Lemon balm – characteristics, cultivation, use and curative effects

lemon balm plant
lemon balm plant

The lemon balm is one of the classic kitchen and medicinal herbs, which must not be missing in any garden or on the balcony. The mild, delicately scented lemon fragrance makes lemon balm one of the most popular and versatile aromatic herbs. The ingredients contained in the melissa also help with nervous restlessness or stomach problems.

Profile of Lemon balm:

Scientific name: Melissa officinalis

Plant family: mint family (Lamiaceae)

Other names: melissa , balm, common balm, balm mint, lemon grass

Sowing time / Planting time: End of April – May

Flowering period: June – August

Harvest time: June – September

Location: full sun to sunny

Soil quality: humus and loose soil

Use as a medicinal herb: sleep disorders, nervous restlessness, convulsions, stomach and intestinal complaints, nausea

Use as aromatic herb: fish, desserts, drinks, salads, dressings, sauces

Plant characteristics and classification of Lemon balm

Origin and distribution of lemon balm

The lemon balm originally comes from the warm south and southeast of Europe. Meanwhile, the former wild plant is cultivated and is therefore also found in Central and Western Europe and widely to West Asia and throughout the Mediterranean. In these areas, the melissa is also partially wild-growing because it has relatively low demands on the location and easily spread by means of underground root sprouts and self-sowing.

Plant order of lemon balm

Lemon balm or just melissa (Melissa officinalis) is a member of the family Lamiaceae and the botanical subfamily Nepetoidaea. The melissa is thus a member of a family, which contain many known useful or medicinal herbs such as sage, rosemary or thyme.

In the closer relatives the lemon balm is a member of the same genus of melissas (Melissa). This genus has only a few representatives with only four species. Melissa officinalis is also the best known representative.

From the Melisse there are still two subspecies, which differ in their stature height as well as in the scent. The pleasantly fragrant and not so fast-growing species is Melissa officinalis ssp. officinalis, on the other hand the unpleasantly scented one, is named Melissa officinalis ssp. called oldissima.

lemon balm - blossom
lemon balm – blossom

Characteristics of lemon balm

The lemon balm is a perennial herbaceous plant. The stature height depends on the type of cultivation and the respective subspecies. Plants in container culture are usually only 30 to 60 cm (10 to 20 inches) high, whereas free-growing lemon balm in the garden can be up to 1.2 m high (57 inches).

Characteristic of the lemon balm is the lemon-like scent of the leaves, which can be perceived by gently brushing the leaves or rubbing the leaves between the fingers. In the subspecies Melissa officinalis ssp. altissima, however, the fragrance is less pleasant. Responsible for the fragrance are microscopic oil glands, which contain the essential oils and secrete accordingly.

The leaves of melissa have an egg-shaped form, are serrated at the edge and slightly pointed at the end of the leaf. Visually, the juicy green leaves are very similar to those of stinging nettles. Nonetheless, the leaves, which are up to 5 cm (2 inches) long and 3 cm (1.5 inches) wide, are slightly hairy. The leaves sit on the four-edged and upright stems, which may be slightly hairy or bald.

Below the ground, the melissa forms an extensive root system called rhizome. In this way, the lemon balm multiplies (next to self-sowing) by itself. The roots are flat and have a slightly brownish to whitish color.

The heyday of lemon balm is usually expected between early June to late August. There, the typically filigree lip-shaped flowers show up. The color of up to seven whorled flowers is usually white, but may also includes violet, pink or blue color shades. After flowering, small egg-shaped nut fruits are formed, which contain the distinctly brown seeds.

After successful fertilization, especially by bees seed fruits are formed. The lemon balm, which also bears the popular name beebalm, is therefore a well-attended bee pasture.

Lemon balm – sowing and care

The lemon balm is a low-maintenance plant that makes few demands. It can be well integrated in a herb garden or simply cultivated on a balcony or terrace.

Location and soil

The herb thrives in both half-shady locations as well as full sun, where the eponymous lemon flavor is formed stronger as in places in the sun. The soil should be loose and humus rich. Phases of short drought survive the lemon balm without problems. Nevertheless, care should be taken that the plant is watered regularly, but waterlogging should be avoided though.


Already in late winter, the seeds of lemon balm can be brought into the soil in planters in the warm house. It is important that the seeds are not covered with soil, because it is a light germinator. Sometimes it takes two to three weeks for the first scion to show up. The right time for sowing in the field or on the balcony is the end of May, when the time of frost is over. In the field distances of at least 20x20cm (8×8 inches) should be kept.

Melissa can also be excellently grown in herbal spirals. The plant should be planted here in a nutrient rich, humus soil zone. The herb is a good neighbor to most other herbs, except for the wormwood.


In normal, fertile garden soil usually no additional fertilizer is needed. If the plant grows in the same place for several years, small amounts of compost or horn shavings can be incorporated. Also, potted crops with adequate pre-fertilization and sufficient space in the pot can manage quite a year without fertilizer.


The soil should always be kept light and sufficiently moist. On hot summer days younger plants may need to water both morning and evening. However, only so much should be poured that the upper 10 to 15 cm (4-5 inches) of the ground are moist. Too much water in the soil can lead to root rot.


Alternatively, in the spring, when already existing plants have been generously cut back, cuttings can be grown from the pruning. For that the cuttings are removed from other leaves except for the uppermost green leaves and planted in potting compost.

Another type of propagation is by division. Lemon balm, like chives, forms whole clumps that can be effortlessly rejuvenated by digging out the plant and dividing the rhizome and replanting it elsewhere.


The lemon balm needs little care during the year. Water regularly, fertilize with compost in spring and autumn are the essential measures. Even in winter no further precautions are necessary. Only plants that grow in pots should be covered or placed in a cool, bright place in the house for the winter. In addition, lemon balm is a growth-loving plant that can easily be trimmed up to three times a year and constantly shoots again.

Diseases and pests

Possible diseases that can affect the melissa are mildew and rust. The powdery mildew show on the leaves the typical white deposits. Brown-red spots on lemon balm, however, indicate rust, a fungal disease that affects numerous herbs, especially in very humid summers. In the case of rust usually no home remedies, but only a generous cut of the plant, give help. In case of frequent infestation it can be helpful to change the soil. Sometimes too dense growth or too much moisture is responsible for the infestation.


The pruning can either be used as a cuttings or dried for use as a kitchen or tea herb. Ideal for pruning is the time before flowering, the leaves are the most aromatic, because the plant has not yet transferred its energy into the flowers.

lemon balm
lemon balm

Lemon balm and its use

For many, lemon balm is best known as tea – pure or mixed with other herbs. But even as a tasty ingredient with a subtle fresh note, it is not to be despised in numerous dishes.

Lemon balm in the kitchen

Melissa can be used well in the kitchen as an aromatic herb. With its delicate tart, slightly lemony taste, its an enrichment for many foods.

Lemon balm is an excellent herb for fish. The aroma works best when the leaves are gently processed, e.g. in a packet together with the fish cooked in the oven. Much stronger, the aroma comes into play, if the shredded leaves are added to the food just before serving.

Likewise, lemon balm harmonizes with freshly prepared salads – whether leafy lettuce or fruity fruit salads. Here, however, in favor of the aroma freshly picked leaves are preferable to the dried herb. Dried it loses some of its aroma.

Recipes for marmalade, jellies and jams that are based on lemon balm are becoming more and more popular. Also for other desserts such as sorbet or ice cream, the herb is very well suited.

As the melissa, except for a few exceptions, is relatively well-suited for drying, it can be used all year round. After cutting the stems are tied together to small bunches and hung “upside down” in a dark, airy place. After just a few weeks, the leaves are dried through and can be used. However, the aroma is slightly less intense than the fresh leaves.

Lemon balm as a medicinal herb

Lemon balm has been receiving great attention as a medicinal herb for centuries. Even doctors in ancient times knew about the calming, mood-enhancing healing properties of lemon balm. The herb was also popular with Hildegard von Bingen.

Nowadays, lemon balm is still part of many herbal pharmacies. Especially in the form of melissa tea, the plant is used as a home remedy. Use finds the lemon balm in:

  • general gastrointestinal problems
  • anorexia
  • convulsions
  • bloating
  • diarrhea
  • nausea in pregnancy

Another characteristic is the soothing or sedative effect, which is why it can be helpful in sleep disorders and nervous restlessness. For his, the dried herb can be used pure or in combination with other sleep-promoting or sedative herbs such as valerian or lavender.

A lemon balm tea is also an old remedy for cramping menstrual cramps or when a cold with a mild fever and coughing announces itself.

In addition, the antiviral effect has been proven. The herpes simplex virus was tested in particular.

Likewise probat is lemon balm tea in the external application with insect bites. For this purpose, a gauze bandage is dipped in the tea and wrapped around the puncture site. Tea inunction are also effective in muscle tension, muscle soreness, or to prevent it.

The trade also offers baths – especially relaxation baths containing lemon balm. However, here’s to look at the list of ingredients, because due to the high price of pure lemon balm oil often synthetic ingredients are used instead

Side effects

When drinking lemon balm tea or taking compounds usually no side effects are to be expected. Longer car trips, however, should be dispensed with the intake of higher doses, as this can lead to drowsiness.

lemon balm - tea
lemon balm – tea

Preparation of lemon balm tea

Whether you use a lemon balm tea to relieve physical or mental suffering or just because it tastes good and you get well, the preparation can be the same for all goals. Here are a few ideas how tea can be made.

For one liter (30 fl oz) of tea is needed:

  • 2 handfuls of fresh lemon balm leaves
  • 1 liter (30 fl oz) of hot water

For an aromatic tea fresh leaves from the garden, balcony or kitchen are used. Although the ingredients are also present in dried leaves, the tea loses most of the flavor. The fresh leaves are washed and chopped if necessary. Incidentally, the stems can also be used.

The water is heated, not until boiling but shortly before take off the stove when the first boiling bubbles form. Then add the hot water and let the tea leave to draw covered for about 20 minutes. The 20 minutes are just a guide. Those who prefer a stronger tea can of course also let it last longer.

The tea is not only suitable for hot consumption, but also as iced tea. Those who are particularly keen to experiment can also create their own tea blends. As an indication, chamomile, peppermint and lavender complement each other very well with lemon balm.

Purchase Lemon Balm – What to pay attention to?

Lemon balm plants should have grown vigorously when purchased. Many quickly raised plants have powerless, hanging stems, which should normally be upright and stable. Also make sure that the leaves show no white or rusty brown spots, which may be an indication of existing plant diseases. Also, the typical aroma of lemon balm should be perceived.

Dried leaves can be found in all good herbal shops, pharmacies and online shops. Since the cultivation of lemon balm is not very expensive, the prices for the leaves are usually quite low. Dried leaves are mostly used for tea preparations or as a bath additive.

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