While many herbs are easy to differentiate from one another, Lemon Balm and Bee Balm are two herbs that are often confused or even mislabeled by some garden centers and big box stores.
Lemon Balm and Bee Balm are garden herbs naturally attractive to pollinating insects and are often grown in herb gardens under similar conditions. In addition, they are both edible flowering herbs and are excellent natural herbal remedies for common ailments.
Lemon Balm has round leaves, grows 1 to 2 feet (0.3 to 0.6 m) tall, has sedative and healing qualities, is edible, and helps to repel gnats and mosquitoes. Bee Balm has teardrop shaped leaves, grows 3 to 4 feet (0.9 to 1.2 m) tall, has antimicrobial and soothing qualities, is edible, and helps to repel mosquitoes.
Once you identify each type of plant and their differences, you can get the most use out of their unique benefits.
What is Lemon Balm?
Lemon Balm (Melissa Officinalis) is a herb native to Europe that now grows in many regions across the globe due to its hardiness and prolific growth patterns.
A member of the mint family (Lamiaceae), Lemon Balm produces small white flowers that attract bees and other pollinators. Its botanical name, Melissa, derives from the Greek name for “honey bee.” The nickname Lemon Balm pertains to its fresh, citrusy scent and flavor.
Growing Lemon Balm
Lemon Balm grows from 1 to 2 feet (0.3 to 0.6 m) tall and enjoys the partial shade. The leaf structure and growth pattern are very similar to other mint varieties, with rounded leaves and thin veins.
While Lemon Balm is low maintenance, it can sprawl and grow prolifically. For this reason, many people grow Lemon Balm in containers or use bottomless planters to prevent them from taking over their gardens. An enclosed garden bed is another good choice for Lemon Balm.
While they prefer rich soil, Lemon Balm can grow in various soil types as long as there is decent drainage. When growing Lemon Balm, ensure the soil is moist and does not completely dry.
Fortunately, Lemon Balm also makes an excellent addition to an indoor herb garden if you have a sunny windowsill, as they are shade tolerant plants and can grow in indoor light levels.
What Can Lemon Balm be Used for?
Lemon Balm has become widely popular for its many herbal, medicinal, culinary, and cosmetic uses. You may find it a great addition to a traditional herb garden, but it is also an excellent pollinator attractant when in bloom.
Lemon Balm is famously known for having mild sedative qualities, so many people use it to help calm anxiety and allow for a more restful sleep. You can also use Lemon Balm to help relieve cold sores and assist with healing.
For these reasons, many people use Lemon Balm as a homeopathic remedy and will use it as an ingredient for essential oils.
Does Lemon Balm Repel Mosquitoes?
Lemon Balm is a natural insect repellent. Generally, most mint varieties are an excellent pest deterrent, as they find the scent repulsive. For this reason, Lemon Balm is often used in companion planting with other herbs to help deter pests in the garden (as long as they don’t overtake the garden itself).
Some people will even add a few drops of Lemon Balm essential oils to water and use it to spray down their houseplants to deter common houseplant pests. To help repel mosquitos and gnats, crush the Lemon Balm leaves and rub the mixture onto your skin.
Are Lemon Balm Leaves Edible?
Lemon Balm leaves are edible and are often dried and added to salads, soups, or casseroles in place of lemon slides or lemon peels.
You can also add Lemon Balm leaves to beverages like water, iced tea, or mojitos if you are looking for a hint of fresh lemon flavor. You can also use Lemon Balm leaves to make tea. You can purchase Lemon Balm capsules as a supplement from many health and grocery stores.
What is Bee Balm?
Bee Balm (Monarda spp.), also known as Bergamot, is another member of the mint (Lamiaceae) family, which is why it can also be confused with Lemon Balm. However, there are a few stark differences in their appearance and uses. Bee Balm is famously nicknamed because it is desirable to pollinators, including moths, butterflies, and hummingbirds but especially bees, including honeybees.
Bee Balm leaves are slightly less compact, and the leaf shape is longer, thinner, and teardrop shaped. For this reason, Bee Balm looks somewhat different than most mint varieties. Their flowers can range from purple to a dark crimson red.
Growing Bee Balm
Bee Balm grows approximately 3 to 4 feet (0.9 to 1.2 m) tall and they prefer full sun but may still bloom in partial shade conditions. They also prefer rich soil but can survive in poorer conditions.
Like Lemon Balm, Bee Balm prefers moist soil, so try not to let the soil completely dry out. However, Bee Balm can also be an aggressive grower, so you will want to take measures to contain it in a pot or garden bed.
What Can Bee Balm Be Used For?
Not only is Bee Balm a great addition to pollinator gardens, but it also has medicinal properties. Bee Balm has antimicrobial properties, and many people will use Bee Balm as a natural remedy for minor abrasions, cuts, and even some rashes.
Bee Balm is also used to make salves as it can be soothing and moisturizing for the skin, particularly when combined with other natural ingredients. In addition, you can also use Bee Balm to ease nausea, bloating, and other gastrointestinal discomforts.
Bee Balm Leaves
Bee Balm is also an edible herb; its leaves and flowers have culinary uses. Since they have a more traditionally minty flavor and scent, they make a great addition to salads. Their flowers can be used as a garnish, adding a beautiful pop of color to a plated dish or beverage. Bee Balm leaves also make a delicious minty tea.
What is Bee Balm Tea Good For?
Bee Balm Leaves can be used to make tea and can be consumed hot or even as an iced tea. Bee Balm tea is often known to help soothe stomach discomfort and can have natural upper respiratory benefits. When consumed hot, it can also contribute to relaxation and stress relief. However, despite Bee Balm having the nickname Bergamot, it is not used in Bergamot tea (also known as Earl Gray tea).
Does Bee Balm Repel Pests?
Like most mint varieties, Bee Balm is also great for repelling pests. Lemon Balm tends to be more commonly used to repel insects and mosquitoes, but Bee Balm can be equally as effective.
For this reason, Bee Balm is an excellent choice for companion planting with other herbs that are prone to pests. In addition, their scent can be quite strong, which can confuse mosquitoes and cause them to look elsewhere. Crush the leaves to unlock their fragrant mosquito-repelling power.
Are Lemon Balm and Bee Balm Annual or Perennial?
Both Lemon Balm and Bee Balm are considered perennial herbs. When given the proper care, they will return each spring, and you can get plenty of use from your Bee Balm and Lemon Balm year after year.
Suppose you enjoy growing mint in your herb garden that serves many uses, particularly for natural remedies and healthy culinary additions. In that case, Bee Balm and Lemon Balm are excellent choices that are easy to grow and will grow quickly. Lemon Balm and Bee Balm are two completely different plants in their appearance, scent, and flavor, which means you can use them in various capacities.
Lemon Balm has rounded leaves with thin veins, grows 1 to 2 feet (0.3 to 0.6 m) tall, and has a strong, citrusy scent that is delicious to eat and helps to repel insects like mosquitoes and gnats. Bee Balm has thin, teardrop shaped leaves, grows 3 to 4 feet (0.9 to 1.2 m) tall, and a minty scent that is edible and also repels mosquitoes.
Once you notice the physical differences between them and can identify them, you will be able to get the most use out of both mint varieties and can do so for years to come.