Lemon balm is one of those plants that just grows and grows on you. And grows and grows in your garden. It requires very little care, meaning it is great for casual gardeners, or those that just want a lovely bushy plant to occupy-or encroach upon- a space, and both the leaves and flowers give off a lively, refreshing lemony aroma year after year. Lemon balm oil is highly prized in aromatherapy for its uplifting and calming effects, and its delicate little white flowers give off an alluring perfume that bees find irresistible; in fact, its scientific name is Melissa officinalis, Melissa being derived from the Greek word for bee. (who knew?)
Lemon Balm’s verdant vine-like branches are great for filling out and embellishing a vase of fresh cut flowers. Don’t be shy about cutting them; this plant grows like a weed, filling in all those empty spaces in your garden the way mint does, and easily grows to heights of a meter and a half. But our little Melissa is more than just a pretty face and a sweet smell; lemon balm has been used for centuries in traditional medicine, as a mood enhancing tea, as essential oil that can reduce inflammation, and it possesses anti-inflamatory properties. And it is also famous as a mosquito repellant! Just crush up some leaves and stems and either rub it on your exposed areas (it will leave you smelling fresh and lemony, not like a toxic chemical plant) or spread it around the area; as it is food safe you can even leave it on the picnic table.
As a thirst quencher, lemon balm makes a fantastic iced tea. And even more exciting, it is the starring ingredient in Lemon Balm Wine! And since your garden will be overflowing with this wondrous plant, you will be happy to note that lemon balm makes a fantastic, super easy pesto that is a perfect accompaniment to grilled chicken or fish, or with your favourite pasta or pasta salad. Here is a quick, almost instant recipe for Lemon Balm Pesto, a perfect, summery accompaniment to just about any dinner.
Lemon Balm Pesto
2 cups fresh lemon balm leaves
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic
salt and pepper
Place all ingredients in food processor and process until smooth. Season to taste.