Lemon balm is a great herb to grow and you will have a large harvest throughout the growing season, but it can be hard to get hold of in supermarkets or green grocers.
Suitable replacements and alternatives for lemon balm include fresh or dried mint with a squeeze of lemon juice or zest, Lime zest goes well with lemon verbena, Lemongrass also works well. Using kaffir lime leaves gives a good alternative to lemon balm and lemon thyme is a nice addition to a dish.
None of these options are perfect and if you do struggle to buy fresh or dried lemon balm have a go at growing your own, just follow our guide here.
How To Replace Lemon Balm
Certain recipes are easier to replace lemon balm in than others. For example a cup of lemon balm herbal tea has health benefits that you would want to replicate in your replacement as well.
1. Mint leaves and Lemon Zest
Mint is far more abundant and readily available in supermarkets.
This is by far the best replacement for lemon balm, using mint give the much needed background flavor to the lemon balm and then adding a bit of lemon zest to really give it a citrus tang is just perfect. I would use 1 teaspoon lemon balm = 1 teaspoon mint + 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest.
Perfect as a substitute in herbal tea or even as a garnish.
2. Lemon Verbena vs Lemon Balm
Lemon verbena is not the perfect replacement for lemon balm, but I think it has it’s place as a substitute.
Lemon verbena is not suitable as a garnish as it is unpleasant to chew, sharp and crunchy. However when a recipe calls for lemon balm to be used in infuse flavor then using lemon verbena is a great idea. The citrus tang is not overpowering and it can be used in conjunction with other fresh herbs.
Just remember that lemon verbena is a stronger citrus and you should use fewer leaves than you would do for lemon balm.
3. Basil With Lime Zest
Some replacements need a bit of creativity and using alternative fresh herbs can mean just that.
Basil is a good replacement for lemon balm in that they both share those minty overtones. However go carefully as basil has a peppery flavor as well. So use it in a slightly lower ratio so 1 teaspoon of lemon balm = 3/4 teaspoon of basil + 1/2 lime zest.
Basil tea is also very refreshing and offers a lot of health benefits in it’s own right.
4. Lemongrass vs Lemon Balm
Not the perfect replacement as lemongrass can be just as hard to get hold of as lemon balm!
Lemongrass is a natural replacement for lemon balm, although it does not offer the mint notes it does have a gentle citrus quality to offer. Use in a like for like ratio and make sure to use fresh herbs if the recipe had called for a garnish as well.
It is possible to grow your own lemongrass, have a look at our free guide available here.
5. Kaffir Lime Leaves Vs Lemon Balm
This is another example of a replacement where it may be just as hard to get hold of the second option than the first!
Kaffir lime leaves are similar to bay leaves in their thickness and the way they will release more flavor the longer they are stewed. Perfect as a replacement to lemon balm in that they have a subtle, not overpowering citrus aroma and taste. Snap them a few times to get more flavor.
Remove the Makrut or Kaffir lime leaves before cooking.
6. Coriander / Cilantro
Cilantro is a fresh herb that some people love and some people hate, for more on that have a look here.
If you love the taste of coriander leaves you may describe it as herbaceous and citrus like with a refreshing note. This would make it the perfect substitute for lemon balm. Use as a garnish and let the cilantro be the zesty alternative to lemon balm.
Coriander is kind of perfect as it is a herb that will grow well indoors too!
7. Lemon Thyme vs Lemon Balm
This is an example of a not perfect replacement. In as much as the flavor isn’t trying to be matched but more that it is a better than nothing option.
Lemon thyme does offer a citrus note, but it also has a kick of pungency so go carefully if you are looking to replace lemon balm with it. Do not go for a like for like ratio, choose instead 1 teaspoon lemon balm = 3/4 teaspoon of lemon thyme.
Lemon thyme does work as a fresh or dried herb and if you are looking to replace dried lemon balm with dried thyme go for the same ratio.
8. Lemon Basil Vs Lemon Balm
Lemon basil is a great option as a replacement for lemon balm, however it can be hard to come by in shops. Growing your own is the best alternative!
Lemon basil has a peppery note that is missing from lemon balm and I would still be tempted to use a little less overall, however it is a great replacement for the taste and aroma. Both offer a wonderful freshness and a great alternative to either basil or mint.
Really do think about growing lemon basil as you can buy plants from reputable online nurseries relatively easily,
check availability and price here.
What Next & Further Reading
If you would like to grow any of these options for yourself then have a look at our guides below. In the UK several smaller companies sell Lemon Balm through Amazon and you can buy it dried to last for around a year,
check availability and price here.