Lemon Verbena has always been at the top of my list of herbs to grow for its intense lemony fragrance.
More pungent that lemon balm or lemon thyme, I ended up with a bumper crop last year and found many uses for it. Be sure to buy a transplant this spring and place it where it will get full sun and good drainage. Planting near your outdoor living space will ensure that you will enjoy brushing by it to release the lemony fragrance.
Strongly scented and known for its astringent lemony fragrance, Lemon Verbena (Aloysia citrodora) is the most strongly scented lemon scent of all the herbs. Used in making perfumes, and toilet water, as well as a flavoring in baking, jellies and preserving, lemon verbena also makes a great herbal tea, either fresh or dried. For a summertime dessert try my Lemon Verbena Cake with Strawberries (recipe below).
Dried branches and leaves can be used to scent your drawers and linen closets with a light fragrance. I fill gauze bags with dried leaves to tuck in my lingerie. Introduced to England in the 1700’s, lemon verbena can grow to 15′ in height in the UK! Here in the U.S., the plant is treated as a tender perennial but can overwinter in US zone 8 or higher and reaches in the mid-Atlantic region about 4′ in height.
Growing my lemon verbena in a container keeps it happy because I can control the water it receives. Over watering a lemon verbena plant is certain death to this very fragrant herb, so only water when the soil is completely dry. Plus I can bring the container into my greenhouse to winter over as it is hardy to zone 8-9. Leaves release their refreshing fragrance each time they are brushed against or touched, making it a pleasure to work with and near. A heavy feeder, unlike many herbs, I regularly fertilize my plant and pinch it back often to get a nice bushy shape. Full sun is best as the herb will get very spindly looking and the leaves will lack the essential oil fragrance. Tiny white flowers top the branches when the plant matures later in the summer.
Lemon verbena is a heavy feeder and, benefits from frequent fertilization. Spider mites and whiteflies adore the citrusy leaves, so be prepared to fight these pests off with an organic pesticide.
To dry your lemon verbena, gather a bunch of leaves and lay on paper towels and microwave for one to two minutes at high. The leaves should still be green, but be crispy to the touch. I leave the leaves alone for a day or two to fully dry and then strip the leaves off the stems and crush them with my fingers. Toss then into a plastic container to store until you are ready to steep them for a zingy tea.
To make tea with the fresh leaves, boil water and pour over freshly harvested lemon verbena leaves in a mug. Let steep for 3-5 minutes and then pull the leaves out and enjoy!
Excellent for your stomach, relieving indigestion and heartburn, and for toning the digestive tract. Also, good for soothing anxiety and a good sedative for insomnia. Start those plants this spring for a fresh harvest later in the summer.
Lemon Verbena Cake with Strawberries
A moist lemony sponge like cake
- 1 C Cake flour
- 1/2 tsp Baking powder
- 1/4 tsp Salt
- 3 T Lemon verbena leaves, finely chopped Remove leaves from tough stems. Can sub 1 T of lemon zest if you have no lemon verbena
- 1 T Lemon zest, finely grated
- 1 Stick Butter, softened (1/2 C)
- 1 C Sugar, granulated
- 3 Large Eggs
- 1 tsp Lemon extract
- 2 T Milk
- 2 T Lemon juice
- 1/2 C Confectioners sugar
- 1 T Fresh lemon juice
- Strawberries, sliced
Preheat oven to 325 degrees and butter and flour a baking pan. You can use a bundt, loaf, or I used a round pan with a depression in the top for fruit.
Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, verbena, and zest
In another bowl, cream together softened butter, sugar, and eggs, adding eggs one at a time. Beat in extract and half of flour mixture. Beat in lemon juice and milk and then remaining flour, until just combined. The batter will be thick
Spoon batter into baking pan, and bake in the middle for 30-40 minutes, or until golden brown on top and tester comes out clean
Cool cake in pan for 15 minutes and invert onto rack to cool completely
While cake is cooling, make glaze, by adding lemon juice to confectioners sugar and stirring until smooth
When cake is cool, drizzle on top and top with fresh strawberries
Cake may be made a day ahead and chilled, covered