easy to grow and provides us with many uses.
To learn more about the "herb of the year" designation, visit www.iherb.org
Click hereto read excerpts from an educational handout on Lemon Balm-
given to people visiting the NEU display garden at the 2007 New England Spring Flower Show.
Visit the HSA Library to view Lemon Balm: An Herb Society of America Guide, a comprehensive and informative guide to these plants.