Lemon balm is a lemon scented herb of the mint family. For a tasty general seasoning, use it in tandem with tarragon. Try adding some freshly minced leaves to lamb or fish marinades for the grill.
The taste of the leaves adds the perfect tangy note to fruit salads. Freshly steamed vegetables come alive when tossed with a chiffonade of Lemon Balm and a touch of cracked pepper.
Although lemon balm dries quickly and easily, it will not be as fragrant dried as fresh. It can be dried outside in partial shade but will brown quickly if there is any night moisture. When dry, store in tightly closed containers.
When using whole leaves be sure to handle with care, as they tend to bruise and turn black. Mix lemon balm with other fresh herbs for homemade herb vinegar. Freeze some leaves in ice cubes to serve in lemonade.
Cultivation of Lemon Balm
Site: Plant in warm, moist soil in a sunny location with midday shade. Good sun and moisture are necessary for the production of essential oil and good fragrance.
Propagation: Sow seeds in spring. Divide plant or take cuttings in late spring and root them in water. Seeds are slow to germinate and are so fine that they hardly need covering at all.
Growing: This vigorous plant will readily spread in your herb garden. It reaches a height of 3 feet with a spread of 2 feet. The oval, heart-shaped leaves have slightly serrated edges and a pronounced network of veins; they can be up to 2½ inches across. Cut back to soil level in the fall to encourage strong growth. The plant will not tolerate high humidity. Lemon Balm also performs well in containers.
Harvesting: Pick the leaves of this fragile herb anytime, but handle gently to avoid bruising. The flavor of the leaves is optimum just as the small, white flowers begin to open from mid to late summer.
Culinary Uses: Use fresh leaves in sparingly in salads and as a garnish for fish and other dishes. Chopped leaves can be added to fish and chicken dishes and sprinkled over fresh vegetables. Add the leaves to cooked dishes in the last few minutes. They can also be added to summer drinks and fruit salads, and make a good substitute for lemon peel in jams and jelly recipes.