In California’s Mediterranean climate, lemon verbena can be one of the most rewarding additions to your garden. Although first identified in what’s now Argentina, lemon verbena (Aloysia citrodora) can actually grow in a wide range of habitats. It’s got a smell that can’t be mistaken, and with so many uses, it would be a shame not to plant some in your garden.
The following article will impress you with the great number of uses for this common and yet extraordinary shrub.
1. Ornamental bush
A resilient plant with full foliage and pleasing white flowers in the late summer and fall, lemon verbena makes a delightful enhancement to any garden. It’s easy to care for and can get up to about 5 or 6 feet tall in ideal conditions, with good loamy soil and regular watering.
But the best reason to plant lemon verbena is for its wonderful aroma. Plant it close to a walkway or doorway so that you can enjoy the splendid, lemony aroma every time you walk past it or whenever the wind ruffles its leaves. Rub the fragrant leaves gently between your fingers and hold them under your nose for an invigorating blast of citrus heaven.
2. Refreshing tea
Besides walking by a live plant and rubbing up against it, the easiest way to enjoy lemon verbena is in the form of a simple tea. The flavor is strong, so you can just add a handful of fresh leaves to a pitcher of water, either hot or cold, to extract the luscious, refreshing taste. Try combining it with other herbs, like mint, and see what kinds of flavor combinations you can come up with.
The edible leaves have a powerful taste, so use them sparingly to add a few bursts of flavor to your salad. The leaves are also a bit harder and more rigid than other herbs, such as basil or mint, another reason not to use too much. Incorporate the leaves in a salad dressing for a more subtle flavor that you can apply more evenly in a salad.
Like any flavorful leaf, lemon verbena lends itself very well to making pesto. Again, because the leaves are harder and crunchier than basil, you’ll need to grind them up really well in order to get a soft, smooth consistency. For best results, mix some lemon verbena leaves with about twice the quantity of basil leaves. The verbena packs quite a punch, so it’s a good idea to tone it down with a more traditional flavor.
5. Lemon zest substitue
Any recipe that calls for lemon zest is worth trying with lemon verbena. Grind the leaves into little bits, something slightly chunkier than a powder. Pop a few pinches of this granular additive into your cake mix, your curry or your fish marinade. Expect some of the flavor to dissipate in high heat. So if you’re adding verbena to a sauce, try to do so near the end of cooking.
6. Salsa or guacamole additive
Like any other sauce, a spicy salsa will benefit from the extra lemony flavor of verbena. You can include whole leaves, and just eat around them, or remove them before serving, as you would with bay leaves. Or use the ground up leaves and mix it right in with your tomatoes and peppers.
7. Cocktail garnish
I’m thinking about an ice cold mojito on a hot day. A sprig of verbena will also look and taste great on the side of your vodka martini. Feel free to get creative and try a new variation of the mint julep.
Add lemon verbena to any simple syrup recipe for a little extra something.
9. Oil and vinegar infusions
Stretch the flavor of your lemon verbena even further by infusing it into some high quality olive oil or vinegar. Enjoy it later in a salad dressing or drizzled over bread and cheese.
10. Treating anxiety and digestive disorders
In Latin America, there’s a long tradition of using lemon verbena medicinally to treat upset stomachs. Many herbalists also advocate its use to relieve headaches and nervous tension. Prepare a simple tea for best results, or make an alcohol infusion.
Back to basics. If you just want to enjoy the intoxicating smell of lemon verbena around the house, add it to any potpourri mix along with other fresh herbs and flowers. Stuff some in a little sachet for your sock drawer, or place it in a dream pillow on your bedside table.
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