Lessons in Lemon Balm

Lemon Balm

It seems I like to learn things the hard way.

I think I actually have a knack for learning things the hard way. You know, by making mistakes over and over again? Learning by doing it the wrong way may really be the best way in the long run for me. Those hard-learned lessons stick with me much better. They get locked in. Locked way in.

Take Lemon Balm, for example. You would have thought I’d learned from planting mint to read a little bit more about the plants I choose for my garden spots. But no, I chose the leathery leafed lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), that closely resembled mint in so many ways, without a second thought as to what I may be adding to my vegetable and herb garden.

It’s been a healthy green beautiful plant, but like mint, it has spread quite a bit. I’ve pulled up a few clumps here and there, but have had to resign to the fact that a major removal was in need. It pains me to pull up such healthy plants, but it’s become quite invasive.

Lemon Balm

To me, lemon balm is much worse than mint’s wandering ways. Oh, they’re similar, actually more than similar. Lemon balm is part of the mint family, and spreads just like mint by sending out a vigorous root system. I can’t imagine how many yards of mint and lemon balm roots I’ve pulled up. But from what I’ve learned this week, and boy have I learned, mint sends out roots with single shoots surfacing above ground. Lemon balm is more sneaky. It seems to develop more in clumps than the mint has, very strong, interwoven clumps, then sending out heavy duty roots to develop more clumps. I’ve had an easier time pulling up mint over the years.

Lemon Balm

Getting lemon balm out of the ground once it has spread into, say … where you’ve been trying to get tarragon to grow for two years, is pretty much a pain. Or maybe where a walkway used to be? Or perhaps crowding out the purple coneflower that you’d rather see spread. Yes, you could say that lemon balm and I have had an intimate relationship over the past week. After days of trying to rid it from my vegetable garden, I’m quite appreciative of it’s hardiness. It’s a tough bugger.

Lemon Balm

We’re not tossing it all. Our new garden cart came in handy this weekend for carrying a good amount of it to be transplanted to another part of our yard where it can grow without crowding out anything else.

Lemon Balm

And with all the little ones left scattered around, and hiding under the coneflower that I want to keep, I know I’ll still have some lemon balm to battle in this particular garden spot for a while.

I did turn to the internets to see if there was an easier way to get the tough stuff out of the ground other than pulling and digging. After a search for “how to kill lemon balm,” I was surprised to learn even more about this multi-purpose pain in my neck. I originally planted it after reading about it’s mosquito repelling qualities, and various culinary uses, but, come to find out, there’s more to lemon balm than some nice smelling tea.

Really, I shouldn’t be so hard on it. Throughout history, lemon balm has been found to have so many useful purposes. According to the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service of North Carolina State University lemon balm has been used:

  • medicinally, for it’s mild sedative properties. (Hmmm…?)
  • to help relieve gas, reduce fever and increase perspiration. (Alrighty then.)
  • for it’s antibacterial and antiviral properties.

Other references I read spoke of lemon balm’s soothing ability, of the mind, as well as the skin. Anti-stress is always a good thing, and smooth skin too? Sign me up!

So go ahead and plant some lemon balm. Just plant it in a pot, or a place in your yard where you can’t get anything else to grow. Maybe you’re trying to prevent erosion on a slope somewhere? Try planting lemon balm. Maybe you’re tired of cutting grass, but want something that is not only green, but smells like fresh lemons? Plant lemon balm. Maybe you’ve hoped and dreamed of having a crop of something to make your own tea or delightful beverages with? Plant you some ding, dang, dong lemon balm. It will be happy you did.

Of course, before spending time and money, check zone and soil requirements for lemon balm first to see if you can grow it in your area.

I for one, will not be planting any more lemon balm any time soon. It has taught me well. Yes indeed. I’ve learned this lesson the hard way.

 Happy gardening!

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  1. 1


    I love mint and lemon balm but I’m lucky that I was told how to contain them and they’ve been contained for 20 years in my garden. How?

    Dig a big hole, bit enough to sink a 5 gallon paint bucket into the ground. Fill the bucket with dirt and plant your mint or lemon balm. Now all you have to do is watch the area around it for any stems that might touch the ground and root but no longer will you have mad, crazy runners from under the ground! I think after 20 years it might be time to dig it out and cut the roots back a bit (ya think?) but it comes back every year without a problem so I can’t complain. But I have a lot of garden work ahead of me…somehow it feels better to know I won’t be alone!

  2. 3

    Sommer@ASpicyPerspective says

    Amy, I’ve got the exact same issue. There was lemon balm planted in a corner of my flowerbed when we bought our house and every year it tries to completely take over–no matter how much i rip out. I need to read more about what I can do with it since it is obviously not going away.

  3. 4

    Paula- bell'alimento says

    SO good to know I was going to pick some up this year ; ) My mint already gives me fits!

  4. 5


    My method is similar to Barbara’s. I plant any kind of mint in a terra cotta pot first, then sink the pot into the ground with about an inch of the rim above the level of the dirt. Keeps the plant nicely contained.

  5. 6

    NanaScriv says

    Love your Lemon Balm post. I planted mine in a large pot. Last year we drank Lemon Balm sun tea all summer long. And it is back again.

  6. 7

    Joanne says

    I can feel your pain as I had the same issue in my garden years ago. The name Lemon Balm makes my back hurt still today!!!

  7. 8

    Marly says

    My house came loaded with lemon balm. Lucky for us it’s far away from our garden spot so I encourage it to grow and spread to its little heart’s content. I love the aroma that comes with it. And now I know I can add it to my tea…to help me sleep! Who knew!!

  8. 10

    Wenderly says

    I don’t know why I feel compelled to sing “oh leeeeeemon balm, oh, leeeeemon balm….” I’m weird that way. Happy gardening love!

  9. 11

    Jen @ Jen's Favorite Cookies says

    I wish I was better at growing herbs. My husband wants to get rid of our vegetable garden altogether, so I guess I’ll be growing things in pots. It kind of makes me sad, though!

  10. 12

    Lurach says

    I learned this lesson the hard way as well. The only difference is that my lemon balm was planted in a pot. The sneaky stuff grew out through the drainage hole in the bottom of the pot and spread all over the yard. I’m still trying to get it all under control. What I’m keeping is being transplanted to hanging baskets for the sake of my sanity. =P

  11. 13

    Amanda says

    Thanks for sharing, I have never planted lemon balm. I may now plant in some of the tough to grow places around the garden.

  12. 14


    Mine now grows wild in the backyard as well. All from 1 clipping! Ah well, better than Creeping Charlie. Will keep the sedative qualities in the back of my mind for a rainy day! Heh. Great post!

  13. 15

    Leona says

    I am really glad that I read your post this morning, Amy. I have been growing mint for years, always in a pot. This past weekend I used an old cast-iron grill as a base for a new herb garden and I planted lemon balm in there amongst my other herbs. I’ll be removing that TODAY and putting it in a pot of its own. :-)

  14. 16


    A friend gave me some last year and I had no idea of its propensity to spread like mint (which I cannot stand!) until a different friend told me. AFTER I’d planted it. Like you, I really should research the stuff before I put it in. It’s just so pretty. Right now, it’s in a safe spot but as soon as I see it jumped too far, I’m going to be merciless. Thanks for the funny read!

  15. 17

    beth thompson says

    i have four lemon balm plants that i placed in a small section in the yard that’s fenced in for the dogs. its right up against the house, so i didn’t want to put grass there… it was just a big mud pit with a sidewalk on two sides, the house on one, and a deck on the other. well i still have 4 lemon balm plants. they have gotten big and bushy, but they have not actually spread. they’ve been there for two years. i wanted them to fill in the entire area, but no dice. ugh. frustrating!

  16. 18


    I am laughing out loud, as that dang lemon balm managed to hop a brick pathway and jump right into my perennial garden this year! It is athletic too, huh? and it is spreading like wildfire! Now that the overgrown mint in my herb garden isn’t choking it’s style! You just motivated me- I gotta go rip it out today before my flowers pay the price!

  17. 19


    I use to grow mint and haven’t for quite a while. Living in northern FL, with so much bright sun in my yards burns up many plants early in the summer. I do have some beautiful roses, which I baby along. I have not been so successful with herbs. Guess I should give it another try. Thanks for the good information in your article.

  18. 20

    winnie says

    I have the same issue..BIL planted a lemon balm plant in my garden since it looked and smelled nice, and well….it is all over…My mint is in a pot, that is no issue…my big big big one is OREGANO! It took over my garden….

  19. 21

    Sherry says

    Good info! I’m in AZ, have some lemon balm in a pot now. Was considering putting in the ground before reading your post. Whereabouts are you? Your Sunset climate zone or USDA hardiness zone would be helpful. Thanks!

  20. 22

    Susan says

    Oh dear! I’ve just planted some this year. I better see to it before it overtakes my herb garden! Yikes! I am so glad I read your tale before I, too fell prey to the wandering ways of the lemon balm. I’ll need to put this on my garden to-do list for the week. Perhaps I’ll go park it in a pot next to my wayward mint!

    By they way I am really enjoying your blog! Stumbled here from a pin on Pinterest. Looking forward to reading more.

  21. 23


    I just came across your blog on blogher, and i love your style of writing! I love in North Carolina and write about a myriad of things including gardening also. i’m just getting started really, so I’ll be interested in following your blog. i think we have some similarities in our views on life, I mean that as a compliment, to both of us I guess! LOL I also have lemon balm that has run amok in my garden! I have to get to work on containing it! Thanks for the post, looking forward to seeing more! Helen

  22. 24

    marianwhit says

    I think if you have something spreading like this it is not responsible to just stick it in some uncultivated area to spread unchecked. It is also not responsible to give some to all your friends. Burn unwanted plants. Your neighbors (both human and wildlife) may not want it. Invasive plants are a form of litter that reproduces and a huge threat to native plants and the wildlife dependent on them.

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