A bushy, branching, perennial herb with bright green wrinkled leaves. The white, nettle-like flowers are loved by bees and the leaves can be used to make a refreshing tea.

Family: Lamiaceae (mint)
Botanical Name: Melissa officinalis
Common Names: Balm, lemon balm, balm leaf, bee balm, tea balm

Foliage: Deciduous, simple nettle-like toothed leaves that give off a lemon scent if crushed.

Flowers: Small, tubular, white flowers appear in the leaf joints.

Flowering Period: Early to mid-summer.

Soil: Well-drained, poor soil (chalk, clay, sand or loam). Acid, alkaline or neutral pH.

Conditions: Full sun or partial shade. Plant in a west or south facing aspect, in a sheltered position.

Habit: Bushy, clump forming.

Type: Herbaceous perennial.

Origin: Central and southern Europe.

Hardiness: Fully hardy in the UK.

Planting and Growing Balm

Easy to grow. Plant in any moist, moderately fertile soil, in full sun or partial shade.

Looks at its best in spring when it forms an attractive low clump of fresh neat foliage.

Taking Care of Balm

Protect from excessive winter wet.

Lift and divide congested clumps every three years or so to rejuvenate the plants.

Pruning Balm

Cut back hard once flowering has finished to promote fresh growth and to prevent the plant setting seed. Balm can become invasive if allowed to seed.

Pests and Diseases

Susceptible to attack by leafhoppers.

Propagating Balm

Plants can be increased from seed, cuttings or by division.

Culinary Uses

The citrus scented leaves can be used in any dishes where a mild lemon flavour is required. Add a few leaves to iced drinks in summer or to fruit salads.

To make balm tea: place 1oz (28g) of fresh leaves into a large heat-proof jug or teapot and pour 1 pint (500ml) of boiling water over them. Leave to infuse for twenty minutes and allow to cool. Sweeten with honey.

Harvesting Balm: Pick the young leaves fresh from late spring to early summer. The fragrant leaves can also be dried or frozen for storage. Leaves for preserving should ideally be picked before the plant starts to flower. The dried leaves keep their fragrance well and can be used in pot-pourri.

Varieties of Balm

Melissa officinalis bears pale green crinkled leaves and small white flowers in summer. Height: 2ft (60cm), spread: 18in (45cm) or more. For sale at Crocus. The variegated form 'Aurea' is one of the most decorative, with green-and-gold leaves.