From Tea to Tincture
The unassuming Lemon Verbena plant – have you seen it? Those long lanceolate leaves don’t look like much, but Aloysia citrodora provides the freshest lemon scent when bruised, even better than lemon balm or lemon grass and right up there with a fresh lemon. I can’t imagine my herb garden without it.
Lemon Verbena is known medicinally as a digestive herb, it helps sooth indigestion, flatulence and colic. It is mildly astringent and creating a rinse for your mouth can help ward off candida.
Growing Lemon Verbena
Lemon Verbena is a deciduous shrub that will lose its leaves in the fall. In its native countries – Chile and Peru, it grows by the roadside and can get up to 15 feet tall. In the USA, it grows best in zones 9 and 10 and can survive in zone 8 with protection from frost. If you plant your fragrant herb in the ground it can reach upwards of 6 feet at maturity.
In my growing zone 8, I have never had one survive a winter outside. I usually pot up my plants and overwinter them in the garage. The bigger the space you give the roots, the bigger your plant will become.
If you are going to grow this herb in a pot, plan accordingly – it is a heavy feeder and drainage is key. Lemon verbena doesn’t like soggy roots! It does benefit from pruning, which is good because pruning gives you wonderful, scented leaves to use and enjoy.
I bring my plant inside once it loses its leaves, usually October in the PNW. Sometime in April, I cut it back and bring it back outside after first frost date.
The Aloysia citrodora plant can be somewhat hard to find. I have never found it at the grocery store herb stand. It is well worth the hunt, though. Try a specialty nursery in your area.
Propagation is by stem cutting in the spring. One it begins to leaf out again you can begin making cuttings.
Using Lemon Verbena
There are so many wonderful uses for lemon verbena. I grow several plants or I would never have enough leaves. Try these ideas:
- Make Lemon Verbena sun tea. Cut and wash two handfuls of leaves, stuff them in a jar and sit it out in the sun for several hours. Voila!
- Thinly slice the leaves and put Lemon Verbena in a salad or with vegetables.
- Make a hot tea – bruise or cut up 1/4 cup leaves and add 1 cup hot water, steep and enjoy. Consider adding mint for a real treat.
- Make Lemon Verbena infused vinegar by chopping or bruising the leaves and covering them with a simple white wine vinegar for 30 days.
- Try lemon infused olive oil using the method above.
- Make lemon flavored sugar by mixing bruised leaves into a bowl of sugar. Leave it overnight. The sugar will take on the lemon oil properties.
- Make Lemon Verbena Lemonade
- Make Lemon Verbena Simple Syrup
Preserving Your Lemon Verbena
The simplest way to preserve your harvest is to dry the leaves. This can be done in a food dehydrator or by hanging them upside down in a brown bag until they are crisp. It only takes a day or two, depending on the weather. Dried leaves retain their aroma for many years but are not as potent as fresh ones.
You can also make a lemon verbena sugar paste. Put two cups of leaves and 1/2 a cup of sugar in a food processor until it forms a paste. Spread it in a thin layer inside a plastic Ziploc bag and freeze it. To use: Break off what you need and sprinkle onto desserts, in tea, or on fruit. It will keep indefinitely this way.
I also like to make lemon verbena ice cubes and drop them in a glass of water on a hot day – very refreshing!
Make a Lemon Verbena Glycerine Tincture
Pure 100% food grade vegetable glycerine is soluble in water and great to use with children because there is no alcohol involved. While it has many moisturizing properties, it is also fantastic at picking up the properties of herbs and it has a sweet taste. Just the thing if you are creating a Lemon Verbena tincture for an upset tummy.
- Remove the leaves from the stems and cut out any brown spots
- Bruise the leaves or cut them into smaller pieces and fill the jar, leaving some space for liquid to get in.
- Dries herbs will expand while re-hydrating, so you only want to fill your jar ½-3/4 of the way full.
- Mix equal parts of vegetable glycerine and distilled water, pouring over the herbs in the jar.
- Use a clean knife to remove any air bubbles.
- Place the lid on the jar and label it with the herb and date.
- Place the jar in a cool, dark place for about 30 days. Shake it every couple of days when you think about it.
- After the 30 days, strain the liquid from the herb with a small strainer. Squeeze to get as much liquid from the leaves as possible.
- Bottle your Lemon Verbena Glycerine Tincture and label it with the name and date. I just put mine back into canning jars.
- Store in a cool dark place. It will keep indefinitely.
Find a Lemon Verbena plant, it is well worth the hunt. Learning to grow and use this plant makes a wonderful and useful addition to your herb garden. Share your ideas for using this refreshing herb.