Balm, lemon (Melissa officinalis; Labiatae)

Description

A hardy herbaceous perennial 2—3 x1 ½ ft, (60-100 x 45 cm), rather shrub-like in form Leaves are soft, heart-shaped and wrinkled; whitish flowers are produced June-August. Origin, Europe, naturalised in Britain; used since the Middle Ages. Top growth dies to ground in winter, but new shoots appear very early in spring.

Uses

The strongly lemon scented leaves are used in drinks, also in salads, sauces and omelettes. It is said to be useful for indigestion and to relieve tension. A favourite plant for pot

pourri and perfumery, and is a plant liked by bees because the flowers contain much nectar.

History

Used by the Greeks, melissa is the Greek word for honey bee. It was also used by the Romans, and in the days of the Tudors, leaves were strewn on the floors, and the oil was an ingredient of furniture polish. In the 18th century it was popular enough to warrant growing on a commercial scale in market gardens round London.

Cultivation

Easily grown by division of established plants in autumn, or from seeds sown in spring in a frame. Germination takes 3—4 weeks, and young plants are put out early in September. Will grow in most soils and situations, but does best in sun and moist, well drained soil. Remove flowers to encourage leaf production.

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