By Maryann Readal, HSA Secretary
Lemon Verbena has literary connections. Were you a fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s classic Little House on the Prairie? If you watched the popular television series in the 70’s and 80’s, you may remember that lemon verbena was the favorite perfume of Laura’s teacher Miss Beadle. You may also recall that in Gone with the Wind, Scarlett O’Hara’s mother wore lemon verbena perfume. According to Madalene Hill and Gwen Barclay in their book, Southern Herb Growing, it is sometimes called the Scarlett O’Hara herb.
This delicate, lemony herb was a popular herb for perfume in Victorian times. It was often sewn into seams of clothing and its lemony scent made it a favorite addition to the tussie-mussie. The dried leaf keeps its fragrance a very long time, making lemon verbena an understandable choice for potpourris.
Lemon verbena, Aloysia citriodora, is native to South America and was brought to Europe by Spanish explorers in the 17th century. Being from South America, it is a plant that grows outdoors best in warmer climates where it can reach a height of 6-8 feet. It must be brought indoors in the North for the winter. Here in my Texas 8b partially shaded garden, it does very well outside with little care, as long as it is protected from our occasional hard freezes.
An interesting fact about this herb is that it is deciduous. So do not give up on it when it loses its leaves in the fall. The leaves will grow back in the spring. Trimming back in the spring will keep its growth tidy.
Medicinally, the flowering tips and leaves have been used to ease digestive disorders, as a sedative, and as a fever reducer. It has antimicrobial properties but its effectiveness has not been sufficiently studied. Although it has been rated as safe for human consumption by the FDA, folks with kidney problems should use it sparingly.
Lemon verbena makes a nice tea and can be used in any recipe that calls for lemon. Fresh leaves are tough so they should be chopped finely before adding to recipes. Bury 6 or 7 leaves in a cup of sugar in a closed container and you will have a nicely flavored sugar for use in your tea.
It is summer, it is hot. Here is an easy, refreshing, and cooling sorbet to cleanse your palette.
1 ½ cups water, divided
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. finely chopped lemon verbena leaves
1 cup fresh lemon juice (about 6 lemons)
Combine ½ cup water and the sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Heat, stirring often until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in remaining 2 cups of water and lemon verbena. Refrigerate sugar mixture until cold, about 2 hours. Stir lemon juice into sugar mixture. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s directions. Freeze in a covered container until firm, about 4 hours. Makes about 1 quart.
Serve alongside a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Sprinkle with Limoncello liqueur and finely chopped lemon verbena leaves. — From the Texas Thyme Unit Thyme to Cook cookbook.
For more information and ideas for using lemon verbena, go to The Herb Society of America’s website for the Herb of the Month for July.