Melissa officinalis | ‘Lemon Balm’ | ~100 seeds
Melissa officinalis is a vigorous herbaceous perennial of the Lamiaceae (mint) family, which is native to parts of Central Asia, Europe and Iran. Known commonly by names such as ‘Balm’, ‘Balm Mint’, ‘Common Balm’ and ‘Lemon Balm’, it’s also become naturalised (and sometimes invasive) elsewhere; for example, in North America.
Growing to a maximum of roughly one and a half metres tall, officinalis has long roots and forms thick woody stems, glossy silvery-green leaves and small, white-whitish-cream flowers (blooming between summer and autumn and rather attractive to bees, birds and butterflies). The foliage possesses a wonderfully lemony-mint scent, hence the name ‘Lemon Balm’.
‘Lemon Balm’ is known to have been cultivated since the 16th century or earlier, with cultures such as the ancient Greeks and Romans making much use of the plant. Its many uses include as a bee attractant (for honey production), as an edible herb or salad leaf, as a flavouring (for example, in herbal teas, ice creams and toothpastes), as an ornamental (there are many attractive cultivars on the market) and as a source of essential oil and general extracts (for use in traditional and non-traditional medicine and perfumery). Medicinally, parts and products of the species were used to treat ailments such as colds, fevers, headaches, insect bites, insomnia, menstrual pain, sleep problems, sores and tumours. Interestingly, an alchemical apprentice’s first project was traditionally to make a tincture of Melissa officinalis (apparently).
Occurring naturally in USDA Hardiness Zones 3-10, this is an easy species to grow from seed – although be aware of its aforementioned invasive potential (we recommend growing it in a container)! Melissa officinalis seeds need a minimum ambient temperature of 20°C (70°F) to germinate (which they do slowly – reportedly, stratification can help to improve this), as well as some light. Space the young plants at least thirty centimetres apart in rich, mildly acidic to mildly alkaline and continually moist soil; somewhere in full sun to partial shade is best. It’s also very easy to propagate this plant via stem cuttings.
All the seed sold by Arkham’s Botanical was freshly and ethically sourced