This is what my lemon balm looks like just now. It’s tough, scrawny, and just a little bit gallus, coming up this early in the year, with the prospect of some very cold weather still in store before we can be confident of the spring. It is one of the herbs that ‘have the souls of weeds’ as a garden broadcaster once memorably put it. In the late summer it will be sprawling and untidy, and it will self-sow everywhere. But the new growth is what we need just this uncertain time of year, and be patient, this is what it will look like in just a few short weeks;
Plus the lemon scent as you brush past it is irresistible. I’ve known people use it in cakes, or lemonade, or to freeze it in ice cubes, and it has a reputation as a healing herb, for cooling fevers, strengthening the digestion and ‘for curing melancholy’. Bees love it, to the point that it was known as ‘bee balm’, and in fact its Latin name melissa officinalis means ‘bee’. There are rather more fanciful uses ascribed to it – to restore youth, cure baldness and improve the memory, and to increase the milk yield if fed to cows. I have a note to the effect that a strong infusion of the herb will discourage harvest mites, which make my life a misery in the summer time, but I tried it with only limited success, and if anyone can recommend something more reliable, my gratitude would be boundless.