Enjoy your lemon balm and lime balm to their fullest. Those of you who have any mint family members growing in your garden know what incredibly tenacious growers these guys are. Even in, Zone 3, my lime balm shot through the ground with strength and determination this spring. And now, June 16, it’s ready for its first cutting.
Having lemon balm, lime balm or both in your herb garden is a tasty treat. Snip a sprig now and then to enhance a cool glass of iced tea or a fruity summer cocktail. Or add a hint of lemon or lime to salad, salsa, chicken or fish dish with just a few leaves. You can also harvest big bunches to dry for use as seasoning and teas throughout the year.
Given its vigorous growth, lime and lemon balm can tolerate one to three heavy harvests throughout the summer. Just remember to prepare it for dormancy over the cold winter months by making your last harvest sometime in mid to late August (later if you live in warmer zones).
How to Harvest Lemon or Lime Balm
For maximum flavor, harvest just before the blossoms develop – late spring/early summer. While this is when the plant has the most essential oils, you’ll still get plenty of flavor at other times too.
By cutting the stems just above where other leaves have formed, (about 2 inches above ground level), you actually encourage the plant to grow two new shoots. In other words, the more you harvest the more you get! How great is that.
By cutting back your balms before they flower, you also prevent seed formation and seed distribution – which you’ll be thankful for next year! As it regrows, you’ll have lovely lush greenery in your garden.
Handle the leaves carefully to avoid bruising them.
How to Dry Lemon or Lime Balm
Gently rinse your lemon or lime balm in a bowl with running water. Remove any blemished leaves.
Dry the leaves by gently laying them on a clean towel to remove any surface moisture. Water droplets will cause the leaves to turn dark brown or black when hung to dry, so try to remove as much moisture as you can.
In a dehydrator…
- spread stems and leaves on the drying trays of a dehydrator. Set the temperature at its lowest setting (95°F or 35°C) and dry for 12 to 18 hours.
To hang dry…
- Gather 5-6 stems and tie together with kitchen string. To allow for good air circulation, do not tie too many stems together.
- Label your herbs and hang in a clean, dry and dark place. Here, my lime balm is hanging from the rafters of our garage (our garage doesn’t actually get used for cars, so no worries about exhaust fumes).
How long it takes to dry your herbs will depend on your humidity level – it could take as little as one week or as long as three weeks. Just be sure that the leaves are completely dry and brittle before you take them down.
To store your lemon or lime balm, keep the leaves and stems in big pieces to retain as much flavor as possible. Store your herbs in paper bags or glass jars (avoid plastic bags as they may lead to condensation). Only when you’re ready to use your herbs should you crumble them up to release their essence.
Use and enjoy as desired.
I’ve been enjoying my dried lime balm with dried rhubarb in a homemade Apple Rhubarb tea blend. Yummy, home made tea!
Getty Stewart is an engaging speaker and writer providing tasty recipes, time-saving tips, and helpful kitchen ideas to make home cooking easy and enjoyable. She is a Professional Home Economist, author of Manitoba’s best-selling Prairie Fruit Cookbook, Founder of Fruit Share, mom and veggie gardener.