As the earth begins to thaw each spring, many of us are left contemplating what plants to grow in our gardens and around our homes. Bee Balm and Lemon Balm are two popular choices and are often confused. You may be wondering, what exactly is the difference between Bee Balm and Lemon Balm?
Bee Balm and Lemon Balm are not the same plant but both are members of the mint family, Lamiaceae. The visual difference is Bee Balm is larger and produces deep red flowers while Lemon Balm is smaller and has small white flowers.
Lemon Balm Description
- 2-3 feet tall
- 1-inch white flowers
- Citrus scented leaves
Bee Balm Description
- 4 feet tall
- 3-inch crimson flowers
- Mint scented leaves
About Lemon Balm
The scientific name of Lemon Balm is Melissa Officinalis and it goes by several nicknames, or common names, including Balm Mint, Common Balm, and Lemon Balm. Like Bee Balm, it is in the mint family of plants known as Lamiaceae. It is an herbaceous perennial.
Lemon Balm is popular for its variety of uses in the kitchen and the home. The intoxicating citrus and mint scent can be used as a natural insect repellent and is often used in essential oil blends. The soft, light green leaves are quite beautiful and can be used in flower arrangements as well as for garnishes.
The small white flowers generally come into bloom from summer until fall. They are edible and make beautiful additions to all kinds of summer dishes.
Growing Lemon Balm
Many people choose to grow Lemon Balm in their gardens as it has a variety of culinary uses. It can grow as big as 2-3 feet and will produce small white flowers that are smaller than an inch in size. When crushed, Lemon Balm produces a unique citrusy scent which is one of the easiest ways to identify the plant.
Lemon Balm spreads quickly in the garden and spreads through both seeds and rhizomes. It is a self-seeding plant, so if you don’t want it to take over your garden, make sure that you keep an eye on it or perhaps grow it in a small container. You may choose to trim the leaves regularly to keep the plant under control.
Lemon Balm Uses
One of my all-time favorite uses for Lemon Balm is to make a delicious summery iced tea. Simply collect several handfuls of fresh lemon balm leaves and then gently crush them before adding boiling water and honey.
Let the water cool and then strain out the leaves. Pour over ice and add a fresh lemon balm leaf or flower as a garnish and then enjoy this refreshing and healthy summer beverage.
Lemon Balm is used in a variety of traditional herbal remedies and has been for hundreds of years. It can be used on the skin as a natural mosquito and insect repellent and in several folk remedies. Many herbalists believe that Lemon Balm aids in digestion, soothing sore throats, and as a natural way to reduce anxiety and support relaxation.
About Bee Balm
Bee Balm is also in the mint family, Lamiaceae. Its most used common name is Bee Balm, but you may also hear it referred to as Monarda, wild bergamot, Horsemint, or Oswego Tea. When crushed, Bee Balm’s leaves smell very minty.
Like Lemon Balm, it is a perennial herb and is native to many areas in the United States. You may have driven past Bee Balm many times, and noticed its crimson flowers without realizing it.
Bee Balm is an excellent addition to any home or garden if you’re looking to attract pollinators. Hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies all adore patches of Bee Balm, and it will certainly draw them into your garden. Honeybees find Bee Balm especially irresistible!
There are several other varieties of Bee Balm, all of which produce different flowers. The beautiful varieties can produce pink, white, red, and purple blossoms.
How To Grow Bee Balm
Another similarity between Bee Balm and Lemon Balm is that they both spread quickly. It can quickly begin to take over your garden if you don’t keep an eye on it or grow it in a container. It grows around 4 feet in height and usually produces 3 inch dark red or crimson flowers.
Bee Balm is somewhat shade tolerant and prefers moist soil. Check your region to see if Bee Balm grows in the wild. If so, it will be very easy to cultivate at your home or in your garden.
You can dig up some existing wild Bee Balm and transplant it, or harvest seeds from the wild. You can also order seeds from a variety of sources, and they can be planted in either the spring or fall for the best results.
Bee Balm Uses
Most people plant Bee Balm for its beautiful flowers and because it is such a wonderful way to attract all kinds of pollinators. If you want to bring a variety of hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees into your garden – all you have to do is plant some Bee Balm!
Bee Balm is edible and has been used for a variety of purposes in herbalism and folk remedies. The native variety, wild bergamot, is a common perennial in the United States and was often used to help treat common colds and the flu.
Herbalists believe that Bee Balm can help with nausea and bloating. It has antimicrobial properties, so some use it in a poultice to treat minor cuts and scrapes.
Similar to Lemon Balm, many believe it also has a gently calming effect on the nervous system.
Bee Balm tea is a beautiful treat. If you harvest the flowers when in bloom, and then dry them, this tea can be enjoyed year-round. Flowers can also be used fresh.
Simply place several teaspoons of the flowers into a jar and top with boiling water and let it steep for around 15 minutes. It will create a beautiful and tasty bright red tea.
The flowers can also be used as a garnish for a variety of dishes. I love to add some of the flowers to the tops of summer salads to add some color and nutrition.
Although Lemon Balm and Bee Balm are often confused, as you can see they are entirely different plants. Both are beneficial to grow in your garden and can provide your homestead with beauty, food for pollinators, medicinal remedies, and culinary delights in the kitchen.