We love to grow lemon balm for our herbal teas but also for uses in cooking. Hopefully I can show you just how easy it is to grow and use.
Lemon Balm is a perennial from the mint family Lamiaceae and will grow happily all year in the UK. It needs a little bit of care for overwintering and can be grown from seeds, plugs, cuttings or division. Lemon balm is often called bee balm and will grow attractive flowers. Perfect in full sun or partial shade.
There is so much to love about this simple to grow herb! Here’s hoping that you agree with me that lemon balm can become a real star in your garden this year.
How To Grow Lemon Balm From Seeds
Sow the seeds indoors about 8 weeks before the fear of frost has gone. Use a light soil suitable for seeds. Sow thinly and cover with a very light dusting of soil. or perlite.
Moisten and cover. We sow from March to May and find that any variety other than the common lemon balm will need to be grown from cuttings. Which is easy as you can imagine from a plant within the mint family!
If you are sowing in March then you may need to use a heated propagator to ensure an even temperature is achieved. Around three weeks you will see germination has taken place. Move them to a sunny windowsill or greenhouse.
A further 4-6 weeks and you should be able to handle the seedlings. Wait until there are two sets of true leaves.
Growing Lemon Balm
Grow in pots for preference as lemon balm can grow to around 80cm in height and will take over any area that it is planted in, not quite as invasive as mint, but similar in spread.
If you grow in a rich compost then it will retain moisture without rotting the roots. So make sure to have plenty of drainage and keep your lemon balm well watered during warmer periods.
We move our lemon balm to partial shade once the height of summer has hit as we find it will dry out when still young and this can hinder growth. You will find that regular harvesting of fresh leaves, just above a node will encourage a bushier growth.
We find that once the lemon balm has finished flowering it will start to grow again, if you give it a bit of a harsh cut back. It can also get pretty full in the pots and one of the ways to grow more lemon balm is by division.
To divide a clump just take from the pot and transfer to a bucket of warm water. Leave the clump to soak for around five minutes. This is long enough to make the roots pliable and to lessen the effect of snapping roots to divide. You may need to work your fingers between the roots and kind of rock it apart, working your fingers deeper in to the clump. If you have planted in the ground, then a fork will lift the clump up to then be soaked and worked the same way.
Repot each division and probably now is a good time to make a pot or two up as gifts! You will have lots of lemon balm from one or plants!
Overwintering and Possible Problems
Cut back a bit before Winter sets in, but more importantly move away from heavy rainfalls. Because of the nature of British weather, this is not exclusive to winter! But using pots with adequate drainage is key and keeping the size small enough that you can comfortably move them is also great. I have larger pots for herbs that need more space and I keep these on raised coasters so that I can move them to more sheltered spots.
You may see powdery mildew develop and a sure way to clear that is by keeping the soil moist, but not sodden and moving away from direct sunlight.
Will It Grow Indoors?
Yes if you have more than 6-8 hours of sunlight a day. It is a perennial so does have naturally dormant times of the year and we like to move it to a more sheltered spot when the heavy winter rains arrive. This can sometimes be inside our conservatory. This will be a time when we do not harvest any fresh leaves.
In the Summer months you can then move your pots to a brighter area and try to give it some more sunlight. Lemon balm is also called bee balm and this is one of the many benefits. Lemon balm attracts pollinators, so it is nice to have it near an open door or window. better yet in a pot on a balcony.
How To Grow Lemon Balm From Cuttings Or Division
Division is an easy process as outlined above. We take the lemon balm form its pot and soak in water for a full five minutes before separation. Then work your fingers in between the roots and pull apart. Make sure to only take this course of action when the plants are really getting overcrowded.
When they are in the ground and overcrowded, take a fork and raise the clump up. Then separate by hand after a good soaking.
If you want to grow from cuttings, do this in early Spring. Cut a stem around 12 inches long. Strip the bottom two thirds of leaves. Then with a sharp garden knife, strip the ‘skin’ from on side of the stalk. You can then grow the cutting in water or in the soil directly.
If you are growing in water, make sure to rest the cutting so that no leaves are under water in any way. Change the water every two days and avoid leaving in direct sunlight. If the cutting wilts or develops rust spots, then discard and try with a new cutting. After about 3 weeks you will see roots emerging and another two to three weeks you can plant out. Being careful not to break any of the roots as you do.
Make a pot up ready with soil that will have adequate drainage. Place the cutting in the pot and gently fill with the soil. Water well and move to a sunny spot. This should then grow on as normal quite quickly.
If you are taking your cutting and putting it straight into the soil still take the bottom leaves off. You may find that when you are stripping the leaves that they take a layer of the outer membrane off with them. If not use that sharp knife to cut away from one side. This creates a space for the roots to grow from. However it exposes the cutting to bacteria. It is the main ‘artery’ of the plant and allows moisture to flow, so it will be the worst place of bacteria as it can move through the plant.
To protect that from happening we use an Organic Rooting Gel sold on amazon. It smells terrible but it prevents bacteria build up as well as giving a little bit of a boost to the chances of the cutting propagating. Really as it is so closely related to those mint plants that can really take a garden over, it will want to grow!
Moisten the soil and cover with a plastic bag that will help it to retain the moisture. Leave in a warm spot, which doesn’t have direct sunlight but does have light. Two weeks later check on the cuttings and give a very gentle tug test to the lemon balm. If it offers a resistance then the roots have started to grow. If not, no worries just spritz again and leave for another few weeks. If you notice any rust spots or wilting discard the cuttings and try again.
8 Uses For Lemon Balm
Lemon balm has many health benefits and is packed with vitamins and nutrients. Although, the quantities in which you would have to eat them to gain any significant benefit are unrealistic. So if eaten as part of a balanced diet, lemon balm can be a healthy addition. We enjoy eating and drinking lemon balm and love the calming effects of this fabulous herb!
- Lemon balm in herbal teas is gorgeous and goes very well with fennel or borage. It does have a lemony taste, but not as strong as lemon verbena, so it needs to be matched with other herbs to get the most from it. Take around a handful of fresh leaves for each person having a cuppa. So if you do want to mix herbs, make sure that in total they are a handful. This is just my rule of thumb for tea making and can be broken by those of us who like a stronger mug! You can also increase the flavour by steeping the leaves for longer. I tend to go for around five minutes of steeping in a teapot with an infuser. We have the larger sized version of Clear Glass Teapot with a Stainless Steel Infuser which we got from amazon. I am an electrician by trade so can drink tea as if it is oxygen, you may just need one large enough for two cups at a time!
- That gentle lemony flavour makes it perfect in cocktails and cordials alike. We love to make ice cubes up and then as they melt you get a new level of taste!
- In a vinaigrette lemon balm can be that tang that a salad needs.
- As whole leaves in a fresh summer salad. We mix it up with sorrel and basil as well.
- Lemon Balm salt rub. If you are cooking meats that you have smoked or on a BBQ it is nice to have that lighter note. We make up a pot of rock salt and lemon balm leaves finely chopped and then mixed together to make a tangy, zesty rub. If you use dried leaves it will last for a long time in a proper kilner jar. This also works well with roast veggies like aubergine and courgette, dilute it with olive oil and brush on to the sliced vegetables and then you can skewer them and BBQ away!
- To soothe bites and sunburn simply make up a very strong tea of lemon balm, cool and use a cotton pad to apply to the affected area. It brings immediate relief to the pain, but also helps to reduce any swelling.
- Add to smoothies to give a freshness and health kick, try adding strawberry mint as well! Summer without the calories!
- With roasted veg, it makes a nice difference to the usual rosemary and thyme, gives a little twist when it is roasted in olive oil as well!
I hope you are all inspired and feel confident to start to grow lemon balm, it is a great one to grow with kids as it is fast to germinate and they can eat it fresh from the plant.