I’m somewhat obsessed these days with lemon balm (well, cinnamon too). I have a personal stash of lemon balm (or Melissa officinalis) growing just outside the kitchen window. It’s a member of the Lamiaceae or mint family and it has a very subtle lemon mint taste.

Despite my lack of a green thumb, I have not killed off my hardy lemon balm. The leaves turned a bit brownish at the edges during Winter but this was most likely due to the cold and wind. I pruned the plant to within an inch of its life a couple of months ago and it’s bounced back.

The medicinal properties of lemon balm were known over 2000 years ago by the Ancient Greeks and Romans. Lemon balm has anti-viral properties so it makes a comforting tea if you’re suffering from a cold or flu. I chuck a few leaves into a teapot and drink lemon balm tea every morning. I read somewhere that it can relieve shingles and help sufferers of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Like cinnamon, lemon balm can help lower blood pressure.

I chop up some leaves and chuck lemon balm in our salads and dressings. The dog’s water bowl contains a bunch of leaves because it’s a dog-friendly plant that can neutralize gas in the stomach and intestines. And Zeph and Zsa Zsa’s dinner bowl often contains shredded lemon balm (and a dash of cinnamon).

It’s such a versatile herb. I’ve added fresh, chopped leaves to my baked bread and I made some fantastic buttermilk scones with lemon balm. I also whipped up a lemon balm custard with rhubarb sauce. Woohoo! Next up, I’m going to try making a sleep pillow. I remember my mother mixing together a lot of dried herbs and placing them in a pretty pouch that she attached to the pillow. I might try lemon balm with cinnamon and lavender.

And speaking of lavender, I decided to grow some so I could try making lavender-infused water to use as a facial toner. I was worried that the cold and snow here in the South Island would knock off any lavender bush but gave it a go. So far; so good. I have a hardy lavender bush growing in a pot outside the back door.

Next week, I’ll be harvesting about 10 or 12 springs and get rid of all the stalky bits. I’ll pop the lavender flowers in a Mason jar and cover the lavender with a light oil – I’m thinking jojoba or sweet almond oil. Maybe even grapeseed oil if I can find it in Christchurch. Leave the jar on the sunny kitchen windowsill for around six weeks and shake the jar daily. Then strain through a sieve covered in cheesecloth (or even a pair of pantyhose) and you have lavender-infused oil (not an essential oil note).

I remember how my mother used to dry lavender stalks on newspaper and then make potpourri. I’d find soft little pouches of dried lavender in my dressing table draws, my closet, on my pillow. I used to roll my eyes at the whole lavender thing but now…yep, turning into my mother.

If you have any recipes or ideas for using lemon balm or lavender, please leave a comment.

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My hardy lemon balm grows in a blue pot we lugged across from Australia.

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I think this is English lavender.

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