The perennial lemon balm is easy to propagate and grow yourself. A rich harvest of the medicinal plant is almost certain.
Lemon balm ( Melissa officinalis ) is a Mediterranean herb with an extremely long lifespan. The perennial, fruity herb can stay in the garden for twenty to thirty years without any problems. Thanks to its enormous vigor, it spreads quickly and has to be kept in check so that it does not take over the entire garden over time. Like sage ( Salvia officinalis ) or thyme ( Thymus vulgaris ), lemon balm belongs to the mint family (Lamiaceae).
The characteristic flowers appear from June and attract numerous insects. In addition to growing in the bed, lemon balm can also be grown in pots. If you rub the leaves of lemon balm between your fingers, a light lemon scent rises into your nose. The aroma makes it popular as a spice, but the same ingredients also help lemon balm to be effective for internal restlessness or stomach and intestinal problems. That is why the mint was named Medicinal Plant of the Year, and it is no coincidence. Growing the fragrant herb in your own garden is definitely worth it.
Growing lemon balm: step by step
Location: Due to its origin in the Mediterranean region, the lemon balm does not mind a sunny location even in midsummer. But even with a place in partial shade, the vigor of the perennial herb is not reduced. It can also cope with a certain drought – even better than if it were in a place that is always too humid. Therefore, the soil (or the substrate) should be as permeable as possible when growing in pots, but still, have a certain nutrient content to be able to meet the needs of the mint.
Propagation: To reproduce lemon balm yourself for cultivation in your own garden, there are various horticultural propagation methods:
As for almost all herbs, sachets of lemon balm are also available in stores. As early as February, the seeds can be spread in a warm house and young plants can be preferred for planting out. If you want to sow directly in the bed, this can, as usual for Mediterranean herbs, only be done as soon as the danger of night frosts has passed – i.e. from mid-May. Also note: Lemon balm is a light germ, which is why the sowing must not be covered with the substrate.
From early summer, there are perfect temperature and light conditions to propagate lemon balm using cuttings. To do this, the shoot tips of young, juicy shoots are simply removed, which should not have any disturbing flowers at this early point in time. Flowers or flower buds are undesirable on cuttings, as they reduce the success of rooting. Five to ten centimeters is the optimal length of cuttings. The leaves are removed in the lower area, which is inserted into a special substrate for cuttings. An environment with high humidity, such as can easily be created in mini-greenhouses for the window sill, for example, promotes the formation of new roots on the cuttings.
The lemon balm forms a multitude of runners underground. That is why the herb is spreading rapidly. It also makes it possible to simply multiply the mint by division. The time shortly before the new shoots in spring is ideal for this. Existing plants are dug up, cut up with a spade and the increased specimens of lemon balm are simply replanted. After planting, it is important not to forget to water the divided plants for the first time.
Watering and fertilizing: Lemon balm survives a certain degree of drought – thanks to its original Mediterranean origin. But she is happy about regular watering. When growing in a pot, it even has to be watered at times, depending on the weather and the size of the planter. But even if too much water is given, the perennial herb is harmed. If waterlogged, it can quickly lead to infestation with root fungi, which ultimately stretch the plant completely.
When growing in a bed, it is sufficient to incorporate a primarily organic fertilizer compost into the soil every few years if the lemon balm has been left standing for a longer period of time. When growing in pots, you can be sure that the lemon balm is adequately supplied with the necessary nutrients through an annual substrate exchange when repotting the lemon balm.
Cutting: Thanks to the enormous vigor of lemon balm, there is not much that can be done wrong when it comes to cutting. Even if it is pruned several times a year, the herb will always sprout unmolested. However, we recommend avoiding a final radical pruning in the garden year just before winter. The dried-up parts of the lemon balm plant are ideal for protecting the overwintering plant organs from freezing temperatures.
Overwinter: As already mentioned, when growing in the bed, the above-ground parts of the plant that die in autumn are ideal for protecting lemon balm from frost damage. In addition, you can cover with little leaves or rice. If you have planted the lemon balm in a pot, this can be covered with standard garden fleece or you can bring it into the house. There, however, temperatures should be around 5 to 10 ° C in a more or less bright place so that the lemon balm has a resting phase and saves energy for the spring’s new growth.
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Harvesting: The shoots of lemon balm can be harvested at any time. After the new shoots, however, they should first be allowed to grow a little. If the harvest is to be stored afterward, it is advisable to tackle this before the start of flowering. Lemon balm loses its power to bloom, which is noticeably at the expense of the intensity of the aroma. In addition, you can delay this with a cut before the exhausting bloom. Nonetheless, lemon balm is also edible and tasty when harvested while it is in bloom.
Storage: Lemon balm can be stored in different ways. Because the entire lemon balm harvest is not always used immediately. But there are some adequate ways to preserve the aroma of the herb and make it usable beyond the freshly harvested enjoyment.
Like almost any herb, lemon balm can be dried very well. However, you have to be aware that this will cause essential oils to disappear and the aroma to become weaker. Still, it’s quick and easy to hang the harvested branches upside down in a dry place to air dry for about two weeks.
As an alternative to drying, you can freeze the leaves of lemon balm. The method is just as quick and easy. Depending on your needs, individual leaves can find their way from the freezer to the kitchen. Freezing even offers a clear advantage: the loss of aromas is nowhere near as pronounced as when the harvest is dried.
The lemon balm is a grateful and extremely spicy herb. With little care, it can reach a high age and high yields can be achieved. The fragrant leaves and ornamental flowers should also not be missing in any garden.
You can find inspiration for growing other Mediterranean herbs on our Pinterest page