Saturday, May 5, 2012

I have a plant crush, and its name is Lemon Verbena

I’m more of a flower gardener, but this plant more than makes up for its lack of blooms with its lush lemony scent.  I knew vaguely about this plant, but hadn’t any firsthand experience with it until a friend made a tea with the leaves of the plant. Now I’m never going to be without it; we’re going to be inseparable. Lemon verbena, I love you, and I hope I introduce others to your intoxicating charm.  
Since this is basically a tropical herb, verbena needs its roots protected from frost.  So winter your potted plants indoors or in a greenhouse and don't feel bad when your plant drops all of its leaves. Lemon verbena goes dormant during the winter.  My potted plant made it through a Bay Area winter on my outdoor patio which is sheltered by the house, and by April it was looking happy again. Once the temperature and day length increases the leaves will reappear.  At least once during the summer cut back your plant by about half its size.  While you gather its leaves for use, you will be promoting new growth.  Pinching out the tips of the plant will also keep it bushy.  Lemon verbena can also be easily propagated by cuttings from new growth.  They make great little gifts, and in the process may encourage others to get the lemon verbena crush too!

You can dry the leaves individually or on the stalk.  I like to wash the leaves and dry them on a paper towel before placing them on a cookie sheet in my oven.  The pilot light keeps my oven warm and helps dry the leaves quickly and thoroughly.  If you have an electric oven try heating it up on the lowest setting, then turn off the oven and put the lemon verbena in to dry.  I store the dried leaves in a ziplock bag. If you decide to dry them on the stalk, hang the stems upside-down in a cool, dry, dark place.

Lemon verbena does make a great tea!  Personally, my favorite way to enjoy it is mixed with English Breakfast tea.  I put 1-2 leaves in my hot water and let them steep for a few minutes before adding my English Breakfast tea.  Fresh or dried leaves work equally well.  

Try this great iced tea from The Garden Entertaining Cookbook by Barbara Scott-Goodman & Mary Goodbody:

Iced Mint and Lemon Verbena Tea
serves 6
2 quarts of water
2 tablespoons mint leaves or mint tea
1 tablespoon and 1 teaspoon honey
8 springs lemon verbena
lemons slices to garnish
Bring the water to a full boil in a large saucepan.  Add the tea, and remove the pan from the heat.  Cover and let stand for 5 minutes.  Add the honey and stir until dissolved.  Add the lemon verbena and let stand for 5 more minutes. Strain and let cool to room temperature.  Refrigerate for at least 2 hours.  Serve over ice and garnish with lemon slices.

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