How to Grow Lemon Balm Herb from Seed
- Scientific Name: Melissa officinalis
- Hardiness Zone: Annual, Perennial to Zones 3-9
- Days to Harvest: 55-70 days
- Days to Maturity: 70 days
- Days to Germination: 7-14 days
- Seeding Depth: ¼"
- Plant Width: 18-36"
- Plant Height: 18-24"
- Growth Habit: Low-growing and heavily spreading mound
- Soil Preference: Average, organic, well-drained
- Temp Preference: Temperate, 55-70°F
- Light Preference: Full sun - partial shade
- Pests/Diseases: Susceptible to mold, mildew, and leaf spotting in overly saturated soil. Can be susceptible to aphids and spider mites.
- Availability: See All Lemon Balm Varieties
Growing Lemon Balm
Lemon balm, also known as Melissa officinalis, is native to Southern Europe. It is a perennial that is part of the mint family. It’s cultivated mostly in the United States, as it is a great addition to gardens for its appeal to bees, along with the fact that it is considered both a culinary and medicinal herb. It is a wild plant that likes full sun and rich, moist soil. The herb can be used for culinary purposes in salads/salad dressings, sauces, soups, and more. It is commonly used to make teas, tinctures, and infused oils. Lemon balm grows fairly easily and requires little maintenance. While it prefers rich, well-drained soil it can grow in many different kinds of soils and even survive drought. It can grow in part shade or full sun but prefers full sun. It can grow in either hot or cold temperatures, sustaining itself up to -20°F. It is easily propagated and responds well to cutting as it grows back quickly and, in many cases, thicker than before.
How to Grow Lemon Balm from Seed
- Lightly sow no more than ¼” in soil
- Organically-rich and well-drained starting soil
- Grows as easy as peppermint and spearmint
Lemon balm cultivates most growth if planted in early spring. Since it requires light to germinate, it is important to only lightly place the seed in soil; at most, place the seeds ¼” into the soil. Lemon balm prefers soil that is rich and well drained, with a pH of 6.7 to 7.3. Space seeds at least 4-6” away from one another to ensure that they have ample room to grow. For lemon balm, germination occurs within 7-14 days. Lemon balm requires full sun but also enjoys partial shade as it grows best in cooler temperatures that are not too humid nor too cold. If you notice flowers forming on your lemon balm, pluck them off as these flowers can alter the taste of the plant and potency of the leaves. If allowed to bloom, the flavor of the leaves will likely go from sweet to very bitter. Lemon balm can grow to be 2 to 3 feet tall and requires regular and consistent watering.
Lemon Balm Soil
While it will grow in most soils, lemon balm prefers rich loamy soil. Lemon balm does not fare well over-saturated soil, however. Soil that is too wet can cause root rot and mildew for the plant; these ailments will cause its growth to be stunted or completely stopped. Lemon balm also prefers a soil pH of 6.7 to 7.3. If you are planting it in a pot, make sure to choose a pot that has multiple draining holes in it to ensure that it is able to drain properly. If not drained properly, the soil will retain too much moisture than can cause diseases such as powdery mildew. If your soil is too wet, consider adding some sand to it or switching your current soil with a drier soil variety. Lemon balm even prefers slightly sandier oils, as it helps ensure that the plant does not receive more water than what it needs by soaking some of it up. Lemon balm may be treated with a light liquid fertilizer ever now and then, but typically does not require it.
Watering Lemon Balm
- Prefers regular and consistent watering
- Allow soil to dry between waterings
- Consider mulching or transplanting indoors if necessary
Lemon balm requires regular watering, the amount of water depending on the climate. As a rule of thumb, you should water it enough to reach its roots, but not enough to douse the plant totally. You should also let the top of it dry out a little before watering it again, to make sure that the soil is not drenched as soggy soil can rot the plant. While it is a cold hardy perennial, in colder climates it is essential to keep an eye on the amount of water that lemon balm receives as more moisture comes with colder seasons. This moisture is why many plants, even cold-hardy perennials, fail during winter or in colder climates. To prevent losing your plant or it being over-watered, you can mulch the ground to absorb some of the extra moisture or even transport your plant to grow it inside during colder weather as lemon balm will grow year-round inside.
Is Lemon Balm A Perennial?
Yes! Lemon Balm is a perennial shrub. It is consistent in growing back each spring and can even become invasive with how quickly it grows and reseeds itself. Since lemon balm is tolerant of hot and cool temperatures both, it fares well as a perennial in most zones. Lemon balm may be planted in the late spring once the threat of frost has passed. It germinates within 7 to 21 days and follows its life cycle throughout summer seasons well into the fall. Once it has completed its growth and colder weather comes, the plant will die off and return the next spring without needing replanted. Lemon balm propagates itself through its own seeds— before you know it you can end up with a garden full of lemon balm with little effort! Since it is such a low maintenance herb as it mostly takes care of itself, if you do not wish to have more lemon balm, trim off the flower blooms before they fully blossom as this is part of the process in how it spreads it seeds.
Lemon Balm in Winter
- Can withstand temperatures up to -20°F
- Ideal for warmer regions with mild winters
- May need to be transplanted to indoors
Lemon balm is a cold hardy perennial that can withstand colder temperatures up to -20°F. During the winter, if left outside, it is important to make sure that the plant does not receive too much moisture which can cause root rot and for it to die. It can also be brought inside over the winter by transporting it to a pot. With a pot, it is important to ensure that it has enough drain holes so that water is not trapped inside of the pot. If you plan to grow it inside, it is important that it receives adequate sunlight but not too much, as it can cause browning leaves and withering.
Growing Lemon Balm in Pots
While this perennial thrives outside, it can be grown inside and thrive as well with the right care. There are extra precautions that arise when growing lemon balm inside, among these include making sure it receives the right amount of sunlight, make sure it is watered enough but not too much, and checking it regularly for mildew and pests. Lemon balm does well in pots, as long as it receives enough sunlight and water. It may be grown in a pot inside and outside, but regardless needs its soil checked regularly to ensure that it remains moist. Pots are known for drying out soil quicker, so extra watering may be needed. It is important that it stays in a spot that receives an ample amount of sunlight, likely near a window or placed directly on a windowsill. Lemon balm can grow to be 2-3 feet tall, which may cause it to eventually require a larger pot and more space available for its growth.
How to Care for Lemon Balm Plants in Pots
- Make sure that it receives full sun
- Make sure that it receives a moderate amount of water
- Check the soil’s moisture levels frequently
Caring for lemon balm when it is grown in a pot is not too different from caring for it in the ground, since lemon balm does not require a lot of supplemental care. When lemon balm is grown in a pot, make sure that it receives enough water and tend to it as you would if it were in the ground. Since potted plants can easily be transported, make sure that it receives enough sunlight and is not in the shade too often. Lemon balm enjoys partial shade, but thrives with increased sunlight, particularly if it is being grown in a pot indoors. When grown indoors, since the herb does not receive direct sunlight but rather through a window or transparent surface, it is important to make sure that it receives enough.
Growing Lemon Balm Indoors
Lemon balm, while most commonly grown outside, is grown indoors by many as well. This is because the perennial is hardy and can tolerate most conditions. Most indoors conditions are moderate and air-conditioned in the spring and summer months, and neither too hot nor cold. Lemon balm responds well to this because lemon balm prefers cooler temperatures with a lot of sunlight available. However, lemon balm may be more susceptible to powdery mildew if grown inside which can deteriorate its leaves. To prevent this, provide good air circulation for the lemon balm, and make sure it is not being over-watered. In its early stages of growth, it may do best positioned directly in a windowsill as to receive the most sunlight available. Since lemon balm grows quickly and can reach heights of 2-3 feet tall, it may eventually need moved to an area that’s more spacious, such as a kitchen counter or directly on the floor of a room that receives sunlight.
Lemon Balm Companion Planting
Lemon balm is a very beneficial companion plant, as it is a part of the mint family and attracts pollinators such as bees. It may benefit other plants, such as squash as it repels squash bugs, pests that feed on certain squash plants. Since lemon balm is a part of the mint family, it naturally repels pests. This is partly due to its strong citrus scent which pests are not fond of. Lemon balm also attracts bees and other pollinators, which may benefit plants that require pollination such as flax and pumpkin. It is highly regarded as one of the best companion plants due to these reasons. It is able to protect other plants around it with its strong scent, but also helps them thrive by attracting pollinators.
Lemon Balm Flowers
Lemon balm produces tiny white flowers that can be hard to spot due to their size. These flowers may sometimes carry different hues of color, such as yellow or pink. Although most lemon balm plants are not grown for their flowers, some may be as these flowers are beneficial to bees. Lemon balm has a high nectar content, which is attractive to bees as it feeds them. Besides this, a lemon balm plant that is used for its leaves and their benefits is not usually allowed to bloom its flowers. If the flowers on a lemon balm plant fully bloom, this changes the flavor and potency of its leaves. Because of this, it's common for gardeners to snip these flowers off as they appear.
Harvesting Lemon Balm
When harvesting lemon balm, do not remove all of the leaves at once; do not remove no more than two-thirds at a time to encourage continual growth. If all of the leaves are removed at once, this will stunt growth and potentially stop it from happening. To harvest it, cut just above a pair of leaves using shears or scissors. If no scissors or shears are present, fingers can also be used to snap the stems. The plant may be cut down several inches, down to 8 inches. After harvesting, prune stray stems and water the plant thoroughly. Lemon balm leaves and flowers both have a tangy, lemon scent and if cut right when flowers have begun to blossom, this scent is said to be stronger. This is due to an increase of the highly concentrated oil that the plant carries within it, usually called its essential oil.
When to Harvest Lemon Balm
- Right before the flowers blossom
- In the early morning, before the heat of the day
- When multiple inches of stem may be removed without hindering future growth
Drying Lemon Balm
When drying lemon balm, there are a few different methods that you can use. A popular way of doing it is hanging a stem with the leaves still attached to it in a paper bag, in a dry dark room. Drying lemon balm may also be accomplished through oven dry processes and by using a food dehydrator. Dried lemon balm leaves is commonly used in teas and may also be used in certain religious practices. Historically, lemon balm was planted near doors because it was thought to ward off evil. Today, this herb may resemble money and success to others as it is a common ingredient in "spells" by those who practice witchcraft and related practices. Lemon balm tea is used as a mild sedative, to inspire calm feelings, to help heal cold sores, and more.
How to Dry Lemon Balm
Hang Dry: Gather 5-6 stems and tie together with a kitchen string. To allow for good air circulation, do not tie too many stems together. Label them and hang them in a clean, dry and dark place. Depending on the humidity and heat level, it can take up to 1-3 weeks to fully dry them.
Oven Dry: Place leaves in a single layer on a tray. Dry in a warm oven since herbs in the mint family have high moisture contents and will mold if not dried quickly. Turn the oven on to “warm” (140-200°F) or (65-93°C) for 20 minutes. Make sure that you leave the oven door open while the lemon balm is in there.
Food Dehydrator: Wash leaves with water. Spread stems and leaves on the drying racks of a dehydrator. Set the temp at its lowest setting (95°F or 35°C) and dry for 12-18 hours. It’s important to do it slow and steady because if not, the oil in the leaves will dry up and the leaves will be cooked rather than just dehydrated.
Types of Lemon Balm
There are many cultivars of lemon balm, all of which are from the species Melissa officinalis including Citronella, Lemonella, Quedlinburger, Lime, Mandarina, Variegata, Aurea, and Quedlinburger Niederliegende. These varieties are not all commonly known as they can be hard to track down. M. Officinalis ‘Citronella’ is known for its attractive nature to bees and pollinators and its calming scent. It grows to be about 10-12 inches tall.
Similar to Citronella, M. Officinalis Lime has bright green leaves with a strong, soothing scent as well. It smells strongly of lime, hence its name. It is very tolerant of drought unlike other varieties of lemon balm and can be easily spotted due to its bright green foliage. Aurea lemon balm is used to make lemon juice and is characterized by its dark green leaves with yellow variegation. Variegata is best grown in pots and is known for its strong mint flavor, used frequently in aromatherapy and culinary dishes, as well as both varieties of M. Officinalis ‘Quedlinburger’ are used largely in aromatherapy as they have a higher essential oil content than any other cultivar of lemon balm.
Benefits of Lemon Balm
Lemon balm is used largely for its medicinal benefits. It is used popularly in teas and known to help reduce anxiety in those with anxiety disorders. It is also used to help those struggling with stress by inspiring calm feelings and can even act as a mild sedative. Lemon balm may help an upset stomach, whether the cause of it is acid reflux, nausea, or regular cramping. It is also regarded for its benefits to dementia and Alzheimer’s patients. Consistent consumption of lemon balm for a few months may help reduce irritation and improve memory retention in those who struggle with dementia and Alzheimer’s. Lemon balm is commonly used in aromatherapy, sometimes known as “Melissa” oil. It is popular as a meditation oil and used frequently for relaxation and to soothe stress and negative feelings. It also may be used to support a strong immune system and relieve menopausal symptoms.
Additional Information on Lemon Balm Herb
- Lemon Balm Wikipedia Page
- Read the Best Practices for Planning Your Herb Garden!
- Learn About Hardiness Zones
Explore these Lemon Balm Herb Seed Varieties: