What is Lemon Verbena?
Lemon verbena is a popular spice for European teas, fruit drinks, and desserts. Verbena, a Latin word meaning leafy branch, was originally used as a perfume. Though not widely used in culinary applications, it adds a refreshing taste to many cold dishes.
Origin and Varieties
It is indigenous to Central and South America and is cultivated in Latin America, France, China, and Algeria. It was was brought to Europe by the Spaniards. There are many species of Lippia in Latin America and Africa such as Mexican oregano and Ethiopian koseret.
Lemon verbena is a long, pointed, green leaf available fresh or dried. It is used whole or chopped. The dried form retains its flavor well. Fresh lemon verbena has a strong, lemon-lime-like flavor, with a fruity and penetrating aroma.
Culinary Uses of Lemon Verbena
It is commonly used by Europeans to flavor fruit-based drinks, fruit salad dressings, fish soups, marinades, puddings, jams, and desserts. It does not tend to lose its flavor during cooking. It pairs well with fruits, vanilla, and seafood dishes. You can use lemon verbena in place of lemon zest in recipes.
Virtually any fruit salad can be enhanced with its finely chopped leaves. Lemon verbena makes one of the best beverage teas, especially when blended with mint. It can also be used to brighten the taste of fish, poultry, veggie marinades, stuffing, salad dressing, jellies, and vinegar. Chop up leaves and put them in drinks. As the leaves are tough, remove them before serving. Finely crumbled dried leaves can be added to the batters of carrot, banana, or zucchini bread. Try adding some to cooked rice just before serving.
Bury 6 lemon verbena leaves in a cup of sugar that has been placed in a covered jar or container. Use this sugar to top muffins, fruit, or sprinkle on the top of muffin batter before baking. Because the leaf is rather tough you’ll need to mince it very fine if you plan on leaving it in a dish, or add it whole and remove before serving. Dried, it should be crumbed before adding to recipes. Spice Blends: fish marinade blend, soup blend, and pickle blend.
Health Benefits of Lemon Verbena
Lemon verbena has been used traditionally by Europeans as a diuretic and a gout remedy, to treat inflammation of the liver or spleen, and even to aid depression. It is also brewed in tea as a home remedy to relieve colds and fevers. Lemon verbena is a natural insect repellent.
Growing Lemon Verbena
Lemon verbena thrives in full sun, and a potting soil rich in organic matter. During the active growing seasons of spring and fall, water and fertilize lemon verbena regularly. Plants can grow into well-branched plants over 24 inches tall in one season. Small white flowers often occur in late summer, and have a perfumey, delicate lemon fragrance.
If planning to winter indoors, grow in 6 inch and larger pots with drainage holes. Lemon verbena is a shrub from South American, and therefore must be wintered indoors below USDA zone 9. However, lemon verbena is deciduous and typically drops its leaves during the low light months. This is a critical point; we have heard from many sad gardeners lamenting the death of their plant over winter indoors (where as the plant was simply demonstrating its natural dormancy). Dormancy lasts one to three months, during which time you should water weekly and never fertilize. The only way to prevent winter dormancy for lemon verbena is to grow it under grow lights left on 18 hours/day.
Pests can be an issue when growing lemon verbena indoors; watch for spider mites and white flies. As a precaution, we recommend rinsing plants under fast flowing fresh water every two weeks.
Lemon verbena can be harvested at any time in the active growing season, and is equally wonderful fresh or dried. The branches of lemon verbena will triple at every point where you snip them – so harvest often.
lemon beebrush, lippia, cedronella, erba, ning mang mabinchou, meng ma bincao (Cantonese, Mandarin), jernut (Danish), citroen verbena (Dutch) limou (Farsi) verbena odorosacitronelle, verveine odorante (French) zitronen verbena (German) verbena (Greek), verbena lipia limonit (Hebrew) citro verbena (Hungarian) cedrina (Italian) verbena limonnay (Russian) yerba de la princesa, vervena, verbena limon (Spanish)
Aloysia triphylla Family: Verbenaceae (verbena family)
Photo by RickP / CC BY-SA (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)