Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), not to be confused with bee balm, Monarda species, is a perennial herb in the mint family Lamiaceae, native to southern Europe and the Mediterranean region. In England it may be known simply as "balm".
It grows to 70–150 cm tall. The leaves have a gentle lemon scent, related to mint. During summer, small white flowers full of nectar appear. These attract bees, hence the genus name Melissa (Greek for 'honey bee'). Its flavour comes from citronellal (24%), geranial (16%), linalyl acetate (12%) and caryophyllene (12%).
This herb can be easy to cultivate in Plant Hardiness Zones 4 to 9 according to the United States Department of Agriculture. In zone 4, it needs well-drained sandy soil and a winter mulch or adequate snowcover to survive. In zone 7, it can be harvested at least until the end of November. While it prefers full sun (as described on most plant tags), it is moderately shade-tolerant, much more so than most herbs. In dry climates, it grows best in partial shade. It can also be easily grown as an indoor potted herb.
In North America, Melissa officinalis has escaped cultivation and spread into the wild.
Lemon balm requires light and at least 20 degrees Celsius (70 degrees Fahrenheit) to germinate, so it is best to plant indoors or in spring and not to cover the seeds.
Lemon balm grows in clumps and spreads vegetatively as well as by seed. In mild temperate zones, the stems of the plant die off at the start of the winter, but shoot up again in spring. It can be easily grown from stem cuttings rooted in water, or from seeds. Under ideal conditions, it will seed itself prolifically and can become a nuisance in gardens.
There are many cultivars of Melissa officinalis, some of the more common ones being:
- M. officinalis 'Citronella'
- M. officinalis 'Lemonella'
- M. officinalis 'Quedlinburger'
- M. officinalis 'Lime'
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