by Laura Waters –
As I walk into the greenhouse after a long winter I long for the intoxicating fragrance of lemon verbena. I hope my plants have made it through a rough winter.
The plants require protection in the winter and need to be covered in leaves and nestled close to the house or in a greenhouse. In the spring the small shoots appear on the old wood. It needs a tidy pruning and this miraculous plant is up and running again. Rubbing your fingers over the leaves bruises them and releases this incredible essential oil.
A scraggly tender perennial that is native to South America, this is a plant that is an excellent choice for planting in an outdoor living area, where people may pass by, brushing against it and releasing the essential oil. It likes well-drained soil in a bright sunny spot. It is a heavy feeder and requires a dressing of fertilizer several times through the growing season. Harvest its leaves throughout the growing season.
Lemon verbena is used best without heat, as some of the oils are lost when heated. The sorbet recipe below highlights these delicate, volatile flavours. When cooking with lemon verbena, it is used to add a lovely lemon flavour to fish and poultry. Or, place it in milk and flavour your custards, panna cotta or yogurt. One of my personal favourites is to make a sorbet with the lemon verbena. Placing the leaves in a pot of tea and covering them with boiling water also releases the incredible lemon flavour. Layering the lemon verbena with sugar in a sealed container flavours the sugar and can be used in cakes, icing and desserts . I have dehydrated and frozen the leaves with success for use in the winter.
I recently read that when a tea is made with lemon verbena it is very effective for those looking to lose weight. Apparently it has only two calories per serving and seems to curb one’s appetite from the munchies! It also has qualities that soothe the stomach, helps boost your immune system, reduce inflammation, reduce fevers and reduce joint pain.(www.organicfacts.net.)
This is definitely one of my favourite herbs, and a must for any garden. I grow mine in pots rather than planting them in the ground, replenishing the soil and increasing the pot size every season.