Lemon verbena is a perennial herb, Aloysia citrodora, synonymous with Lippia citrodora and Aloysia triphylla, a member of the verbena family, Verbenaceae. It grows as a deciduous flowering shrub that is native to South America.
Although classified as a shrub lemon verbena’s stature is more tree-like, reaching ten to twenty feet tall, especially in locations with full sun. If it’s desired to keep this herb as a smaller shrub, regular pruning will be necessary. Propagation is most successful via cuttings.
Lemon verbena is used in cooking and baking to flavor foods and beverages. It’s the most lemony of all the citrus-scented herbs and it’s best used fresh. The leaves lose flavor and aroma upon drying, but the dried leaves are used in making herbal teas and in cooking.
Lemon verbena imparts a sweet lemony flavor without being too tart. It mixes nicely with tart berries, apples, pears and apricots, for example. Meats can also be enhanced with the crisp lemony taste. Fresh leaves can be placed on top of pork, fish or chicken, that is then covered and baked. The citrus flavor will be infused into the meat by the steam of cooking. This herb is used to flavor sweets like puddings, jams and sorbet.
Regularly using this herb for cooking may be a tasty and healthy way to cook. It brings out the sweetness of fruit without adding refined sugar. Instead of sprinkling sugar on strawberries, mix the berries with a few chopped leaves. Lemon verbena tea can substitute for water in dessert recipes to add flavor without adding extra sugar or fat. Fresh leaves make aromatic garnishes for fruit drinks, especially champagne cocktails and lemonade.
The lemon or citrus scent is very fresh so it’s used to make soaps, perfumes and potpourri. Dried leaves will freshen linens in sachets or fresh leaves can be placed among the sheets in a linen closet. The essential oils, 0.5%, contain citral in the largest proportion. Some component acts as an insect repellent as the plant does repel flies, midges and other insects.
An herbal tea from lemon verbena is said to be calming. It is used to relieve anxiety and settle nervous stomachs. Other digestive upsets may be relieved with the tea such as excess gas, indigestion and acidity. It’s been used to combat fevers, depression, headaches and heart palpitations. To make tea steep one tablespoon fresh leaves or one teaspoon dried leaves in a cup of near boiling water for five minutes or more. Keep the cup covered to retain the aroma and serve either hot or chilled.