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.
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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.