Healthy eating: Many uses for zesty lemon balm

Fresh lemon balm

Recently a neighbor was clearing out her raised garden beds and brought me a armful of lemon balm. I used to grow lemon balm because it smells wonderful and attracts bees. But I soon learned that I needed to treat it like my mint (it is in the mint family after all) and contain it. Within one season, my lemon balm had spread and the following spring I had lemon balm plants everywhere. It took me years to get rid of it and I’ve never planted it in my garden again. I grow four different types of mint but grow them inside 24-inch clay chimney pipes (which I should have done with my lemon balm). I have now discovered that lemon balm is like zucchini — it’s easy to get some from neighbors when I want to use it.

Lemon balm is, as the name infers, a lemon-scented herb. It is native to Europe and has long been used as a culinary, medical and cosmetic herb. It’s widely considered to have calming properties and is prized for its ability to reduce stress and anxiety, promote better sleep, and ease indigestion and bloating. Health studies have shown that lemon balm can increase individuals’ sense of well-being, happiness, and alertness.

As a general rule of thumb, treat lemon balm as you would any other fresh herb. It works especially well in place of mint, offering bright, fragrant notes. Add whole lemon balm leaves to green salads, or chiffonade the leaves and scatter them over a fruit salad for added zesty flavor. Lemon balm also pairs beautifully with poultry — try adding sliced leaves to chicken salad, fish dishes and even vegetable dishes to serve on the side. Unlike other herbs, you’re less likely to find dried lemon balm in the spice and herb aisle of your grocery store. I ended up using some of the fresh lemon balm and drying the rest.

The easiest way to use lemon balm is as a brewed tea. Combining it with mint makes a refreshing drink, either hot or cold. It’s just as soothing as chamomile or lavender tea but has a delicious citrus flavor. Lemon balm can be made into a simple syrup for drinks and used in cookies as well. It is wonderful in savory dishes.

Here’s a pesto that uses lemon balm and is wonderful served with pasta and shrimp. Now go find a neighbor with an abundance of lemon balm!

Lemon Balm Pesto


3/4 cup walnuts
5 cloves garlic, peeled
2 cups fresh lemon balm leaves, packed
1 cup fresh parsley leaves, packed
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, packed
10 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup parmesan cheese, grated
salt & pepper to taste


Add garlic and walnuts to the food processor and chop for 10 seconds.

Add the lemon balm, parsley, basil, olive oil, parmesan, salt and pepper and chop for an additional 20-30 seconds, being careful not to overprocess. You can make it as smooth or as chunky as you prefer.

If you don’t have a food processor, feel free to use a mortar and pestle.

—  By Deborah Binder

Deborah Binder lives in Edmonds with her family. She is “dancing with N.E.D.” (no evidence of disease) after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2009. She is a foodie who loves to cook from scratch and share her experiments with her family and friends. She attended culinary school on the East Coast and freelances around town for local chefs. Her current interest in food is learning to eat for health and wellness, while at the same time enjoying the pleasures of the table. As Julia Child once said, “Everything in moderation including butter.” Deborah can be contacted at



  1. Hello Deborah,

    Thank you for this pesto recipe using Lemon Balm.
    I hope to find a neighbor that has some.
    It is always so nice to see you on My Edmonds News.
    I always enjoy your healthy and DELICIOUS ways to prepare foods.

    Ingrid Wolsk

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