How to harvest and use Lemon Balm

How to harvest and use Lemon Balm

Lemon Balm is an easy-to-grow herb known for its pleasant lemon scent and variety of uses - from teas to relieve stress and anxiety, to an ointment for cold sores. In this blog, we'll cover how to cultivate lemon balm, its benefits, and how to use it to make teas, tinctures, and oils. Whether you're new to gardening or looking to expand your herb collection, Lemon Balm is a great addition.

Lemon Balm Growth Habits

Lemon balm is a clump-forming perennial with heart-shaped, deeply veined leaves covered with stiff hairs. It grows 30cm – 90cm high. It looks very similar to mint in appearance but is not as invasive and easier to control. Here in southeast Queensland lemon balm rarely flowers as it does in the southern states. The flowers appear in early summer are small and white, with a delicate appearance. They grow in clusters on upright stems above the plant's foliage. The flowers are attractive to bees and other pollinators.

Lemon balm prefers rich moist soil and partial shade. It can tolerate direct sunlight but the leaves may yellow slightly during hot summers in full sun. Plants grown in shade tend to be larger and more succulent.

Harvesting Lemon Balm

Recently Shannon and I went next door to Barts' farm to harvest the lemon balm he has growing there. We went over in the morning after the dew had dried, but before it was too hot. This ensures that the volatile oils stay in the plant and are not dispersed by the heat of the day. We worked our way along the garden beds cutting the lemon balm back to just above the soil. While this sounds drastic, the plants were established enough to grow back after such a hard cutback. Generally, with smaller plants, you would cut back by a third to harvest. This would encourage bushy regrowth.

We brought the bags we filled back and started to sort through it. Whilst removing the leaves from the stems and discarding damaged leaves, we discussed what we would do with the bounty we had collected.

We decided against drying it because of the loss of those volatile essential oils. Whilst the dried herb still has medicinal value, Lemon balm is much more flavoursome and medicinal when the fresh plant is used. To preserve the best from the plant for later use, we chose to make a fresh plant tincture and a fresh plant-infused oil.

Making Lemon Balm Tinctures

A tincture is a concentrated herbal extract made by steeping plant material in alcohol or another solvent to extract its medicinal properties.

  • 500g fresh leaves
  • 350ml of 96% alcohol
  • 50ml water
  • 1L jar
  • Drink muddler or wooden spoon
  1. Weigh the fresh herb before packing it into the clean jar.
  2. Mix the alcohol and water together and pour over the herb.
  3. Use the muddler to push down the lemon balm to release the moisture from the leaves. (this can take quite a few minutes, it is amazing how much the herb mashes down)
  4. Close the jar with a tight-fitting lid
  5. Store in a cool dark place for around 4 weeks.
  6. Turn the jar upside down each day to allow the menstruum (alcohol and water) to flow through the herb.
  7. After 4 weeks use a wine press to squeeze the liquid from the herb.
  8. Store the tincture in labelled dark bottles in a cool dark cupboard.

Using Lemon Balm Tincture

Tinctures offer an easy way to take lemon balm on a regular basis, no matter where you are. You can carry a small dropper bottle in your bag to take on the go when needed. Simply add a few drops to a small glass of water when you are feeling anxious or stressed. You can also take it before meals to aid digestion.

You can dab a drop or two of tincture on insect bites or add it to a cream base at around 6% of the total cream.

Making Lemon Balm Infused Oil

Herb Infused Oil is a carrier oil such as olive oil infused with herbs. When strained, the oil contains the flavour and medicinal benefits of the oil.

  • 100g fresh leaves*
  • 750g olive oil
  • 1L Jar
  1. Weigh the fresh herb before packing it into a clean jar.
  2. Weigh the olive oil and pour over the herb.
  3. Give it a stir with a chopstick to remove air bubbles.
  4. Make sure the oil completely covers the herb
  5. Close the jar with a tight-fitting lid.
  6. Place in a warm dark spot and shake daily.
  7. After 4 weeks strain the oil through a sieve lined with double muslin over a jug.
  8. Store the infused oil in labelled dark bottles in a cool dark cupboard.

*as fresh leaves contain water the oil infusion can go mouldy as oil and water do not mix. You can semi dry the leaves by laying them out on a cloth to dry for a few hours to reduce the chance of mould.

Using Lemon Balm Infused Oil

  • Use as a massage oil to relax tense muscles and soothe the nervous system.
  • Apply directly to the skin as a natural moisturiser, especially good for dry or irritated skin due to its calming properties. Massage into the scalp to help soothe irritation, improve circulation, and enhance hair health.
  • Mix with beeswax to create balms to soothe skin irritations, minor wounds, or insect bites.
  • Can be used to make a lemon balm cream for using on dry and irritated skin conditions.

More ideas on how you can use Lemon Balm

Culinary Uses:

  • Fresh leaves serve as garnish for drinks and desserts like cheesecake, custard tarts, and jellies.
  • Adds zest to fruit salads, garden salads, fruit drinks, punch, and sorbet.
  • Can be used in herb butters, dressings, and sauces.
  • Lemon balm butter, seasoned with pepper, complements corn, broccoli, beans, and asparagus well.
  • Suitable for marinades or sauces for fish or chicken.
  • Enhances flavour when stirred through sautéed shellfish.

Medicinal Uses:

  • Combines well with other medicinal herbs for various health benefits.
  • Infusion of leaves aids in reducing fever from colds and flu by inducing perspiration.
  • Makes a relaxing tea for anxiety, stress and mild depression.
  • Useful for easing headaches, particularly nervous headaches.
  • Helps relieve nervous digestion, nausea, bloating and colic.
  • Juice or strong infusion applied to cold sores shortens healing time and decreases recurrence.
  • Bruised fresh leaves relieve insect bites, cuts, and grazes.
  • Helps promote a restful sleep.