Lemon Verbena

September 15, 2008 Updated: September 18, 2008

Lemon verbena has the most intense lemon-like smell of all the lemon-scented herbs. You just need to gently rub the leaves to release their fragrant, captivating aroma.

The plant is native to Chile and Argentina, and was introduced to Europe in the 1790s. It is sometimes called “herb Louisa” (the biological name is Aloysia triphylla ). Some say it was named after Maria Luisa, wife of Carlos IV of Spain, although others attribute the name to Marie Louise, empress of France.

The leaves have a very strong taste and potent fragrance, so use them with discretion. It is a great addition to fish and poultry dishes, vegetable marinades, salad dressings, jams, puddings, and beverages. Chop the fresh leaves very finely since they are quite tough. Crumble dried leaves finely and add to the batter of carrot cake or banana bread.

The dried leaves retain their lemon scent for a long time, which makes them ideal for potpourri and herb sachets. You can dry the leaves yourself in the oven by placing on baking trays lined with parchment paper and leaving in the oven for 2-3 hours at the lowest setting.

The dried leaves also make an excellent tea, particularly if blended with mint.

Lemon verbena has several therapeutic properties. It has a mild sedative effect and is said to be good for relieving flatulence. A lemon verbena herbal tea can help with digestion and relaxation. It can also help reduce fevers.

The herb is easy to grow and loves full sun. In a warm climate it can grow to as high as 4 metres. It also makes a good pot plant, although make sure you shelter it in winter or move it inside since it cannot tolerate prolonged frost or cold. The plant may drop its leaves if moved inside, but it should grow them again if the soil is kept fairly dry.