Lemon Balm

Lemon balm is a tried and tested medicinal plant, it adds a fresh note to meals and beverages and is also a bee pasture. Here’s how to successfully cultivate this green all-rounder.

Aug 19, 2021 10:56 am
readtime icon 8 Minutes
Growth type
  • Perennial plant
Growth height (from)
from 30 cm to 90 cm
Growth width (from)
from 0 cm to 0 cm
Growth characteristics
  • bushy
Flower color
  • white
Flowering time (month)
  • June to August
Flower shape
  • lip-shaped
  • double lip
Flower characteristics
  • lightly fragrant
  • edible
  • monoecious
Leaf color
  • green
page format
  • ovate
  • oval
Sheet properties
  • edible
  • fragrant
Fruit color
  • brown
Fruit shape
  • broken fruit
Fruit characteristics
  • unimpressive
  • sunny to semi-shade
Soil type
  • sandy to loamy
Soil Moisture
  • moderately dry to moderately humid
ph value
  • alkaline to weakly alkaline
Lime compatibility
  • lime-loving
Nutrient requirements
  • moderately nutritious
  • rich in humus
Decorative or utility value
  • Flower Decoration
  • Herb for cooking
  • medicinal plant
  • Nectar or pollen plant
  • non-toxic
Winter Hardness
  • hardy
Climate zones according to USDA
  • 4
areas of life
  • GR2
  • FR2
  • Flowerbeds
  • Planters
Garden style
  • Pharmacy Garden
  • cottage garden
  • Herb Garden
  • Pot garden
Bee Friendly
bee friendly plant

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is a member of the Lamiaceae family. The plant has been used as a medicinal herb for over 2000 years. It was once cultivated as bee pastures, which is presumably why it has the name “melissa”, the Greek word for “honey bee”. The plant was originally native to the eastern Mediterranean. As it was so extensively cultivated - by Benedictine monks in cloister gardens, among other places - and as it grows wild so easily, lemon balm has now spread to all warm regions of Europe. It predominantly grows in clearcut areas and on logging roads.


The perennial medicinal plant and herb has has a strong rootstock and spreads very quickly, both through offshoots and also self sowing. The plant grows between 15.75 and 35.43 inches tall and has thin, upright and clearly square stems.


Light green or yellowish-green, ovate to cordate and serrated leaves with coarse veins sit on the hairy stems of the lemon balm. They grow to about 1.97 inches long, are rounded bluntly at the tip and are covered on both sides with small oil glands. The plant exudes its typical lemon fragrance, particularly when the leaves are rubbed.


The white, yellow, or blue flowers of the lemon balm only appear from its second year. The flowering period is between June and August. Lemon balm is a popular feeding plant for bees and other insects and attracts them in droves in the garden.


The ovaries from two carpels degrade with maturity into four single seed fruit capsules.

Lemon balm in a pot
If you cultivate lemon balm in a pot, you will need to frequently repot the vigorously growing herb

Lemon balm thrives in sunny to semi-sunny and sheltered locations. You can also cultivate the herb in a pot, however, lemon balm grows so vigorously that it must be continually repotted and demands a larger plant container.


As a weak uptaker, lemon balm requires a permeable, slightly damp soil with sufficient nutrients. Loamy-sandy garden soil is a suitable substrate for the pot.


If you wish to cultivate lemon balm as a medicinal plant and herb for household use, two plants are plenty. They are available as young plants in trade shops in the spring. Alternatively, you can also sow lemon balm yourself in March or April at 59 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit in boxes or bowls. Cover the seeds with a very light layer of soil. Germination occurs after three to four weeks. The young plants can then be planted outdoors after about six weeks, at distances of 11.81 x 11.81 inches.


At the start, young plants should be kept continuously damp. When kept in good conditions, lemon balm will then begin to quickly proliferate and spread by itself. As the plants form strong, flat roots, you should be very careful hoeing around them. Prune back the plant when it begins to bud or when the first lower leaves start to turn yellow, to stimulate fresh shoot growth. When cultivating in a tub, we recommend providing the lemon balm with organic fertilizer every two to three weeks from April to August.

Harvesting lemon balm
Lemon balm has the most valuable aromatic substances just before it begins flowering and this is when it should be harvested
Harvest and Conservation

Of course, you can pick and use the fresh lemon balm leaves individually throughout the entire summer. However, it stores up the most aromatic substances shortly before it begins flowering in June or July. You can cut the herb off 3.94 inches above the soil. A second harvest is possible in September. If the leaves are not being used straight away, lemon balm can be dried after the harvest. However, then it loses most of its aroma and is not really suitable for adding flavor to dishes any more - but all the more suited to teas and tinctures.

Winter Protection and Overwintering

Lemon balm is frost-hardy and only needs winter protection in the flower bed at extremely low temperatures. You can also place the plants in the greenhouse to bring forward the spring harvest. It is better to overwinter pot plants in a cool, bright place in the house. Prune back the plants before collecting and only water them moderately thereafter. The lemon balm can be placed back outside on the balcony or patio from April.

Healing Properties

Lemon balm is a good choice for nervous disorders, such as problems falling asleep or inner disquiet: it strengthens the nerves. The plant contains a lot of tannins and bitter substances such as rosemary acid as well as ethereal oils, so it relieves cramps and is anti-inflammatory. Lemon balm can alleviate gastrointestinal problems and has healing effect on colds and circulatory weaknesses. It is also ascribed a positive influence on herpes viruses. Lemon balm is usually administered as a tea or in high concentrations as a tincture.

Lemon balm tea
Lemon balm can be prepared as a healthy tea. It is generally made using dried leaves
Kitchen Uses

However, lemon balm is also a popular kitchen herb. Salads, fish dishes, sauces, jams, and beverages can all be refined with the fresh, wonderfully citrus flavored leaves. Tip: Only add the leaves to hot dishes right at the end. This allows the aroma to develop better and it is not “overcooked”. The dried leaves can be brewed in particular in lemon balm tea, or as a bath additive. It can often be found in potpourri or herbal pillows.


Different varieties of lemon balm are available in trade shops, they mainly vary in the color of the leaves. ‘All Gold’, for example, grows vibrant, yellow foliage, however it does not tolerate blazing sunlight. The variety ‘Variegata’ has yellow variegated foliage and is a real eye-catcher in herb beds or herb spirals. ‘Citronella’ has a very high oil content.

‘Binsuga’ and ‘Limoni’ have a particularly aromatic flavor. Lemon balm ‘Compacta’ has compact growth - as the name indicates - and is therefore also a little more suitable for cultivation in pots. However, this variety does not form flowers.

Melissa officinalis variegata
The variety ‘Variegata’ has yellow variegated foliage

Older plants can be propagated in the spring by dividing the rootstock or using cuttings. Propagation using seeds is also possible. However, this is labor intensive and not really worthwhile - especially because lemon balm generally grows readily by itself anyway and quickly becomes prolific in the garden.

Diseases and Pests

Lemon balm is an extremely robust medicinal plant and herb. It is occasionally infested with aphids or green leaf-mining beetles, more rarely with leaf spot diseases or powdery mildew.