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[An Archaeologist’s Guide to British Species] #15: Balm, Lemon

March 12, 2021

In 2021, I am blogging an A-Z compendium of human interactions with species in the British landscape. A list of references for information used in this series can be found here. Today’s is not a native species, but is a familiar plant commonly seen close to gardens, which is a personal favourite

A clump of lemon balm
Lemon Balm. Image by By Andrea_44 from Leamington, Ontario , Canada – Lemon Balm, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=54215765

Balm, Lemon

Melissa officinalis L.

Also known as balm, balm mint, and bee-balm

A cultivated herb prized for its sweet lemon-scented leaves, which has naturalised on roadsides in southern England in particular. It is a member of the mint family, and native to southern Europe. Beekeepers sometimes plant lemon balm close to hives as its abundance of small white flowers from June to August is a rich source of nectar. 

Its dried leaves can be used as a substitute for lemon juice to flavour jams and jellies, and tea made by steeping the leaves in boiling water is used in herbal medicine for its calming effect. It was formerly used in the preparation of Eau des carmes, a predecessor of Eau de Cologne, and is used to flavour the liqueurs Benedictine and Chartreuse.

Lemon balm nutlets are known from a Romano- British context at Glebe Farm near Barton-upon-Humber, and from a Medieval context at Park Street, Birmingham.

Melissa officinalis on the Digital Plant Atlas

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