Lemon Balm vs. Mint: How Are They Different?

Mint leaves
© AnikonaAnn/Shutterstock.com

Written by Jennifer Hollohan

Updated: July 29, 2023

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Highly aromatic herbs make everything better. You can add them to tea, desserts, and some meals. Additionally, their aroma will put a smile on your face. They make fantastic additions to your herb or vegetable garden and add a beautiful touch to your indoor plant collection. But how do you select the right ones for you?

This article explores two of these aromatic plants, lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) and mint (Mentha). You will discover their similarities, along with their unique characteristics.

Lemon Balm vs. Mint: Comparison

We have broken down some of these characteristics to help better highlight the differences between lemon balm and mint. The chart below explores the distinctions between each plant.

Both lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) and mint (Mentha) belong to the Lamiaceae (mint) family. Many of the approximately 7,000 species in this family are edible and prized in the kitchen.

While lemon balm and mint share common traits, they also have unique characteristics. Some differences include their classification, origin, size, flowers, and growing requirements. Below, we explore each of these categories in depth.

Lemon BalmMint
Scientific ClassificationMelissa officinalisGenus: Mentha
Common Name(s)Lemon balmmint
OriginsSouthern EuropeMediterranean basin
SizeThe plants are wider than taller – 3 feet versus 2 feet.The size will vary by species. However, most can grow up to 3 feet tall. 
LeavesThe leaves grow in pairs. They are ovate, wrinkled, and a light to medium green color. Additionally, they grow up to 3 inches long.Square stems hold opposite sets of leaves that are highly aromatic. Their size varies greatly with each species.
FlowersA short bloom season of June – August. Colors range from white to pale yellow. The flowers are two-lipped and tiny.The flowers grow in clusters with white, pink, or light purple blossoms. They may grow in whorls or as terminal clusters. Blossoms have four petals.
Growing RequirementsThe plants are happiest in Zones 3-7. They need full sun to partial shade. Can tolerate average soil. They don’t need much in the way of water. But they do need well-draining soil.Mints don’t mind bad soil conditions, provided it is well-draining. Sandy loam and rich soils are ideal, though. They need a pH between 6-7.5.
Fun FactsLemon balm is deer tolerant and loved by bees. The leaves are edible, and you can eat them any way you eat other greens. They also make a delicious tea. Prized for their volatile oil compounds, many species with the Mentha genus play a prominent role in the culinary world.

Lemon Balm vs. Mint: Scientific Classification

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is a species within the Lamiaceae (mint) family. 

While mint (Mentha) is also part of the Lamiaceae family, it is a genus rather than a species. There are approximately 42 species that fall within the Mentha genus, including the familiar peppermint and spearmint. 

Lemon balm in a container

Lemon balm has a familiar minty appearance because it is a member of the same family.

©Olga Miltsova/Shutterstock.com

Lemon Balm vs. Mint: Origin

The lovely lemon balm is native to southern Europe.

However, Mentha most likely originated in the Mediterranean basin.

Lemon Balm vs. Mint: Size

Plan plenty of space if you intend to plant lemon balm plants outdoors. They grow wider than taller — 3 feet versus 2 feet.

The size of mint plants will vary by species. However, most can grow up to 3 feet tall.

Lemon Balm vs. Mint: Flowers

If you allow lemon balm plants to flower, they will reward you with tiny, two-lipped flowers. Those blossoms range from white to pale yellow. But they have a short blooming season that only runs from June to August. 

Mint flowers only have four petals, which distinguishes them from the rest of the Lamiaceae family. They grow in either whorls or terminal clusters, depending on the species. The white, pink, or light purple blossoms will delight you. 

Lemon Balm vs. Mint: Growing Requirements

It is best to prune lemon balm plants regularly. Doing so will help encourage the healthiest growth, more fragrant leaves, and overall appearance. Unpruned lemon balm can start to develop a weedy look. Additionally, lemon balm grows best in Zones 3-7. It needs full sun to partial shade and has light watering needs. Additionally, it can tolerate average soil as long as it is well-draining.

Mints are not picky about soil conditions as long as it is well-draining. However, if you want to achieve the best growth, plant Mentha in sandy loam or rich soil with a pH between 6-7.5. All Mentha species grow fast and can easily take over your garden space. Plant them in containers to contain their rapid growth. 

Mint leaves close up

You will have an abundant supply of mint thanks to its rapid growth.

©OleStudio/Shutterstock.com


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About the Author

Jennifer Hollohan is a writer at A-Z Animals, where her primary focus is on gardening, mammals, and travel. Jennifer has over twenty years of writing experience. She holds a Master of Arts in Anthropology from the University of Colorado at Boulder, which she earned in 2005, and is a Herbalist. Jennifer lives in Colorado with her family. She loves hiking, admiring wildflowers, gardening, and making herbal tea.

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