Melissa officinalis
Common Name: lemon balm 
Type: Herbaceous perennial
Family: Lamiaceae
Native Range: Southern Europe
Zone: 3 to 7
Height: 1.50 to 2.00 feet
Spread: 1.50 to 3.00 feet
Bloom Time: June to August
Bloom Description: White to pale yellow
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Dry to medium
Maintenance: Low
Suggested Use: Ground Cover, Herb, Naturalize
Flower: Showy
Leaf: Fragrant
Tolerate: Deer


Easily grown in average, dry to medium, well-drained soils in full sun to part shade. Plants like full sun in northern areas but appreciate some part afternoon shade in hot summer climates. Plants adapt to a wide range of soils including poor ones. Avoid wet soils, particularly in winter. Frequent pruning, including removal of spend flower stalks, tends to (1) encourage growth of new leaves which have the best fragrance, (2) minimize self-seeding and (3) form the most ornamentally attractive plants. Unpruned plants may acquire a somewhat weedy appearance.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Melissa officinalis, commonly called lemon balm, is a bushy herbaceous perennial of the mint family that is typically grown in herb gardens and border fronts for its lemon-scented leaves. It is native to southern Europe, but has escaped gardens and naturalized in many parts of the U.S. (Eastern, Midwestern and Pacific Northwest states). Wrinkled, ovate, medium green leaves (to 3” long) appear in pairs on square stems rising to 2’ tall. Tiny, two-lipped, white flowers appear in the leaf axils throughout summer. Although the flowers are ornamentally inconspicuous, honey bees love them. Leaves are edible and may be added to salads, soups, sauces or vegetables. Leaves are also used to flavor teas. Dried leaves may be added to sachets and potpourri. Plants also have a history of herbal medicine usage for a variety of purposes including, inter alia, calming nervous disorders, soothing insect bites and treating colds.

Genus name comes from the Greek word melissa meaning a honeybee, also the name of a Cretan princess who first discovered how to obtain honey.

Specific epithet means found in shops. Applied to plants with real or supposed medicinal properties.


No serious insect or disease problems. Powdery mildew, leaf spot, leaf blight and gray mold may occur. Plants will spread by self-seeding, but are generally not considered to be too aggressive.


Herb gardens. Border fronts. Naturalize as a ground cover in informal areas.