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Every week we get Down & Dirty, in which we break down our favorite unique seasonal fruits, vegetables, and more. This post was brought to you by our friends at Evolution Fresh, who like fresh, flavorful ingredients as much as we do.
Today: We wouldn’t leaf you hanging -- we’re sharing all of the best ways to use lemon balm.
Thanks in no small part to Deborah Madison’s Vegetable Literacy, it has become impossible for us to stroll through a farmers market without thinking about which fruits and vegetables belong to which plant family. (If you haven’t picked up a copy yet, you’re shortchanging yourself -- think of all the nerdy produce games you could come up with!)
One look at the lemon balm leaves -- coarse and hairy in texture (3, below), arrowhead or heart-shaped (1, below), and scalloped-edged (2, below) -- and you’d likely guess that the plant belongs to the same family as mint and shiso. You’d be right. One more clever deduction, this time from its name, and you’ll figure out that this herb is lemon-scented. Some compare its lemony flavor and aroma to that of furniture polish (and, in fact, the leaves can be used to polish wood), but you’re probably better off putting lemon balm to use in other ways.
Lemon balm has been used medicinally for a long time to treat a wide variety of ailments, most commonly stress and anxiety. Research is beginning to confirm its calming effect, but you’ll probably pick up on it anecdotally, and we can almost guarantee it will be a beneficial addition to your garden. It’s often planted to attract bees, it releases a pleasant lemony scent as you brush up against it, and you can crush the leaves and rub them on your skin as a mosquito deterrent. But that's not all: Lemon balm will become a go-to herb in your kitchen, too.
Here are 20 of our favorite ways to use it:
- Prepare a lemon balm simple syrup that you can use to flavor drinks like lemonade or punch.
- “Lemon balm makes an absolutely delicious liqueur,” says Greenstuff.
- Use it to make herbal tea,
- or flavored water.
- Use the leaves in cocktails, like in this twist on a mojito.
- Add lemon balm to fancy ice cubes.
- Make lemon balm pesto to use with pasta, fish, or vegetables.
- Add lemon balm to a compound butter,
- or try it in jam.
- Use lemon balm in a vinaigrette.
Meals & Sides
- Add whole lemon balm leaves to green salads,
- or chiffonnade them to scatter over a fruit salad.
- Use lemon balm with poultry (try adding sliced leaves to chicken salad),
- fish dishes,
- and vegetables (try using it in recipes calling for mint).
- Add a generous amount of lemon balm leaves to a sandwich with cream cheese and sliced drupes, as author Lucinda Hutson does.
- Candy the leaves (or the flowers -- they're edible too!), and use them as a garnish.
- Infuse water with lemon balm leaves for granita,
- or infuse heavy cream instead, and make lemon balm panna cotta or crème brûlée.
- Use lemon balm in recipes calling for lemon verbena (like cookies) -- but note that lemon balm isn’t as intense, so adjust amounts as necessary.
What are your favorite ways to use lemon balm? Tell us in the comments!
This post was brought to you by Evolution Fresh. Check out their new pairing guide to find out which foods go best with their juices.
Photos by Mark Weinberg