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!