Fresh lemon herbs refresh!
Lemon balm, Lemon verbena , Lemon Grass.
The first lemon herb of the season in our garden is the ever-dependable lemon balm (Melissa officinalis). This reliable perennial comes up under the trees in both shady and sunny perennial boarders where it has been allowed to reseed. We pick it as soon as it sprouts in late February or early March and add it to any tea we might make or often steep it alone with slices of lemon for a great spring tonic. Later on it is great with ice and other lemon herbs for a refreshing and very healthy beverage.
Another lemon herb, lemon verbena is not as hardy as lemon balm, but smells and tastes very lemony. It can be planted in the garden as a one-season plant or grown in a large clay pot and brought in to a cool unheated porch or garage, or best of all greenhouses. I love the fragrance of lemon verbena and often cook and bake with it.
The third of this lemon trinity is the very tropical lemon grass. Unlike lemon balm that endures the coldest of winters and the lemon verbena that can take some freezing temps, lemon grass needs a warm tropical climate. Thus it also must be grown as a potted plant in order to keep it over the winter. But it also makes a wonderfully attractive plant in the ground, but will not make it through the winter outside. It can however be housed in a very warm sunny window during winter and added to teas and other recipes.
Lemon thyme is a hardy perennial most winters and makes great ground cover. It is really good added to fish, vegetables and salads. Lemon savory, lemon mints and even lemon catnip are available for lemon lovers.And remember, lemons are herbs and are delicious added to lemon herbbeverages and dishes.
Of all the lemon herbs the lemon balm seems to be the easiest to grow and the most useful. Lemon balm grows easily in most situations, preferring a friable loam soil with good drainage. It will tolerate partial shade and damper soils than most other herbs, but will not thrive in waterlogged or very dry conditions. (Our plants were fine during a drought last summer with no additional watering) It has been suggested by many herb growers that lemon balm develops better scent and flavor when grown without much additional feeding other than a top dressing of compost each spring. Situations that that promote lush growth artificially produce foliage low in oils aroma.
Lemon balm can be established from seeds, cuttings or plant divisions. One lemon balm planted in early springtime will expand well all summer. Lemon balm self-seeds easily in the garden unless there is thick mulch.
It is best in hot water as an herb tea. I like to place a large sprig in a hot pot of boiling water along with my favorite green tea mix or along with Earl Gray tea. With equal parts of chamomile and catnip it is a surefire nightcap for anyone having difficulties sleeping. Friends have told me that this herb helps some conditions of migraines that are associated with tension. It has long been used for insomnia and my husband who always can fall asleep, but who sometimes wakes up during the night says it keeps him sleeping soundly all through the night.
Some of the old references in ancient Herbals to Lemon Balm say it has a tonic effect on the heart and circulatory system causing mild vasodilatation of the peripheral vessels, thus acting to lower blood pressure.
However probably the most popular use in many countries of the world is its use for feverish conditions such as influenza. It is said that hot water extracts have anti-viral properties and that a very strong tea taken warm, along with the bruised leaves placed on skin lesions of herpes simplex or cold sores is very helpful.
German studies show that the essential oil of Lemon Balm acts upon the part of the brain governing the autonomic nervous system and protect it from excessive external stimuli. In many countries this is welcomed as a safe herb for children who are hyperactive as it is much kinder to their body than many of the drugs being used to treat them, and it also tastes very good with a dab of honey and slice of lemon.
Now there are many references to this herb on the Internet telling about its uses in England, Germany, Australia and many other countries where the pharmaceuticals have less control. Food for thought!
But it is a nice, refreshing plant to allow to act as a ground cover and to add to tea. I am convinced that it has helped keep us cold free when we drink the delicious tea or iced lemon water made from lemon balm. Here's to you!
Lemon leaves in crunchy spring salad
Wash and spin spring green mix, add some tender lemon balm leaves, about 1/2 cup to 3 cups of salad greens, add 1 cup chopped walnuts, 1 cup sliced water chestnuts and /or 1 cup of chopped kohlrabi (can use both if you like a lot of crunch like we do) toss with goat cheese or a cheese of your choice, and dressing of two tablespoons of lemon juice, 1/4 cup olive oil, dash of wine vinegar if you like it tart and slat and pepper to taste,
Lillian's lemon doodles (a nice summer cookie with tea)
1-cup butter (no subs)
1 1/2 cup sugar
Plus 5-6 leaves of *lemon verbena or lemon balm that has been finely chopped (can put in blender with eggs to chopped).
2 3/4 cups flour
1 tsp. cream of tartar
1 tsp. baking soda
Zest of one fresh lemon or a tablespoon of dried grated lemon peel
Chill batter 1 hour or longer, can be kept a week covered in refrigerator, roll small balls the size of a cherry or walnut depending on size of cookie you like, bake 350 degree s, 8-12 minutes, till golden.
Frost with small dollop of *lemon butter icing. While still warm.
* Beat one stick of room temperature butter with 1 box 4 xxxx sugar, add the juice of 1/2 lemon, 1 tsp. Vanilla, beat well, if too stiff add a drop or two of mail. Lemon zest optional. left over frosting can be kept in refrig or freezer for a long time. delicious on pound cake too.