Lemon Balm

lemon-balm-melissa-officinalisA perennial herb that is hardy in zones 4-9 and grows to 24-36″ at maturity. Plant in partial sunlight with well-drained, sandy soil and moderate watering; will need a winter mulch to survive colder climates. Does best in soil temperature of 70°F. A member of the mint family, it has fragrant lemon-scented leaves and clusters of white flowers. The leaves can be used for flavoring teas, ice cream, fruit or in pesto. Lemon Balm is used in sachets and potpourris. It self-seeds, and clumps will expand over time.

Native to the Eastern Mediterranean, West Asia and North Africa. The Arabs are thought to have brought the plant to Europe in the 10th Century. Melissa gets its genus name from the Greek word for honeybee. From the Greek meli or melitos meaning ‘honey’.
When Linnaeus invented the binomial system of nomenclature, he gave the specific name ‘officinalis’ to plants (and sometimes animals) with an established medicinal, culinary, or other use. The word officinalis is derived from the Latin officina meaning a storeroom (of a monastery) for medicines and necessaries. It literally means ‘of or belonging in an officina’, and that it was officially recognised as a medicinal herb. It conjures up images of a storeroom where apothecaries and herbalists stored their herbs.

Bee keepers often rubbed (and in some cases, still do) the inside of a new hive to attract a swarm or prevent swarming and to induce the bees to return to the hives. Planted nearby the hive would mean the swarm would never leave. Lemon Balm, is often called Bee Balm, but should not be confused with another plant commonly called Bee Balm (Mondarda didyma)
Lemon balm is said to signify sympathy, pleasantry and longevity. On a romantic note, it is fun to ponder the fact that it was symbolically used to transmit messages to lovers. Maybe next time you want to send a love note you should tuck it into a little pot of lemon balm.

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