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When life gives you lemons,  make lemonade. When life gives you lemon balm … well … whatcha gonna do? 

Draining my brain here trying not to waste the lemon balm.

a bunch of lemon balm

If I dry a bunch of this every day, you think I’ll be able to get a year’s supply of lemon balm tea?

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is  not without any merits. It has the most wonderful, delicate minty lemony smell. Very clean smelling. I find it calming and the more you smell it, the more you’ll like it. 

I like going over to my wild patch, pluck a leaf, rub it between my fingers, and inhale … deeply … and again … and one more time … aah … See what I mean. You can’t stop smelling it. All of a sudden, any stress you had is gone. It would make a perfect ingredient in a perfume, or air freshener, in my opinion.

lemon balm leaves

I think that was the reason why I picked it up in the nursery. I had no clue, otherwise, what it was good for, as far as culinary usage was concerned. I might have also confused it with bee balm, thinking it would give me flowers.

And it does give me flowers. Small, white, nothing to brag about.  Although I have used them in arrangements as fillers.

A member of the mint family, it is capable of invading an entire field, given the chance. Not so much from the spread of its roots, but from its seeds, I’ve found. The original clump planted in my garden several years ago has now been joined by more clumps. Many, many more.

There used to be a patch of beautiful Siberian Iris in here. I guess the lemon balms swallowed it.

lemon balms growing wild

Many times I thought about mowing these, but never had the heart to do it. Foolish gardener, you agree? That should have been my blog’s name.

Some websites mention that it has escaped gardens, and grows like weeds in the wild. Did I contribute to that? Oh, well, more edibles to forage, I’d say.

Lemon balm’s flavor, however, is not as robust as its growth. And when it’s cooked, the already mild flavor sort of dissipates, leaving only a faint lingering of the minty lemony fragrance. No wonder lemon balm is such a minor player in the kitchen. Many other herbs outshine it.

The simplest way to enjoy lemon balm is obviously in teas, both hot and cold.

lemon balm tisane

lemon balm iced tea

But I have a lot of it, and you can’t live on teas alone. So, I’ve been tinkering in the kitchen, and the following recipes are the results. Give them a try, I think you’ll be pleased. If not, at least I’ve given you some ideas. I hope!

lemon balm syrup

Lemon balm syrup
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
Lots of chopped lemon balm leaves (I used 3 cups)

Boil water and sugar until sugar dissolves. Add lemon balm. Simmer for a few more minutes. Remove from the heat, let cool for 30 minutes, then strain the syrup, discarding the leaves.

lemon balm margarita
Lemon balm frozen margarita, kid-friendly

My kids love this. I’m not sure you can really taste or smell the lemon balm, but it doesn’t matter, it’s good! First you have to make the syrup. Then put 1/4 cup of it in a blender (you can adjust the amount to your preference), along with 1/2 can frozen limeade, 2 cups crushed ice cubes, 5 oz. club soda. Blend until smooth.

lemon balm mushipan
Lemon Balm Mushipan

This is inspired by wildness.me and is probably the best use for lemon balm. It’s so unique, and surprisingly the lemon balm flavor stands up to the heat. It gives the buns that fresh fragrance, not quite minty, not quite lemony, but yet both. Plus, the color is just gorgeous! You have to try this one. Use a coffee grinder to grind dried lemon balm leaves to make the powder.

1/3 cup all purpose flour
1/3 cup self-rising cake flour*
2 tsp lemon balm powder
1 tsp baking powder*
2 eggs, lightly beaten
4 tbsp milk
3 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp canola oil

1. Combine flour, lemon balm, and baking powder in a mixing bowl.

2. In another bowl, whisk together egg, milk, sugar and oil, and mix until smooth. Pour this into the flour mixture, and mix until well incorporated.

3. Pour batter into silicone muffin cups, filling each cup about 3/4 full. 

5. Steam for 13-15 minutes. Mushipan should feel spongy and springy when cooked.

Serve warm. This makes 6 medium sized buns.

*Most recipes of Mushipan don’t call for cake flour, but I find that the addition results in lighter buns, which I prefer. It’s totally optional. I also use the self-rising kind, so I added only 1 tsp baking powder. If you decide to use all-purpose flour for the entire batter, then you need to add 2 tsp baking powder.

strawberry lemon balm frozen yogurt
Strawberry frozen yogurt, with lemon balm

This is adapted from Southern Living’s recipe for Strawberry-Basil frozen yogurt.

2 cups fresh strawberries, sliced
1 cup sugar
3 tbsp chopped fresh lemon balm
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 cup whipping cream

1. Pulse strawberries, sugar, and lemon balm in a food processor 9 to 10 times or until berries are finely chopped (almost pureed), stopping to scrape down sides as needed.

2. Whisk together yogurt and cream in a medium bowl until smooth; stir strawberry mixture into yogurt mixture until well blended. Cover and chill 1 hour.

3. Pour strawberry mixture into freezer container of electric ice-cream maker, and freeze according to manufacturer’s directions. Freezing times will vary.

There you have it, for now. I have a couple more recipes in mind, for another day, when once again I look at my lemon balm patch and start thinking … Something’s got to be done to this thing, but let’s not waste it, let’s eat it!

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