If you're looking to build a perennial herb bed, lemon balm should be included in the plant list. It can be easy to look at the over-productive plant and wonder what to do with it all, here are my favorite 10 ways to use lemon balm:
Lemon balm does indeed have a lemony flavor. It's not intense or tart like lemons but the light flavor is great in a number of different culinary dishes.
Toss a handful of the leaves in with your smoothies to impart that light lemon flavor. Just yesterday I made one with frozen pear chunks, the end of last summer's shredded and frozen zucchini, and a handful of lemon balm – it was delicious and refreshing on a warm July day.
2. Simple Syrup
1 Cup of packed lemon balm leaves – 1 Cup of Water – 1 Cup of Sugar. Bring to a boil, for 1 minute until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and cover. Let stand 30 minutes. Strain the leaves from the syrup. Store the syrup in the refrigerator.
Use to sweeten lemonade and iced tea. Pour into club soda for Italian sodas or mix with club soda and vodka or whiskey for a summery cocktail.
3. Roasted Chicken
Mix 2 Tablespoons of chopped lemon balm with 1/4 cup of softened butter. Rub this mixture under and on top of the skin of a whole chicken prior to roasting. Toss a handful of the leaves in the cavity prior to cooking too.
4. Dried For Tea
Rosemary Gladstar refers to lemon balm over and over in her books for a multitude of uses like fighting colds & flus with its antiviral properties and using it for its calming effects on the nerves. She generally recommends drinking it as tea. In the summer, I use fresh leaves but I dry lots of it as well for winter drinking.
5. Infused Honey
Just like making mint infused honey – pack a jar half full of lemon balm leaves, fill it with honey. Let sit for a month before straining and use the honey to flavor tea, desserts, and more.
6. Fruit Salads
Add a few Tablespoons of chopped lemon balm leaves to fruit salads to impart some lemony flavor without making it sour or too tart. Also, try mixing some chopped leaves with yogurt to use as topping for fruit salads.
7. Lip Balm for Cold Sores
Lemon balm has been studied as an effective treatment for cold sores. I infuse the lemon balm in almond oil and add some beeswax to make a lip balm. The minute I feel that little tingle announcing a cold sore is coming, I start applying the balm liberally.
8. Infused Vinegar
Fill a jar half full with fresh leaves, top with white wine vinegar (champagne vinegar is nice too) and seal. Place in a cupboard for 3 to 4 weeks. Strain and bottle the vinegar. Use in salad dressings, chutney, even fresh salsa for a delightful hint of lemon.
This is not intended to be a medicinal tincture, though I suppose without the sugar it could be, this is simply a pleasantly sweet and lemon flavored adult beverage.
Fill a clean glass jar half full with packed fresh lemon balm leaves. Fill the jar with vodka (use the cheap stuff here). Let sit for one month in a dark cabinet, shaking when you remember. Strain the lemon balm. To the infused vodka add some simple sugar syrup to taste and bottle.
Serve over ice as a pleasant dessert drink. It does turn a lovely light yellow color too, all on its own – no food coloring here.
10. Fresh in Jams and Desserts
When making jams, berry jams especially, I'll toss in a handful of chopped lemon balm leaves just before putting the jam in jars and processing. It helps impart a lovely light herby flavor and often adds a wonderful texture to the final product.
Fruit crisps, pies, and jam bars, all get an occasional handful of chopped lemon balm to the fruit layer for added flavor.