Arbor Gate's Picks of the Month
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
The Arbor Gate’s monthly ‘Herb Picks’ for 2014 honor the memory of Madalene Hill and celebrate her pioneering work in bringing herbs to all the gardeners of the Gulf South (and beyond). Each month’s herb is closely associated with Madalene.
February 2014 marks the fifth anniversary of the dedication of the Madalene Hill Herb Garden at The Arbor Gate.
She was our teacher, mentor, and friend.
Lemon Balm is an outstanding herb for many purposes, including culinary uses. This very popular lemon-scented herb has bright green, puckered, egg-shaped leaves and small pale yellow flowers. Perennial though it is, it doesn’t invade the garden, but serves as a virtually evergreen groundcover in sun or shade. During the cool months, it can be cut back almost to the ground, and with warm weather, fresh new foliage will emerge from the center of the old plant.
Lemon Balm’s botanical name, Melissa, refers to the genus of which it is a member, a genus that has many members throughout Europe, Asia, and North America. The origin of the name is a Greek word that refers to “bee”, indicating the plant’s attraction for bees – a great benefit as pollinators in the home garden.
One of the easiest herbs to grow, in our mild sunny climate Lemon Balm reaches about 18 inches in height and is best in high shade. Full sun fades the deep green leaves to yellow and diminishes their flavor, whether intended for the teapot, a salad, or a garnish. Its delicate flavor is lost in cooking or drying, but the wonderful scent remains.