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How To Harvest Lemon Balm – Tips, Tricks, and Tasty Ideas

If you’re searching for how to harvest lemon balm, I’m guessing this beloved plant is taking over your garden! Mine sure is! Lemon balm is one of the herbs I’m most excited to share ideas about because this rockstar plant is not only easy to grow but also a little overbearing and tends to take over a garden bed. This means you more than likely have a lot!

In this post, How To Harvest Lemon Balm – Tips, Tricks, and Tasty Ideas we’ll cover everything you need to know about harvesting lemon balm. You’ll learn when to pick it, how to do it right, and what to do with your harvest. Let’s get started!

me harvesting my lemon balm.

What is Lemon Balm?

Lemon balm, also known as Melissa officinalis, is a hardy perennial herb that belongs to the mint family. Originally from southern Europe, this aromatic plant has been used for centuries in cooking and herbal medicine. If you’ve got it in your garden, you know it grows like crazy! With its square stems and crinkly, heart-shaped leaves, lemon balm is easy to spot. And let’s not forget that amazing lemony scent that gives it its name – just brush against it, and you’ll get a burst of fresh citrus fragrance!

A top shot of a lemon balm plant.

Why Grow Lemon Balm?

This herb is a favorite for many reasons:

  • It’s easy to grow
  • Comes back year after year
  • Has a fresh, lemony scent
  • Spreads quickly (sometimes too quickly!)

What Can You Do with Lemon Balm?

There’s so much you can do with this versatile herb:

Growing Lemon Balm

Where to Plant Lemon Balm

Lemon balm is pretty easy-going, but it does have some preferences. It likes full sun but can handle partial shade too. Well-drained, fertile soil is its happy place, and it prefers a soil pH between 6.0 and 7.0.

Tip: In my garden, lemon balm thrives in a spot that gets morning sun and afternoon shade. It’s been growing there for years!

lemon balm in a raised bed.

Getting Started with Lemon Balm

You’ve got a couple of options when starting your lemon balm journey. You can start from seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before the last frost, or buy young plants from a nursery. I went with young plants when I first started, and it was a great way to get a head start.

Caring for Your Lemon Balm

As mentioned above, Lemon balm is easy to grow! Lemon balm needs regular watering, especially during dry spells. Keep the soil moist but not waterlogged. I’ve found that mulching around the plants helps retain moisture and keeps the roots cool.

Heads Up: Watch Out for These Issues

Even easy-growing lemon balm can have problems. Keep an eye out for powdery mildew (those white spots on leaves are no fun), root rot from too much water, and spider mites that can damage leaves.

Tip: I once lost a whole patch to root rot because of poor drainage. Now I make sure to plant in raised beds or add extra perlite to the soil for better drainage. Learn from my mistake!

A large lemon balm plant in a raised bed. the leaves are a bit crinkly and hearty looking.

When to Harvest Lemon Balm

Timing Your Harvest

If you’re starting from seeds, mark your calendar! Lemon balm is usually ready for its first harvest about 70 days after seeding.

Pro tip: for the best flavor, you’ll want to harvest before those tiny white flowers appear. Once flowering starts, the leaves can turn a bit bitter.

Seasonal Harvesting

In my garden, lemon balm hits its peak in early summer. That’s when I get my first big harvest. But don’t worry, this herb keeps on giving! You can harvest multiple times throughout the growing season. I usually get two or three good harvests each year.

Signs Your Lemon Balm is Ready

So how do you know when it’s time to grab those scissors? Look for young, tender leaves. They should be a vibrant green and feel soft to the touch. If you see flower buds starting to form, that’s your cue to start harvesting pronto!

Tip: For a continuous supply, I like to harvest small amounts regularly rather than taking a lot at once. This keeps the plant producing fresh leaves all season long and keeps this spreader in check!

Cutting stems from a lemon balm plant.

How to Harvest Lemon Balm

What You’ll Need

Harvesting lemon balm is super simple. All you really need are some clean, sharp scissors or pruning shears. I like to keep a basket handy too, for collecting those fragrant stems.

Step-by-Step Harvesting

Timing is key when it comes to harvesting lemon balm. I’ve found that early morning, just after the dew has dried, is the perfect time. The leaves are full of essential oils at this point, giving you the best flavor and aroma.

To harvest, simply cut the stems about 2 inches above the ground. Don’t be shy – lemon balm is tough! You can cut back up to 2/3 of the plant without causing any harm. 2 inches above the ground will leave you with some smaller leaves to continue growing and sustaining the plant. This approach ensures that your herb can regrow quickly while still providing you with a good harvest.

The smaller leave left on the plant after harvesting. these leaves will continue to grow.

Tip: Always use clean, sharp tools to avoid damaging the plant. I learned this the hard way when I used dull scissors and ended up with ragged stems that took longer to recover.

Harvesting for Different Uses

If you’re using lemon balm fresh, just snip off what you need for your recipe. If you’re not ready to use it right away, place the cut stems in water since lemon balm tends to wilt quickly after being harvested. This will help keep the leaves fresh and crisp until you’re ready to use them in your cooking or other preparations. I leave the Lemon balm in water on my kitchen counter since refrigeration is not recommended for lemon balm. Cold temperatures can damage the delicate leaves and actually speed up wilting.

For drying, cut longer stems and tie them in bundles to hang upside down. To learn more about drying and storing herbs visit my How to Dry and Store Your Homegrown Herbs post!

For those of you into essential oils, harvest on a dry, sunny morning when the oils are most concentrated. You’ll want to use the leaves and flowering tops for the best results.

Remember, whether you’re making tea, drying leaves for later, or extracting oils, the key is to handle your lemon balm gently to preserve those precious oils. Trust me, your taste buds will thank you!

Post-Harvest Care for Lemon Balm

Encouraging New Growth

After you’ve harvested your lemon balm, give it a little TLC to keep it thriving. I like to water my plants well and add a layer of compost around the base. This gives them a nutrient boost and helps encourage new growth.

Pruning and Maintenance

Don’t be afraid to give your lemon balm a good haircut! Regular pruning keeps the plant bushy and prevents it from getting too leggy. I usually trim mine back by about a third after each harvest. This also helps prevent the plant from going to seed too quickly.

Preparing for Next Season

As summer winds down, it’s time to think about next year. In late summer, I give my lemon balm one final trim and a dose of slow-release organic fertilizer. This sets it up nicely for the cooler months ahead.

Overwintering Lemon Balm

If you live in a colder climate like I do, you’ll need to prep your lemon balm for winter. After the first frost, I cut the plant back to about 2 inches above the ground and cover it with a thick layer of mulch. This protects the roots from freezing temperatures.

Tip: In really cold areas, you might want to consider potting up some lemon balm to bring indoors. I keep a small pot on my kitchen windowsill for fresh leaves all winter long!

A large full lemon balm plant taking over a garden.

Preserving Lemon Balm

Drying Lemon Balm

Drying is my go-to method for preserving lemon balm. I tie small bundles of stems and hang them upside down in a dry, dark place. It usually takes about a week for the leaves to become crisp. Once dry, I strip the leaves from the stems and store them in airtight jars.

Tip: Don’t dry your lemon balm in direct sunlight – it can fade the color and reduce the essential oils.

Freezing Lemon Balm

Freezing is great for preserving that fresh lemon flavor. My favorite trick is to chop the leaves and freeze them in ice cube trays with a bit of water. These are perfect for popping into summer drinks!

You can also freeze whole leaves on a tray, then transfer them to a freezer bag once solid. This way, you can grab a few leaves whenever you need them.

Making Infusions and Tinctures

For a longer-lasting option, try making a lemon balm infusion or tincture. I steep fresh leaves in vodka or vinegar for several weeks to create a concentrated extract. It’s great for adding to homemade cleaning products or using in natural remedies.

Remember, properly preserved lemon balm can last for months, letting you enjoy its benefits long after the growing season ends!

Lemon balm leaves in a jar of liquid.

Uses for Harvested Lemon Balm

Culinary Delights

Lemon balm is a superstar in the kitchen! I love brewing it into a soothing tea, perfect for winding down in the evening. It also makes a fantastic addition to summer drinks – try it in lemonade or mojitos for a refreshing twist.

In savory dishes, lemon balm adds a bright, citrusy note. I often chop it into salad dressings or use it to season fish. It pairs beautifully with chicken and pasta dishes too.

Wellness and Aromatherapy

Many folks use lemon balm for its calming properties. I like to add it to homemade bath salts or sachets for a natural stress-reliever or do a facial steam bath using Lemon balm – so relaxing!

Crafty Ideas

Don’t forget about crafts! Lemon balm leaves make beautiful imprints in homemade soaps or candles. I’ve even used them to create scented sachets – it keeps my clothes smelling fresh and repels moths!

Frequently Asked Questions About Lemon Balm

How do I grow lemon balm from seeds?

Lemon balm seeds are easy to start in early spring. Plant them in well-draining, rich soil in a spot that gets part shade to full sun. Keep the soil moist but not waterlogged. In the United States, you can sow seeds directly outdoors after the danger of frost has passed, or start them indoors 6-8 weeks before the last frost date. Lemon balm is a member of the mint family and grows vigorously, so consider planting it in small pots or contained areas in your herb garden.

Can dogs eat lemon balm?

Yes, lemon balm is generally considered safe for dogs in small amounts. As a member of the mint family, it’s non-toxic to dogs. Some pet owners even use lemon balm to help calm anxious pets. However, like with any new food, introduce it gradually and watch for any adverse reactions. It’s always best to consult with your veterinarian before adding new herbs to your dog’s diet, especially if your pet has any existing health conditions or is on medication.my dog cooper sniffing fresh lemon balm.

What are the medicinal properties of lemon balm?

Lemon balm has been used for its medicinal properties since ancient times. According to this article from Mount Sinai, it’s known for its calming effects and is often used to reduce stress and anxiety. The volatile oils in lemon balm leaves are believed to have antiviral properties. Many people enjoy lemon balm tea for its potential health benefits, including improving sleep and aiding digestion. However, always consult with a healthcare professional before using lemon balm for medicinal purposes.

A small lemon balm plant.

From planting to harvesting and preserving, we’ve covered all things lemon balm. This amazing herb has become such a common ingredient in my kitchen, and I love finding new ways to use those fresh lemon balm leaves in everything from teas to fish dishes.

Remember, whether you’re growing lemon balm for its aromatic leaves, medicinal properties, or just because it looks pretty in your garden, there’s no shortage of ways to put your harvest to good use. I’m always excited to share new ideas, so don’t be shy about experimenting with this versatile herb!

Happy growing, harvesting, and enjoying your lemon balm!

my signature which is a drawing of me sitting.

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