Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Growing Lime Balm

Lime balm (Melissa officinalis ''lime") is a deliciously limey smelling perennial herb.  It is related to (ie a lime smelling variety of) lemon balm and my understanding is that it is a spontaneous mutation that appeared in someones garden once and has been kept on ever since.  I really like this herb, I have only had it a short time and already it is one of my favourite herbs.

It is related to mint and I assume that much like lemon balm it can be invasive so is best grown in a container and not in the garden.

Lemon Balm
I have grown lemon balm since I was a child.  Each year it, along with variegated apple mint, would run rampant and take over the small vegetable garden near the house.  Each year I would spend weeks digging these plant out.  I have never been overly impressed with lemon balm.  It is good enough to have ensured that I continue to grow it rather than replacing it with something else, but it is far from amazing.

According to the internet, lemon balm is meant to have been used as far back as the Middle Ages to reduce stress and anxiety, promote sleep, improve appetite, and ease pain and discomfort from indigestion (including gas and bloating, as well as colic).  It is also meant to heal bee stings, but I tend not to get stung so have never tried it out.  

Lemon balm is meant to attract honey bees, but honestly I think that is based on superstition more than fact. I rarely see bees on the lemon balm flowers, honey bees much prefer cucurbits or basil or clover or dandelion or many other things which flower at the same time in my gardens.

Lemon balm smells much like lemon most of the time.  If it is allowed to flower the smell can change and become weak or soapy for a little while.  If it flowers it tends to drop tiny seeds, which germinate and attempt to take over the garden.  I suggest not allowing it to flower, that way it will not try to take over and the smell will not change.

I have used lemon balm in cooking, it tends to be overpowered by stronger smells and is degraded by heat so is best added towards the end of cooking.  Lemon balm can be stuffed into the cavity of a chicken while roasting, but I find that it is too delicate a smell and gets lost this way.

It is also meant to make a nice tea, strangely I have never tried to make lemon balm tea even though I have had it for so many years.

I do sell lemon balm plants on my for sale page.  As I am not overly impressed with it, and make no attempts to deceive people about  the plants I sell, not surprisingly it has never been one of my better sellers.  It certainly isn't a bad plant, otherwise I would not have moved it with me so many times and would not continue to grow it, but it is not my favourite herb.

Lime Balm
I have heard about lime balm for several years but never wanted to buy it without smelling it first.  Too many times herbs are named after something but they smell absolutely nothing like that.  I have smelled 'basil mint' several times and can smell nothing other than mint.

A few times I have seen lemon balm mis-labelled as lime balm, a quick smell revealed this to me, so didn't buy any.  Apparently lime balm seeds often revert to lemon balm.

Recently I was in a garden shop and found some lime balm, I brushed my hand over it and it was lime balm, it smelled like sweet limes!  I bought this little lime balm herb and took it home.  The smell of lime balm is amazing.  It truly does smell just like sweet limes!
Lime Balm starting to flower
 Apparently it is used in the same ways medicinally and in cooking as lemon balm, the difference is that it smells of lime instead of lemon.  I can imagine that it would add a lovely lime smell to food if used towards the end of cooking.

I have made a 'tea' with lime balm several times.  This is deliciously limey and sweet enough to my taste that I don't need to add any sugar.  It tastes a lot like warm lime cordial.  My kids have tried a little of this 'tea' and they all like it too.

I imagine that lime balm is potentially just as invasive as lemon balm, so I am attempting to prevent it from flowering.  I also don't know if the smell changes when the plant is flowering, I don't really want to find out and am cutting off anything with any signs of flower buds.

I am told that lemon balm and lime balm do not grow underground rhizomes like mint.  My lemon balm does grow underground rhizomes, they are shorter and less aggressive than mint so are not too much of a problem.  I am assuming that lime balm will be very similar in growth.

It is simple enough to grow lime balm from taking cuttings.  I now have several small plants and plan to increase this number shortly.
Lime Balm growing from a cutting
Lime Balm for sale in Australia
A few places appear to sell lime balm and it rarely turns up in garden shops.  I plan to sell small lime balm plants when I have enough, when I do they will be listed on my for sale page along with the other herbs, vegetable seeds and perennial vegetables I sell.

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