Lemon balm 

(Melissa officinalis)

 Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), also called sweet balm or simply balm, is a hardy perennial member of the Deadnettle Family (Lamiaceae), which makes it a relative of the mints. Native to western Asia and cultivated in southern Europe since ancient times, balm’s shiny, scalloped, slightly hairy leaves possess the sweet fragrance of lemon soap and a sweet, slightly bitter lemon flavor.

Lemon balm is called by various names internationally:

GERMAN: Zitronen-Melisse, Melisse or Herztrost;

FRENCH: le mélisse officinale;

ITALIAN: melissa, erba cedrina, or cedronella

SPANISH: la melisa, la citronela, or el toronjil

Balm leaves add a refreshing sparkle to fruit cups, drinks, salads, jellies, soups, stews, meat dishes, egg dishes, sauces, dressings, vinegars, herb teas, candies, fish dishes, and vegetable dishes. It can even be made into pesto.

A calming cup before bedtime

Balm leaves help flavor Chartreuse and Benedictine liqueurs, and make a pleasant tea. Essential oil of balm is employed by the perfume industry, and has been used to scent and flavor beverages, ice cream, candy, and baked goods.


A clump-grower and root-spreader, lemon balm is suited to a variety of exposures, from full sun to part shade. In Northern New Mexico, it is best to site it so that it receives protection from the afternoon sun. Lemon balm is reliably hardy from USDA Zones 4-9 provided that it is given well-drained sandy soil and a winter mulch or adequate snowcover in the colder winter zones.


M. officinalis ‘Citronella’: To 16 inches tall. White flowers July-August.

M. officinalis ‘Aurea’ (Golden Lemon Balm): To 16 inches tall, very fragrant, with decidedly yellow-green leaves. White flowers July-August. Nice for borders.

M. officinalis ‘Lime’ (Lime Balm): To 20 inches tall. Lime-scented and flavored leaves; white flowers July-August.

M. officinalis ‘Quedlinburger Niederliegende’: Improved variety bred for an extra-high essential oil content. Very fragrant.

M. officinalis ‘Variegata’ (Variegated Lemon Balm): To 24 inches tall, with gold-splashed green leaves. White flowers July-August.