Growing and Using Lemon Verbena
If you’re interested in growing and using lemon verbena, you likely know about its heavenly lemon scent. Reminiscent of the 70’s perfume, Love’s Fresh Lemon, lemon verbena surpasses even that iconic fragrance. It was also the favorite of Scarlett O’Hara’s mother in Gone with the Wind. Today, you’ll find lemon verbena in commercial lotions and potions, but it’s truly best enjoyed from your own garden. Think scented sachets, potpourri, lemon verbena tea (both hot or iced) or lemon verbena in sweet or savory dishes of fish, meat or veggies.
Lemon verbena grows outside, year-round, in warm places like Argentina. It also thrives in northern summer gardens and can be overwintered in pots for planting out again next spring.
Lemon verbena is a large, deciduous shrub reaching up to five feet in a single growing season or fifteen feet in its native lands. The light or medium green leaves are narrow and pointed; from two to four inches long; and grow in whorls of three or four. Flowers are small and tubular.
Growing and Using Lemon Verbena
Since lemon verbena seeds are slow and finicky, it’s best to begin growing lemon verbena from a small nursery plant or tip cuttings taken from early summer growth.
Care and Planting
Plant lemon verbena in full sun, after all danger of frost, in a bed of well-drained soil amended with compost. You can also grow lemon verbena in a container which can be brought back in indoors for the winter.
Give your plant lots of room because it will quickly grow bushy and tall. Encourage bushy growth by pinching back the top growing tips when the plant is about six inches tall. You’ll be rewarded with multiple growing tips that develop into luxuriant leafy branches.
Although lemon verbena dislikes wet roots (avoid clay soils if you don’t want root rot), it doesn’t like dry conditions either. Fertilize once in spring, then give this fast-growing plant lots to drink. Water at least twice a week, or more often if summer heat gets relentless. Fertilize again in the fall.
Flowers arrive in mid-summer and these you can use as you would the leaves. You can also continue harvesting leaves until fall.
As the days grow shorter, lemon verbena drops leaves for winter. This happens even when you prune the plant and bring it indoors for winter. Water the dormant plant about once a week until early spring. At this point, give it as much light as possible for budding and new growth.
Harvest lemon verbena leaves throughout the growing season, removing no more than one-third of the leaves at any given time. Because of the fast growth, you should get several good harvests over the summer. For the strongest lemon scent make at least one harvest just before flowering in mid-summer.
The easiest way to preserve lemon verbena for use through the winter is to dry the leaves, either following the directions for a food dehydrator, or simply by tying up cut long stems of lemon verbena and hanging them upside down for a few days until the leaves dry out completely and you can easily crumble them.
Let the leafy stems fully dry inside a brown paper bag and then you can easily press against them, detaching the leaves from the stems. Once the crushed leaves are all at the bottom of the bag, remove the stems, shake out the leaves, and reduce them further, if needed, either manually or by adding them to a blender or food processor for a few seconds. After that, store in an airtight container.
Uses for Lemon Verbena
The lemon flavor of lemon verbena is probably one of the best available among the herbs, valuable in stir-frying, baked treats and bread, teas, potpourri, scented sachets and herb pillows. Weave the long, thin stems into fragrant, homemade vine wreaths.
Lemon Verbena Sun Tea
One of my favorite ways to use lemon verbena is in sun tea: simply harvest a couple of handfuls of leaves, rinse well, then add to a large jar or a pitcher of water and set in the sun. A few hours later, strain the liquid, sit in your favorite patio chair and sip!
Lemon Verbena Hot Tea
Chop or bruise about a quarter cup of lemon verbena leaves, or a combination of lemon verbena and mint leaves, then infuse in about one cup of boiling hot water. Steep for five minutes, stir, then strain the hot tea for drinking. Enjoy!
Lemon Verbena Recipes
For other uses, including lemon verbena cookies, shortbread, butter, muffins – and even lemon verbena glass cleaner – check out the resources below.
Lemon Verbena Cookies
Lemon Verbena Shortbread
Lemon Verbena and Pineapple Cocktail Cookies
Lemon Verbena Recipes – bread, jelly, butters, sugar cookies, almond wafers, dip, muffins plus lemon verbena glass and surface cleaner.