How to Harvest and Dry Lemon Balm and Lime Balm

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.lime balm

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.

harvesting lemon and lime balm

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.

lemon and lime balm

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).

drying lemon and lime balm

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 from my Rhubarb Cookbook.  Yummy, home made tea!

rhubarb and lime balm 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.

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8 Comments

  1. I find leaves got dark browny green do you think the nutritional value and flavour is deminished when this happens?

    Sadly my dehydrator only has one setting is reaches maximum temperature: approx. 85 °C (bottom) and 70 °C (top); and at this temperature can dry within an hour.

    I did find same happened with majoram wheather, washed and 24 hour air dried first or when inidividual leaf dried from fresh unwashed.

    What I did notice though I put in a couple of leaves of swiss chard and they kept their colour beautifully.

    Wondering if its not better to air dry hanging for lemon balm and majoram in future.

    1. Hi June,
      Browning can occur when drying broad leaf herbs like lemon balm, mint or basil. As long as there is no mold, brown leaves are safe to use and they likely will still have lots of flavor, they’re just not as attractive.
      It may be that the temperature was too high for them to dry, ideally they should dry at 35°C or 95°F. However, you don’t want them to dry too slowly either. It’s all a matter of trial and error and adjusting for your temperature and humidity. In the summer, I know our garage is hot, dry and dark – the herbs I hang in there dry quite quickly. If it’s a humid or rainy week, they take much longer to dry and if I don’t watch them carefully may even develop mold because of humidity and lack of air circulation.
      Another culprit for browning is water or surface moisture. If water droplets remain on your leaves, they will usually turn into brown spots.
      Hope that helps and that you discover a technique that works best for you.

      1. Since I can’t adjust the temp of my dehydrator, can I dry lemon balm in the oven instead? If so, recommendations? Thanks!

        1. When using an oven to dehydrate herbs, be very careful not to burn them. I find it kind of tricky, so shy away from drying delicate items like this in the oven. Try setting your oven to the lowest possible temp and keep the door open to keep temps low. Do you know what temp your dehydrator operates at? My guess is 135°F, which is lower than most ovens but still higher than the 115°F that’s recommended for herbs. Alternatively, consider hanging your lemon balm to dry in small bundles – 3-4 stems. That’s if it’s not too humid where you are. Good luck.

  2. Thanks for the info! I wasn’t able to find anything locally (I’m in Ottawa) but I did find some at Richters Herbs outside of Toronto, and they ship plants! I’m so excited to receive my lime balm, I even inspired a garden-loving coworker to get some as well, all thanks to this post 🙂

  3. Hi there! I didn’t know lime balm existed but I must find some because I LOVE the flavour of lime! I’m day dreaming of lime balm tea in the depths of winter. Any advice on where to locate some? My local garden centres only have lemon balm. Did you the plant somewhere or have to grow it from seed?

    1. Hi Lise,
      Lime balm smells so nice, I love lime too! I got mine as a plant from Sage Garden Herbs here in Wpg – they offer unique varieties, prairie natives, and heirloom edibles you can’t find just anywhere. I started some lemon balm from seed this year – they came up no problem. If you can find them, I bet lime balm seeds would do very well too. Good luck!

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