The lemon verbena plant, a perennial herbaceous shrub native to South America, is most valued for its strong, sweet, lemon-scented leaves that produce an intensified aroma when crushed. The herb also has a variety of medicinal, aromatic and culinary purposes. Reaching up to 6 ½ feet tall, lemon verbena makes a valuable addition to any herb garden, and was once a popular ornamental plant in European gardens.
It’s long, pale-green, pointed leaves appear on graceful, arching branches and purple flowers are borne in terminal clusters in midsummer. The fragrant leaves can be harvested any time of year. If you don’t have access to a live plant, however, you can purchase the dried leaves for use in medicinal, cosmetic and culinary recipes. Lemon verbena leaves dry easily and hold their taste and fragrance well once dried.
Lemon Verbena Benefits
Very little scientific research examines the lemon verbena herb as a medicinal plant, though it has a long history of use in folk medicine for treating a variety of ailments. One of its most popular uses is masking the flavor of bitter or less-palatable herbs in medicinal teas. Lemon verbena tea, however, has its own claim to fame. Herbalists and natural healers often prescribe the lemony beverage for treating digestive upsets, nerves, depression, headache and fever. In addition, it is one of the most effective natural remedies for colic and indigestion. The tea may also benefit sufferers of colds, bronchitis, congestion, cramps, sore or tired muscles, and nausea.
The intense citrus taste and aroma of lemon verbena contribute to its popularity as a culinary herb. The plant’s fresh and dried leaves are commonly used to flavor rice dishes, teas and beverages, fruit salads, custards, steamed puddings, cold soups, gelatin, jams and jellies, cakes, liqueurs and homemade ice cream. Lemon verbena is sometimes used in place of mint or lemon balm, though it takes only half the recommended amount because of the herb’s strength. Lemon verbena tea (see recipes below) makes a refreshing drink after eating a heavy dinner.
Cosmetic and Aromatic Uses
Other common lemon verbena uses include adding to massage oils, facial washes, aromatic baths, herbal soaps and potpourris. Slightly astringent, the herb may help improve oily skin by reducing and regulating sebum production. It’s often made into a tea, allowed to cool to room temperature and used as a face wash for acne-prone skin. The tea can also be added directly to a hot bath to invigorate the body and mind. The plant’s dried leaves are used in potpourri mixes, and lemon verbena oil can be added to a carrier oil, such as almond or grapeseed, and used to massage sore, tired muscles.
Preparation and Dosage
Lemon verbena is most often consumed in the form of a tea, or the dried or fresh leaves are used in culinary pursuits. If you’re taking the herb medicinally, drink up to three cups of lemon verbena tea per day. If you have digestive problems, try drinking a cup after each meal to aid digestion. To make lemon verbena tea, steep 2 tsp. dried or 2 tbsp. fresh lemon verbena leaves in 1 cup boiling water for 10 to 15 minutes, strain, sweeten as desired and drink immediately. If you want something that tastes a little more exciting than this, see the recipe below or create your own by adding your favorite tea herbs and spices.
Iced Mint and Lemon Verbena Tea Recipe
The following recipe yields approximately six servings. Serve in a decorative pitcher and garnish with lemon wedges, if desired. This makes a refreshing beverage for drinking on hot summer days or during bouts of indigestion.
- 2 quarts water
- 2 tbsp. dried mint leaves
- 2 tbsp. honey
- 8 sprigs lemon verbena
- Lemon wedges for garnish, optional
- Bring water to a rolling boil in a saucepan.
- Add the mint leaves, remove from the heat, cover and allow the mixture to stand for five minutes.
- Add the honey and stir until completely dissolved.
- Add the lemon verbena and allow the tea to stand for five minutes longer.
- Strain the mixture into a pitcher and allow it to cool to room temperature.
- Refrigerate for at least two hours, and then serve over ice in chilled glasses, garnished with lemon wedges if desired.
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