Lemon balm and lemon verbena are two naturally lemon-scented herbs. These herbs are quite remarkable in that they naturally smell like lemons, even though neither is closely related to the lemon plant. This article compares the two herbs, which are quite similar to each other, exploring their similarities and differences in terms of flavor, aroma, growth requirements, availability, and other qualities.
Commonalities between the two herbs:
There are a number of common attributes that both lemon balm and lemon verbena share in common. Both are naturally caffeine free, and both are in the Lamiales order, a large grouping of plants that includes the entire mint family and the verbena or vervaine family, as well as many other aromatic plants such as jasmine and sesame. Their flavor and aroma are both lemony, and more similar to each other than to other lemony herbs or to actual lemons.
Both herbs share some similar medicinal uses, reflecting a chemical composition not only similar to each other, but to some of the other naturally lemon-scented herbs, such as lemon myrtle and lemongrass. These health and medicinal properties include antimicrobial effects and antioxidant activity.
Differences in flavor:
Descriptions of taste are somewhat subjective, especially when subtle distinctions are concerned. My personal experience with these two herbs is that the two herbs are most similar when fresh and are more different when dried. Especially when dried, but also when fresh, lemon verbena seems to have a more “gingerbready” quality to it. Lemon balm, on the other hand, is more vegetal. Overall though they are quite similar, with a gentle flavor.
Both herbs dry easily; verbena has tougher leaves, however.
Differences in growth habit and cultivation:
The growing requirements of lemon balm and lemon verbena overlap somewhat although their growth habits differ. Lemon balm, thriving in temperate climates, tolerating partial shade, and hardy even in quite cold climates, grows in clumps, and does not form perennial woody stems, but rather, resprouts from the roots each spring after dying down during winter. Lemon verbena, on the other hand, is a woody plant or shrub, preferring slightly warmer, sunnier, and drier conditions. The suitable conditions for growing the two plants overlap in warmer temperate regions.
Differences in price and availability:
Of these two herbs, lemon verbena tends to be the more widely available among tea and bulk herb companies. Lemon balm is usually only available from bulk herb companies, and it also is less common as an ingredient in commercially blended herbal teas. However, it is more common at garden and nursery centers, and tends to be more widely cultivated (and is also more likely to escape cultivation), so in terms of fresh harvesting, it tends to be the more available of the two plants.
Lemon balm and lemon verbena are two very similar plants, both used to brew caffeine-free lemony herbal teas. Both are easy to grow, relatively hard to obtain as dry herbs, and their flavor and growing requirements differer only slightly.