Saturday, January 24, 2009

Goldfinch on Lemon Balm

Larry captured this beautiful image last weekend in the bitter cold, but the goldfinch look so content feeding on the Lemon Balm you’d never know the mercury was dipping so low. Winter gardens can help the birds make it through winter and early spring. Just as petunia seed heads supply juncos with a winter treat, it seems a stand of Lemon Balm is pure delight for a goldfinch on a cold winter morning.

After doing a little research, I found Lemon Balm is a hardy perennial that grows about 2- 3 feet high. The plant has small oval-shaped green leaves and white flowers in summer. It attracts bees, so it’s good for pollination. It can be used in the front of borders or mixed in container plantings (maybe I’ll experiment and combine it with a pot of petunias for a junco/goldfinch bonanza). It is hardy to USDA Zone 4. Lemon Balm grows in average, well-drained moist soil in full sun to partial shade. One thing to think about, however, is Lemon Balm is a member of the mint family and can easily spread and take over a garden. Many gardeners suggest removing the flowers before they go to seed to help keep the plant in bounds, but that won’t do for us at all. We want the flowers to go seed to feed the birds! I’m going to plant a stand this spring in an area I don’t mind being over run with mint.

Lemon Balm helps more than the birds, it’s an herb and can be used in recipes to enhance flavor. Add chopped leaves to soups, stews, salads, poultry and fish dishes. I also saw examples of leaves stuck in between vegetables on kabobs, or fresh leaves used as stuffing for pockets cut in fish or poultry, or a fresh sprig simply placed on a salmon filet before grilling. So feed the birds and feed yourself. Thanks for the photo Larry…and for another gardening-for-the-birds plant!


twisterjoe/threePillarsArts said...

I love Lemon Balm, and it will take over! but it is such a sweet and delicious tea. I gather the lush stems in June before they flower, and dry them loosely packed in paper bags. (keeps the dust off) then when dry it is easy to strip the leaves from the stems and put them in a jar for tea later in the year.The less the leaves are broken the more flavor you will get from them. It is also a great tea with the leaves fresh and green,even better actually. The essential oil is easily evaporated, so the lemony flavor is at its peak when fresh. I miss my herb garden.

Kelly said...! That is so cool. I'm totally going to make tea from the leaves this summer after planting some. I'll have to report back with my success (hoped for, at least).