Have you ever broken off a piece of rosemary and rubbed it slowly between your fingers, releasing that glorious scent? That earthly smell would undoubtedly stay on your fingers until the next time you washed your hands, and how soothing and calming it smells. Surrounding myself with the scent of fresh herbs ranks pretty high as one of my favorite things about gardening. As a young girl, I can distinctly remember all of the herbs growing outside of my Granny’s back door. Standing in the soft dirt off of her carport is where I was introduced to the heavenly scent of lemon basil for the first time; I had no idea such a thing existed! Her rosemary, to this day, is an enormous bush that tries its best to overrun anything else in the vicinity (and truthfully, that’s one thing I love about that herb… it’s hard to kill).
Mint, lavender, spearmint, thyme, oregano… the list goes on. These incredible and fragrant herbs provide such richness to our simple kitchen dishes, and they can be sown and tended in your very own yard, balcony, or patio. And if you are blessed with more than you can use in a season, many can be dried and saved to use later. The herb I’m highlighting today was new to me until this past season, and it’s light citrusy scent gives it the name of lemon balm.
What is lemon balm?
I stumbled upon this lovely little plant while nosing through the garden center at Lowe’s. My husband was off in plumbing or lumber, and I was letting my nose do the leading to whatever suited my fancy. I grabbed this pot of lemon balm simply because it smelled, well, like lemon! Not nearly as strong as a cut lemon, but more of a citrusy burst when the leaves are rubbed. And I’ve come to learn that it’s also super easy to grow, and has lasted through the winter.
What can you do with it?
I asked this very same question after it took off like a weed in the herb garden. My kids were obsessed with picking its leaves and rubbing them while playing in the yard. So for a while, its purpose was entertaining the kids. But as far as practical uses go, you can use the leaves in a number of ways, including brewing with tea or on their own, garnish, low flower arrangements, and my favorite- simple syrup. It’s also reported that lemon balm can help curb anxiety when it’s brewed and consumed, but I am in no way an herbal expert.
If you’ve ever worked in a restaurant or been a bartender, then simple syrup is your friend. It’s a quick way to add sugar to a drink without worrying about whether it will dissolve. Simple syrup can be made with so many different flavors, that the possibilities really are endless. This past summer, a local restaurant was offering drinks with a house made strawberry simple syrup… yes, please! So, here’s the basic recipe (so feel free to sub in any other herb of your choosing); use it for sweetening tea (iced or hot) or any other beverage you choose!
Lemon Balm Simple Syrup
2 cups water
1 cup sugar (note: if you’d like a thicker syrup for cocktails, use 2 cups sugar.)
1 cup torn lemon balm
In a medium pot, warm water over medium heat. Add the sugar and stir occasionally until the sugar has completely dissolved. (The water will once again be clear when the sugar has dissolved.)
Take your lemon balm leaves off of the stem, and tear the leaves into smaller pieces.
Stuff (very technical term) your torn lemon balm leaves into your glass jar, and slowly pour in the warm syrup. Allow the syrup to cool completely on the counter before putting on the cap and storing in the fridge. Let your syrup sit for several days in the fridge before using it, and if you like a more intense lemon flavor (the lemon balm has quite a gentle taste) then feel free to add a slice of lemon to your jar. Drizzle your simple syrup to the beverage of your choice and enjoy!
Have you ever created a flavored simple syrup before? I’d love to hear about it!