Lemon balm is a native of temperate Southern Europe but has naturalised all over the world. It is a vigorous grower and will happily romp away in a sunny well-drained garden. The herb is rarely used in cooking, and is more commonly used for its delicate fragrance. However it makes a great accompaniment to a variety of dishes and also makes a delicious and refreshing tea.
Lemon balm is also known as sweet Melissa, sweet balm or balm. It is related to the herb mint and has similarly-shaped leaves. Lemon balm has traditional medicinal values; it has been used as a salve for burns and bites and also as a sedative and even a mood-enhancer (a tea made with the leaves of lemon balm was said to ‘lift the spirits’). As the name suggests, lemon balm has a strong lemon scent, which is emitted when you brush past it. The leaves also have a strong lemon flavour and may be substituted for lemons in cooking.
Lemon Balm in Cooking
The most common use for lemon balm is to make a refreshing herbal tea. You can use fresh or dried leaves, however they can have a bitter taste and cause a headache if steeped in the water for too long.
Lemon balm makes a delicious accompaniment to fish and chicken dishes, fruits and vegetables, and even salads and drinks (it is used as an ingredient in liqueurs, such as Benedictine and Chartreuse). It may be chopped and added to butter to make a delicious lemony herb butter and also added to vinegars and oils to impart its delicious scent and flavour.
Lemon balm works well with basil, chives, parsley, mint and dill. It is best used fresh as the process of drying it reduces the flavour. Why not try mixing lemon balm with mayonnaise and adding it to freshly boiled new potatoes for a delicious lemony potato salad? Or chop the leaves and sprinkle them over grilled fish and chicken dishes?
Lemon balm makes a great accompaniment to fresh peas, and is fantastic in a meal with new potatoes, freshly podded peas and broad beans. Simply boil the potatoes until they are cooked and serve with freshly cooked peas and broad beans (if they have just been podded they only need to be boiled for just a couple of minutes). Chop the lemon balm and toss it together in a large pan with the broad beans, peas, potatoes and a large knob of butter. Season to taste.
Other Uses for Lemon Balm
Lemon balm is a delightful herb to have growing in the garden to use fresh in a variety of dishes. It has a delicate lemon scent and flavour, and may be substituted for lemons in cooking. The leaves are commonly chopped and infused in boiled water to make a refreshing tea but can also be added to salads and butters, oils and vinegars to impart its delicious lemon flavour. The leaves work well with chicken and fish dishes, and also potato salads.