Lemon balm - Melissa officinalis

The lemon balm

Perennial herbaceous plant, which reaches a height of 60-70 cm, native to Europe and the countries bordering the Mediterranean, melissa forms dense ground cover trimmings of thin, square-sectioned stems, which bear numerous light green leaves , opposite, pointed, heart-shaped, with a finely serrated edge, wrinkled. The whole plant is covered with a light down; in summer, numerous pinkish-white tubular flowers bloom at the leaf axil. The leaves and flowers have an intense lemon scent, the leaves are widely used in salads or in soups, but not in excessive quantities, so as not to cover the other aromas of the dishes. Melissa is also used to prepare excellent liqueurs and dried leaves are used in potpourri to perfume the environment.
Lemon balm is a resistant aromatic herb that produces abundant foliage. It emanates a fragrance similar to that of lemon and is mostly cultivated for gastronomic or curative purposes. The genus includes three species endemic to all of southern Europe, North Africa and parts of Asia. The foliage has an ovaloid shape and, when rubbed, releases a strong scent. It is usually rather tomentose, on erect and branched stems that form dense tufts. The flowers are small, white and bilabiated, practically anonymous and in any case not very decorative, in full summer. However, they have the undoubted advantage, for those who love them, of attracting a large number of pollinating insects, in particular bees and butterflies.
Only one species is cultivated, the officinalis, whose leaves become part of salads and sauces as well as being particularly valuable for flavoring herbal teas. They also have medicinal properties, particularly with regard to the digestive system.
For ornamental purposes, some cultivars characterized by interesting foliage colors have been selected. They are therefore of great interest if placed in a simple garden or in a rocky area.


This plant is very resistant and rustic and develops without problems in any position, preferring semi-shady locations, but enjoying direct sunlight for a few hours a day. It does not fear the cold.
Lemon balm lives well both in full sun and in partial shade.

Family and gender
Lamiaceae, gen. Melissa, sp. officinalis
Type of plant Perennial herbaceous
Exposure Sun-shade
Rustic Very rustic
Ground Rich, deep, slightly moist, slightly clayey
colors Leaves bright green, gold or mottled
Irrigation Weekly, in the absence of rains
Flowering summer
Multiplication Division (in spring), sowing (in spring)
Composting Not necessary

Characteristics of lemon balm

Lemon balm belongs to the lamiaceae family. It is very easy to cultivate, since it easily adapts to different situations and, indeed, becomes very frequently invasive. It has a rather creeping habit and tends naturally to occupy the whole place at its disposal (as well as to self-seeding without effort). It has the shape of an enlarged bush formed by numerous stems of square section, erect. They can range from 40 to 60 cm in length and a single specimen usually reaches about half a meter in diameter. The leaves, in the species, are bright green, with a serrated edge and a slightly swollen appearance of the leaf, above all in correspondence of the ribs. Flowering occurs in the height of summer, with very small white petals, at the leaf axil. Towards autumn they evolve to produce seeds, which are shiny black.


Lemon balm does not need large amounts of water, although larger crops can be obtained by regularly watering the plant with moderate amounts of water, avoiding excesses. If desired, it can be fertilized with specific fertilizer for green plants, in the period from March to September.
In the open ground, especially if well positioned and with rich soil, lemon balm does not require intervention.
If instead it is in a very sunny area and maybe the substratum is sandy, we can intervene weekly, in the absence of natural rainfall.
In the vase it will be good to always keep the substratum slightly damp, but always avoiding stagnation.


It loves loose, deep, rich and well-drained soils, even if it grows in any soil.
Generally the lemon balm plants are planted at the beginning of autumn or in spring; they can be cultivated in a container but given the aptitude to paper the ground it is usually preferred to cultivate them in the open ground.


It occurs by seed or by division of the rhizomatous roots; the portions produced in this way must be placed directly at home.

Pests and diseases

Sometimes aphids can ruin the shoots. Excesses of watering or poorly drained soils can favor the onset of root rot.

Lemon balm history

This rather popular aromatic plant has been given many nicknames, in particular citronella and citron. However, it should not be confused with other essences with a rather similar aroma, for example Lippia Citrodora (verbena-citronella) or Cymbopogon citratus (typical of oriental cuisine).
Common throughout the Mediterranean basin, its virtues were already known in ancient Greece. It was used to alleviate anxiety and nervous disorders. The Arabs also used it frequently, in particular for its antispasmodic qualities.
It began to be cultivated in the gardens of the convents with the arrival of the Middle Ages. It became the main aroma for the production of many liquors and elixirs of long life.
In 1600 it was used as the main ingredient of a medicinal liqueur (still produced today), very dear to the French aristocracy, in particular to Cardinal Richelieu and to the ladies of the court of the Sun King. They are given healing powers against all digestive problems and of a nervous nature.

Land and garden uses

Lemon balm needs, to grow at its best, a fresh and deep soil, slightly clayey and however rich. If it is too heavy it would be better, at the time of implantation, to lighten it by inserting a good amount of sand and the well decomposed organic soil conditioner.
In general, it also tolerates poor substrates rather well, as long as irrigation is frequent. It is thus possible to insert it even in particularly sunny rock gardens.
It can also find beautiful locations in borders (both the species and the varieties with decorative leaves), or as a ground cover (to cover the foot of a hedge). If it were to widen too much, it would be sufficient to have a string of string trimmers to limit its invasiveness.

Melissa in a jar

It is so adaptable that it can be grown safely in a container for a long time. He wants a rich, rather clayey substratum that manages to stay moist for a long time. The ideal soil both for sowing and for pots is composed of 1/3 compost for green plants, 1/3 of clay garden soil and 1/3 of sand.
We avoid inserting it with other essences. Like mint, in fact, it expands rapidly, taking up all the space available and soon, therefore, it would end up suffocating the "roommates".
The cultivars with golden leaves are very suitable for this use: they are in fact less vigorous and it will be necessary more rarely to resort to the division.
The vases can be placed on the kitchen windows, as the aroma emanates the mosquitoes. The effluvium during meals is also very pleasant and therefore it might be a good idea to usually pack bouquets to decorate the table.

Melissa planting

The best time to plant the lemon balm plants is undoubtedly the end of winter.
Holes will be dug at least four times the diameter of the earthen bread. After having deposited a handful of seasoned manure on the bottom, we will insert the seedling and cover with the soil. We press well and irrigate abundantly.


Generally it proceeds in late spring, when the night minimum temperatures have exceeded 10 degrees. Cassettes or alveolar trays are used. The seeds should never be covered with too thick layers of soil, since they are small. The ideal is the use of fine sand or vermiculite
We keep the humidity high by vaporizing often or placing the containers immersed in water. Germination occurs in about 2 weeks. It will then be necessary to proceed with numerous trimming in order to obtain well-trimmed seedlings.
Seeds are harvested around October. However, remember that cultivars rarely maintain the particular color of the leaves in subsequent generations.

Other cultivation treatments

It is a rather autonomous essence. However, it is necessary to intervene in July, when the flowering begins, to cut the whole bush at the base. In this way we will avoid the important self-dissemination and we will be able to use the leaves as we please.
The plant, in addition to everything, will be stimulated to produce new stems and to expand. Within a few weeks it will grow back more beautiful than before and we will be able to make a new harvest in October (or then proceed with spring cleaning in March).

Lemon balm preservation

The best methods to preserve the lemon balm are freezing (which succeeds very well preserving the aroma to the maximum) and drying.
This must take place in the shade, in an area that is not very humid and well ventilated. The perfume is kept for about two months, especially if they are then stowed in airtight jars, away from light.

Melissa in the kitchen

The culinary uses of lemon balm are manifold.
In spring the tender, young leaves are delicious mixed with lettuce, julienne carrots, fennel and other vegetables to make a delicious salad. To avoid that the tomentosit is unpleasant it is good to cut them very fine.
The aroma of this plant also goes very well with poultry, mushrooms, vegetables and all the stuffing in general. Absolutely it is one of the aromatic ingredients that are best combined with fish and white meats.
It is also used in confectionery, for sweets and for creams based on orange and lemon.
It gives a delicious scent to white or apple vinegar: it is enough to let about 30 grams of leaves soak for a liter of product for about ten days. After which you will have to filter and put back in the bottle.
Also excellent for making herbal teas. It divinely marries with tea, chamomile and sage. It is one of the best choices to calm anxiety in those suffering from insomnia.

As a medicinal plant

Lemon balm has powerful antispasmodic, digestive, sedative and sedative qualities. The ideal is to use it always fresh since the drying makes it lose a good part of its virtues.
A classic use is that in infusion: a handful of freshly picked leaves in a liter of water bills. The waiting time ranges from 5 to 10 minutes.
It can be used to help the nervous system, digestive system and circulatory system function properly. It is scientifically proven that it is able to calm heart palpitations and is an excellent aid in the fight against insomnia. It can also be valuable in the case of neuralgia and severe menstrual pain.
In extreme cases it can also provide relief if insect bites occur: first of all, make sure that there is no sting (and if so, take it with tweezers). Then we rub the area with one or more leaves just picked. Soon we will have relief from the strong burning.





Melissa officinalis
officinalis Kind species, light green leaves, very vigorous
golden With golden foliage, aroma as in the species, creeping habit, but less invasive
high With a pleasant orange aroma
flecked With mottled foliage, less invasive than the type species