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– Lemon balm with a halo of borage flowers

The other day I was having one of my morning wanderings in the garden, with a cup of tea in one hand, when I accidentally brushed against the lemon balm (Melissa officinalis). Instantly I remembered my first attraction to herbs and lemon balm was one of those early charmers. In fact I think its scent is the most beautiful of all. However, I have paid it no attention at all this year while my mind has been on propagating the more popular and easy to grow herbs. When I say ‘easy to grow’ I don’t, of course, mean that lemon balm doesn’t grow quickly, and lusciously but that it is very difficult, for an amateur at least, to keep it looking healthy enough for someone to want to buy it. It succumbs to rust very easily indeed and I have never had a bush without that affliction.

At this time of year, with its tiny flowers out, or having gone to seed, it is well past its best. I always mean to have at least two plants of each kind so that I can keep one well clipped and let the other do its own thing, but I haven’t got there yet.

And what of lemon balm’s other charms? Margaret Brownlow in her book ‘Herbs and the fragrant garden’ suggests making a tea using one part lemon balm leaf to two parts of tea leaves. I haven’t tried this but I can imagine it would be good.

I do use lemon balm with mushrooms, where it provides just the right zing, especially in an omelette. I also put the leaves in my salads.

Lemon balm is otherwise known as bee balm. The name Melissa originates from the Greek word for the honey bee and bees do love this plant. Gerard, in his ‘Herball’ says ‘The hives of bees being rubbed with the leaves of bawme, causeth the bees to keep together, and causeth others to come unto them’. In addition to all this lemon balm is traditionally known and used as a cure for melancholy.