Lemon Balm Pesto with Shrimp

I grew a new herb on a whim last year—lemon balm. Lemons had been scarce in our area and virtually absent in organic form, which is always my first choice. I had even needed to make my Lemon Ginger Honey Tea with lime. Yes, it was a tough year for lemon lovers. 

Lemon Balm Pesto

Lemon Balm Pesto

But what if I could produce a nice lemon flavor from another (natural) source? At an affordable price of course. It all led to Lemon Balm Pesto.  

I went to the garden center last year and picked up a Lemon Balm plant that I enjoyed throughout the season.   But despite plans, I never did get around to replanting this year. What I didn’t realize, however, was that lemon balm is a perennial.  And it’s related to mint which means this year I have a giant lemon balm plant.  Without doing anything. 


Lemon Balm in Garden

Lemon Balm in Garden

Lemon balm has a sweet, herbal, lemony taste and aroma and some people believe it has medicinal properties.  Claims have been made that it can help sooth indigestion, heal cold sores, ease anxiety and promote good sleep (disclaimer: this content is not meant to serve as medical advice). And all I was looking for was lemon flavor!

lemon-balm-cutJust beware that lemon balm’s relation to mint means it may have some tendency to be spread invasively in an unchecked garden.  So if you plant it, you’ll want to keep an eye on it.  But it also means you may get to harvest the heck out of it.  Which is how I decided to try a lemon balm pesto.

I have made pesto with many different “greens” besides the traditional basil.  Arugula pesto is delicious and really handy if you hit a salad overload.  Cilantro pesto is an absolute favorite.  The lemon overtones in this seemed to call out for adding shrimp, so I ignored the old Italian adage about not mixing seafood pasta with cheese and went ahead. 

Lemon Balm Pesto Served

Lemon Balm Pesto Served

The recipe is a little high in calories and fat, but studies regularly point to significant health benefits from olive oil.  One even showed that a High-Fat Mediterranean diet does not lead to weight gain!  But if you want to reduce fat and/or calories you can always substitute an additional ¼ cup wine for ¼ cup of the olive oil.

Lemon Balm Pesto

Lemon Balm Pesto

5.0 from 3 reviews
Lemon Balm Pesto with Shrimp
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
  • 12 ounces of shrimp, peeled
  • 8 oz whole wheat pasta
  • 2 cups of lemon balm leaves, lightly packed (4-5 longer stems)
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup white wine
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • ¼ cup walnuts, pinenuts or other nut of your choice
  • ½ t salt (or to taste)
  • 2 ounces grated Parmesan cheese (1/2 cup)
  1. Cook pasta according to package directions and drain when done.
  2. While pasta is cooking, place pesto ingredients except Parmesan in a blender or food processor. Process until well combined.
  3. Heat pesto and peeled shrimp in a small saucepan stirring occasionally, until shrimp are cooked through. Stir in grated Parmesan.
  4. Combine pasta and pesto. Serve immediately
If you need to reduce fat and/or calories you may substitute an additional ¼ cup wine for ¼ cup of the olive oil.
To use as a dip or spread, eliminate the wine and skip the shrimp.



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13 thoughts on “Lemon Balm Pesto with Shrimp

  1. Patch

    Made this pesto with lemon balm from my garden. Lovely with shrimp, Tagliatelle pasta and fresh grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. Yummy with nice oakey chardonnay!!

  2. grace

    how exciting that it reappeared–that would make my summer! i can think of lots of places to use such an herb, and pesto would be near the top of my list as well–great idea and delicious creation!

  3. Juliana

    Wow Inger, this past looks delicious, and I am loving that you made pesto with lemon balm…what a great dish!
    Have a wonderful week 🙂

  4. David

    Your lemon balm leaves are so different from mine! Yours are pointed, and mine are rounded. Now, I have to wonder, how different are they? Looks absolutely delicious, Inger.

    1. Inger Post author

      This is the only one I’ve ever grown, but I was curious and looked online and you are right. This one looked a bit overgrown too (my mother used to save marigold seeds and after a few years the survivors looked like creatures out of a sci-fi film). But if it gives me free & easy food, I don’t care if it’s pretty.

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