The Q&A Archives: herbs

Question: I just recieved some lemon balm plants. I need to know how to take of them, where to plant them, etc.

Answer: Lemon balm (Melissa Officinalis) is an easy to care for herb that grows similar to mint. It likes some shade during the hot part of the day or it will wilt slightly. I find it very drought tolerant and rarely give it extra water unless we go quite awhile without rain. In fact, it doesn't like wet feet, and prefers a loose, fairly fertile soil. It will tolerate dry soil as well. I harvest my plant at least 3 times each summer and still have more than I can use with just one plant. It can be harvested within 2-3 inches from the base of the plant each time and it comes back with vigor! I've read that in some parts of the United States it's becoming known as a pest, but I've found that if you keep it harvested and don't allow it to go to seed it stays under control.

You can divide lemon balm in the spring or fall. You can also take cuttings in midsummer to bring in for the winter. It can be grown from seed in the spring, or started indoors in late winter and transplanted.

Lemon balm is not considered an ornamental herb, but I think the leaves are pretty, and I can't resist grabbing one each time I pass it to smell the lovely lemon scent. My daughter is three and it's her favorite plant. I have mine located next to my sage plant, which is great for snipping both herbs quickly to stuff the cavity of a roast chicken before cooking.

To harvest, cut the whole stems within a few inches of the base of the plant, gather into groups of 5-6 stems, tie and hang in a warm, airy location. When dry, strip off the leaves, store in a covered container and use as needed.

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