Lemon Balm

I made the mistake in the last growing season of planting lemon balm. Those of you who have grown this plant know what I mean when I say it is prolific. Those who haven’t grown it, imagine the film Evolution. This invasive monster that keeps growing and multiplying and just will not die!

It just doesn’t seem to want to disappear, and I have tried everything, including digging up the roots! My allotment was already a haven for Mares Tail, so another invasive weed was not particularly sought after.

However, like Mares Tail, there are other uses for the plant, which can make it worth growing in some circumstances, which in my case gives a silver lining to not being able to obliterate it out of the raised bed it inhabits.

Lemon balm (Melissa Officinalis) is related to the family of mint plants, with similar looking leaves, however the giveaway is the distinct smell of lemon. Not the acidic tang that you might get with sorrel but more like the perfumed rind of the lemon. As such, the essential oil is often sought for uses in dermatological treatments and use as medicine. However, another blog can focus on those areas, let’s stay focused on the garden and the kitchen.


Use In The Garden

Lemon balm is good for attracting bees; they seem to love the little white flowers of the plants. If you need to attract bees to your garden or allotment, specifically towards an area of difficult to fertilise plants (sweetcorn perhaps?), this could be your plant. However, you need to remember how prolific it can get (some plants can grow to 150cm if left to their own devices). On top of this, if the plant is left to go to seed it will multiply with extreme prejudice.


Uses In The Kitchen

Lemon balm can be used in making teas and Ice creams. However, I have found that it can work really well in more savoury dishes as well.  below are 4 recipes for using your fresh and preserved lemon balm.


Drink

Lemon balm can be used in a range of different drinks, both hot and cold, long drinks or short, alcoholic or not. Below I have selected a popular non-alcoholic recipe that will work well on a sunny afternoon.

“Lemon-Balmade”

Rather than your traditional lemonade, this is an equally refreshing drink with a twist.  it really brings out the freshness of summer.  This will provide you with between 4 and 5 glasses of “Lemon-Balmade”

INGREDIENTS

  • The juice of 5 lemons, freshly squeezed (about 510ml of juice)
  • 340g of sugar
  • 2 handfuls of chopped fresh lemon balm
  • 2 sprigs of fresh lavender
  • 680ml of water
  • 340ml of chilled water or 340ml of vodka and tonic water to taste.

METHOD

  1. You need to make a simple syrup to begin, so start by dissolving the sugar in the water while heating gently.  Once dissolved add the fresh lemon balm and lavender.  Take the pan off the heat.  You want to stir them in but then leave the herbs to steep for half an hour in the warm water.
  2. Strain out your lemon balm and lavender syrup, removing all leaves and sprigs, and add the fresh lemon juice.  Mix well.
  3. At this point you have a choice, you could mix in the chilled water for a nice innocent treat or the vodka and tonic water to give a more adult experience.  If adding the tonic water, start at a splash and increase from there.  you do not want to dilute the syrup (or the Vodka!) significantly.

Accompaniments

Lemon Balm Salad Dressing

A nice fresh vinaigrette that will be perfect with a summer leafy salad.

INGREDIENTS

  • 15g of lemon balm, finely chopped
  • 1 shallot, chopped very finely
  • 1 clove of garlic, crushed and chopped finely
  • The juice of 1 lemon
  • The zest of half a lemon
  • A teaspoon of mustard (Dijon or wholegrain work well)
  • A teaspoon of brown sugar
  • 60ml of white wine vinegar
  • 120ml of olive oil

METHOD

  1. Mix all the ingredients except for the oil in a small bowl or jug.
  2. Add the oil slowly while whisking vigorously.
  3. Leave for the flavours to infuse for 1 hour before use, then give a final quick whisk, and drizzle over the intended meal.

Main Course

Although traditionally lemon balm is not used in main courses, instead being used in drinks and sweeter dishes like deserts, lemon balm can be used in main courses as well.

Monkfish and Lemon Balm Parcels

Lemon balm is native to the Mediterranean, however the addition in this Thai inspired dish gives a delicate kick, which compliments the fish, exaggerates the lemongrass and helps to cut through the ginger.

INGREDIENTS – FOR THE PASTE

  • 1 lemongrass stick, chopped finely
  • 3 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • An inch of ginger root, chopped finely
  • A handful of lemon balm, chopped
  • 2 birdseye chillies, seeds removed, chopped finely
  • A teaspoon of chopped Thai basil
  • A handful of coriander, chopped
  • A teaspoon of cashew nut oil
  • A teaspoon of fish sauce
  • Crushed black peppercorns.

INGREDIENTS – FOR THE COOKING

  • 1 monkfish tail, diced into 12 equal pieces.
  • 12 pandan leaves
  • bamboo wok steamer
  • 12 cocktail sticks

INGREDIENTS – FOR THE CRUNCHY SALAD

  • One iceberg lettuce, cut into ribbons
  • Half a cucumber, cut into fine strips
  • Beansprouts
  • A handful of chopped lemon balm
  • A handful of fresh coriander
  • A handful of fresh flat leaf parsley

INGREDIENTS – FOR THE DRESSING

  • 1-2 red chillies, depending on how hot you want it
  • 100ml cashew nut oil
  • Spring onion, chopped finely
  • 50ml of light soy sauce

METHOD

  1. Place all ingredients for the marinade together in a pestle, and then mortar to mix the flavours.  Pound until a thick paste is created.
  2. Coat the pieces of monkfish in the paste and leave to marinade for 1 hour.
  3. While marinading, make the dressing.  Place the red chillies and spring onion in a pestle and lightly smash.  Add the oil and soy sauce and whisk until you create an emulsion.
  4. The salad is easy, just mix together all the ingredients.  You can be generous with the herbs.
  5. When the marinading time is up, wrap each piece fo monkfish in the pandan leaf, along with some of the marinade.  One leaf per piece of fish.  Wrap following the shown method
  6. Place each piece into a wide bamboo steamer.  Ensure you leave a gap between each piece so that the steam can permeate.  If this means cooking in two batches it will be worth it, but use the biggest bamboo steamer possible.
  7. The monkfish should take 20 minutes to steam.
  8. Serve still in the pandan leaves on top of the salad and drizzle the dressing over the top.

And there you have it.  Three recipes for using lemon balm.  There are many other recipes on this site so have a look around, or follow the links for Drinks, for Savoury dishes and for deserts.

Until next time.