Bastard balm Melittis melissophyllum

Status Amber - Vulnerable and Near-Threatened
Best Time to See May, June, July, August
Colour Purple
Habitat Woodland

“Baulm, in Latin Melissa.'Tis reckon'd among the Cordial-Herbs. It removes Melancholy, and cheers the Heart.”  - John Pechey, 1655-1716,’The English Herbal of Physical Plants’

Description

This tall striking plant likes shady places, but, sadly, has now become an uncommon sight. It is a member of the mint family and strongly aromatic.

How to spot it

Bastard balm has erect hairy stems on which grow opposite pairs of oval, bluntly toothed and softly hairy leaves.  The flowers are white with a large pinkish purple blotch on the lower lip, and grow in the axils of the leaves. 

Where it grows

It prefers shady environments, usually in woodland, on woodland edges and hedge banks, and is found only in south west England, the New Forest and south west Wales.

Best time to see

In flower from May to August.

How's it doing?

The distribution in Devon and Cornwall is apparently stable, but it has declined markedly elsewhere over the past twenty years as a result of overshading and pony grazing, although at some sites it has reappeared after scrub clearance and coppicing.

3 things you might not know

  • The scientific name melittis comes from a Greek word meaning ‘honeybee’ referring to the plant’s attractiveness to bees.
  • The flower’s distinctive pink tongue acts as a landing guide to bees, directing them to the nectar deep inside.
  • The plant is known as a healing herb used for the treatment of anxiety, wounds and kidneys.