Fresh Lemon Balm Tea
Soothing tea made fresh.
Hot or iced, fresh lemon balm tea is a soothing summer drink with lots of health benefits.
Since antiquity, lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) has been highly regarded by herbalists for its power to soothe frayed nerves, focus the mind and improve digestion.
Recently, scientific research has confirmed traditional wisdom, showing lemon balm's ability to "reduce anxiety," "promote sleep," and reduce the bloating and flatulence associated with indigestion. Research has also demonstrated lemon balm oil's antibacterial qualities ("Lemon Balm").
In other words, lemon balm really is good for our health. And, if it's well-prepared, lemon balm tea is a delicious way to enjoy the benefits of this wonderful herb.
Interested in using and/or growing herbs? I highly recommend Herb Quarterly.
Its articles are practical & interesting. And the theme is ever the same: improving our health & our lives with herbs.
Hot lemon balm tea
Joyce White supplies a simple recipe for hot lemon balm tea in an article for Herbal Quarterly called "Soothing Stress with Nervine Herbs." The recipe, which she takes from David Winston and Steven Maimes' book , consists of only 1 Tbsp. fresh lemon balm leaves to 8 oz. of boiling water (54). No steeping time is provided. Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief
Over the course of a week, I played with the amounts and with steeping times until I came up with the following recipe, which produces a brew that tastes good to me.
I hope you like it too.
Hot lemon balm tea for two
- a large handful of freshly picked lemon balm leaves
- 16 oz. boiling water
- 2 lemon slices
Seven minutes of steeping is just right for my taste. At five minutes, the tea seems bland to me, but at seven, it has a mild lemon flavor I like.
Longer than seven, and I can taste "green," almost as if spinach has been added to the cup.
At 10 minutes and over, the lemon balm oil is noticeable, and I felt as if I am drinking diluted Lemon Pledge®.
- Harvest a handful of lemon balm leaves, snipping them from the plant with garden shears or your fingers.
- Rinse the lemon balm well in cool water.
- Meanwhile put the water on to boil.
- Snip or pinch the lemon balm leaves from the stems, and discard the stems.
- Chop the leaves or crush them in your hand to release the oils.
- Place 4 to 6 leaves in each cup.*
- Pour boiling water over leaves.
- Steep seven minutes.
- While the tea is steeping, wash and slice a fresh lemon.
- Add a lemon slice to each cup during the last minute of steeping.
- Remove the leaves and lemon slices.
*The number of leaves you'll need depends on the time of year. In spring and early summer, before the plant blooms, lemon balm leaves are at their most flavorful.
If the recipe for Hot Lemon Balm Tea above is too lemony for your taste, omit the lemon slices. Or, steep for six minutes rather than seven.
If it tastes too bland to you, try one of these healthful additions:
- Substitute 3 to 4 leaves of apple mint, peppermint or spearmint for half the lemon balm. (I highly recommend apple mint! It smells and tastes heavenly!)
- Add a dollop or two of local honey.
- Substitute two slices of peeled, fresh ginger for the lemon slices during the last minute of steeping. Ginger gives the tea a lovely zing!
In scientific studies, lemon balm was shown to increase cognitive function and improve the symptoms associated with Alzheimer's, such as irritability ("Lemon Balm").
8 oz. with . . .
a slice of lemon
Lemon aids digestion, reduces inflammation, improves blood flow & acts as diuretic.
peeled ginger root
Ginger boosts metabolism & aids digestive complaints & arthritis.
1 tsp. dark honey
Honey contains antioxidants &eases early cold symptoms.
a sprig of mint
Mint promotes digestion & contains antioxidants.
Stevia may reduce hypertension.
National Geographic's Edible: An Illustrated Guide to the World's Food Plants notes that lemon balm leaves lose most of their pleasant lemony aroma when dried: "Therefore," the editors claim, "only fresh leaves, or freshly dried leaves, are suitable for the kitchen" (259). I have to agree. Fresh is best!
Iced lemon balm sun tea
My husband and I came up with the following recipe for lemon balm sun tea through trial and error.
Of all the herb combinations we tried, we liked this one the best. It's lemony sweet and minty fresh. In a word, it's delicious.
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 4-6 hours or more
Ready in: about 5 hours
Yields: 1 gallon
- 2 large handfuls of lemon balm stems, cut to the ground, plus extra sprigs for garnish
- 3-6 sprigs of apple mint and peppermint
- 1 gal. cold water
- Optional ingredients: lemons and Stevia
1. Harvest 2 large handfuls of lemon balm and several sprigs of mint.
2. Rinse the herbs thoroughly with cold water. Remove any brown or damaged leaves and discard.
3. Place lemon balm and mint in a gallon jug. Crush them slightly with your hand to release the oils. The herbs should fill at least a quarter of the container.
4. Fill the container with cold water.
5. Place it in the sun and allow it to steep 4 to 6 hours. Sample the tea occasionally. When it has a light lemony flavor with a hint of mint, it's ready.
6. Serve over ice.
7. Add Stevia and/or lemon to suit your taste. I like a slice of lemon and a teaspoon of Stevia in mine– and lots of crushed ice.
8. Garnish with a sprig of lemon balm or mint, and enjoy!
*If the tea is not drunk within a day, remove the herbs to prevent it from becoming too strong.
Growing & harvesting lemon balm
How to harvest lemon balm
For two cups of hot, fresh lemon balm tea, you will only need six to eight leaves, which you can easily harvest from two or three stalks.
To remove a stem, simply pinch it off at a node (the place on the stem where leaves are sprouting). Use your fingers or cut the stem with a gardening knife or gardening shears.
To make a gallon of lemon balm iced tea, you'll need several handfuls of lemon balm. To harvest them, cut the stems to the ground. The stems are usually tough at the bottom, so you'll need a knife or scissors.
Cutting lemon balm to the ground will not hurt it. In fact, harvesting seems to invigorate the plant.
For most herbs, 1/3 of the plant is as much as you'd want to remove at a time, but lemon balm and many other members of the mint family are exceptions. You can take as much as you need; the plant will revive.
The best harvest times
Spring and early summer, before it blooms, is the best time to harvest lemon balm. At that time, the flavor is light and lemony.
To extend the harvest time, regularly trim the plant, clipping it off at the nodes. This will delay bloom time. It will also encourage the plant to bush out.
Most herbalists recommend harvesting herbs in the morning, after the dew has dried.
Cultivating lemon balm
Lemon balm is a hardy grower.
A clump will consist of many crowns, which can be divided for transplanting.
In summer, lemon balm blooms. By fall, it sets seeds. It also spreads by shooting out runners. in full sun or partial shade, and you'll soon have more nearby. In fact, if lemon balm really likes the location, it can be downright invasive. For that reason, many gardeners grow it and other mint plants in pots. Start one clump of lemon balm
I grow lemon balm in a pot and in the ground. If it spreads where I don't want it, I simply pull it up— and enjoy the wonderful aroma as its oils are released.
In praise of lemon balm
Cox, Lauren. "What Is Stevia?" Live Science. Purch. 12 September 2013. Web. 22 May 2015.
Edgar, Julie. "Medical Uses of Honey." WebMD. WebMD. 20 December 2011. Web. 22 May 2015.
Edible: An Illustrated Guide to the World's Food Plants. Washington, DC: National Geographic, 2008. Print.
"Ginger." University of Maryland Medical Center. UMD. 13 December 2010. Web. 22 May 2015.
"Lemon Balm." University of Maryland Medical Center. UMD. 7 May 2013. Web. 20 May 2015.
Ipatenco, Sara. "What Are the Benefits of Eating Whole Mint Leaves?"LiveStrong. LiveStrong.com. 13 April 2015. Web. 22 May 2015.
"Lemon." WebMD. WebMD 2015. Web. 22 May 2015.
White, Joyce. "Soothing Stress with Nervine Herbs."Herb Quarterly (Summer 2015): 52-55. Print.
About the Author
The Dirt Farmer has been an active gardener for over 30 years.
She first began gardening as a child alongside her grandfather on her parents' farm.
Today, The Dirt Farmer gardens at home, volunteers at community gardens and continues to learn about gardening through the MD Master Gardener program.
© 2015 Jill Spencer