Happy Bank Holiday Weekend! Wherever you are, we hope that you’re taking some time for rest and enjoyment this bank holiday. And, if you’re ready to embrace the time for salads, refreshing citrus tastes, and all the fruity delights that late spring and summer usually delivers, then Sara has a treat for you, as she brings us recipes and ideas for using Lemon Balm to help you skip a head to a sunnier menu.
Written by Sara Dixon
“[Lemon Balm] regenerates the strength of man and renders him nearly immortal”
– Paracelsus (1493-1541) who used it in his ‘Elixir of Life’
Originally from Southern Europe, West Asia & North Africa, Lemon Balm now happily and somewhat thuggishly, grows in the UK.
Its official name is Melissa officinalis. The word ‘Melissa’ is Greek for honey bee. As such, M. officinalis is also known as the ‘Bee Plant’, ‘Honey Balm’ and ‘Sweet Balm’. Beekeepers like me rub the leaves on hives to stop them swarming and drink Lemon Balm tea before tackling an angry hive, in order to calm both bees & the keeper. Neither makes any actual difference to the bees, if a bee is cross, it is cross, the actions are old wives’ tales but the scent is wonderful & the tea certainly calms me!
Lemon Balm looks and grows, like Mint so always keep it, even when planted in the ground, within in a pot if you don’t want it to spread. It has pale yellow or white flowers, sometimes purple ones. It likes sun and grows well in moist soil. Cut it back to keep it growing well (which you will do anyway if you use it in cooking) and give it a very good cut back in Autumn. If you can let it spread, it is a glorious sight, full of pollinators. It mostly comes in green leaf, yellow leaf, and a mix of green/yellow leaf varieties.
If you are using it as part of your ‘Herb Larder’, then it is your Tough Weather Lemon (your Lemon Verbena is your Fair Weather Lemon). Its lemony flavour is particularly intense just before flowering. (To those of you new to this blog, or if you’d like a refresher, you can read about how to build your own herb larder here.
If you prefer a visual lesson, in which I cover how to use citrussy herbs in a herb larder and discuss the differences between Verbena and Balm, as well as other citrus flavoured herbs, then you can watch here.
Using Lemon Balm in Your Cooking:
Its most simple use in cooking is to add it to water (hot or cold), cocktails and soft drinks. I tend to put the flowers and leaves in ice cubes and add them to drinks when I fancy a pretty aesthetic or a lemony zing.
It is also lovely as a leaf in salads, stuffed inside chicken or fish. You can add the leaves to cake mixes, ice cream and sorbets, and make herb butters and oils. In other words, wherever you need a lemon, you can substitute or add Lemon Balm.
Cook your choice of pasta. Take a courgette or two, slice and slowly fry in a little butter/cook in a little water until the courgette is firm but gives a little when pressed. Add the pasta to the courgettes, add salt & pepper, and then add the lemon balm leaves just about 5 minutes before you are ready to serve. Twirl and mix it all together.
A Quick Pudding
Take some fruit, top with yoghurt/whipped cream, some nuts or pomegranate seeds, top with Lemon Balm. Easy! (see photo)
Sara runs Hawkwell Herbs, selling herbs that she grows herself and teaching cooking courses. Visit hawkwellherbs.co.uk to discover more and find Sara on Instagram @hawkwellherbs. If you would like to receive the next Herb of the Month straight to your inbox, email “Herb of the Month please” to firstname.lastname@example.org
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