The leaves of lemon verbena have an incredible lemon scent, which is why the plant is one of the favorites of herbal tea fans. The aroma is much more intense than most plants that smell like lemons. Even gently brushing against the leaves, they give off a wonderful cloud of fragrance. Until a few years ago, lemon verbena, sometimes called lemon bush, was hardly known here in Europe. In contrast, in France, Spain and Switzerland, it is a very popular and popular tea plant. So it’s worth getting to know the plant better and possibly bringing it into the garden or cultivating it as a potted plant. After all, freshly picked leaves taste even considerably more tangy and lemony than dried ones. Brew a refreshing tea with it by putting 6-8 leaves in a cup, pouring hot water over them and letting them steep for 5 minutes.
Origin of lemon verbena: a souvenir of the Spanish conquerors
Lemon verbena (Alysia citrodora/ syn. Aloysia triphylla) is a woody shrub from the subtropical areas of South America, where it can grow 2-3 meters high. It belongs to the verbena family. Wild occurrences are found mainly in Argentina, Chile and Peru. The Spaniards became acquainted with the plant when they conquered the Inca and Aztec empires in the 16th century. However, lemon verbena did not reach Spain until 1780, when it was exhibited in the Royal Botanical Gardens. Soon the lemon verbena became known as Luisenkraut (hierba luisa), named after Marie Luisa, wife of Spain’s King Carlos IV. The botanical name Aloysia also refers to Queen Luisa. During her lifetime (1751-1819), the shrub became famous in Spain and it was said that she liked the fragrance very much.
Soon the plant spread in the botanical gardens of Europe and was also cultivated in town houses as a potted plant. At that time, the foreign plant was processed mainly in fragrant bouquets and used in perfume and soap production. As a potted plant, lemon verbena also found its way to Europe, where it was very popular in rich bourgeois houses as recently as 100 years ago. But then, incomprehensibly, it fell into oblivion. In France and Switzerland, however, it is known as “verveine” in every household.
Enjoyable tea with healing properties
As a tea and medicinal plant, lemon verbena made a career above all in France, where today it can be found as “verveine odorante” in almost every medicine cabinet. The famous French herbalist Maurice Mességue called the tea prepared from it “a reliable friend of the stomach”. Therefore, he prescribed it for indigestion, flatulence, bloating, stomach cramps, stomach acidity and nausea. However, the leaves of lemon verbena not only have a digestive and antispasmodic effect, but also have a relaxing and calming effect similar to lemon balm. That is why Mességue mixed the healing leaves in the so-called lucky tea, which, in addition to verbena, also contains lime blossom, chamomile and peppermint. Lucky tea is said to be especially suitable for children who are constantly over-excited, can’t get a moment’s rest and can’t sleep through the night.
The leaves of lemon verbena fresh or dried: pure citrus scent.
There are many lemon-scented plants, but none has such an intense fresh lemon scent as verbena. Especially the fresh leaves smell unusually pure and refreshing. First and foremost, people use the leaves to scent drinks. You can not only prepare a wonderful tea from it, but also enrich juices, milkshakes, syrups, lemonades and liqueurs with the fragrance. For example, put a handful of leaves in apple juice and let them infuse there for 2-3 hours. Infused with sparkling mineral water, you get an excellent refreshing drink! Or you can do the same with milk or cream and make a pudding or ice cream. The finely chopped leaves are also wonderful in fruit salad, jelly or jam.
The leaves retain their fragrance for a very long time even when dried. Strip them whole from the stems when green. Then they are gently dried in the shade. Crush them only shortly before preparation. Because the dried leaves hold their fragrance for years, they make a good base for potpourris and herbal pillows. The scent of verbena is also said to be insect repellent.
Lemon verbena for the garden: it also works without a pot – the location is crucial
You can get lemon verbena as a plant at all well-stocked herb nurseries. The subtropical plant needs a lot of sun and warmth. The soil should be light and well-drained. It needs regular watering, but does not like waterlogging. In the literature, perennial lemon verbena is considered sensitive to frost, so it is kept as a tub and pot plant. However, in a viticultural climate, you can try overwintering in the garden. Minus 15 degrees are quite tolerated. It thanks the release from the pot with vigorous growth, so it can grow two meters high in the garden.
The following measures improve winter hardiness: plant only older, well-woody specimens outdoors. In late fall, cut back the woody plant to three handbreadths above the ground and pack everything completely in straw. In spring (March), remove the straw. Patience is now required, as new sprouting from the old wood does not occur until very late in early summer, usually in late May. So you should not give up on the plant too early. Probably, many a verbena bush has been dug up by impatient gardeners in the spring, thinking that it froze.
As a container plant verbena hibernates at 5-10 degrees in the house or shed. In the absence of light and low temperatures, it throws off the leaves in winter. In case of leaf shedding, it can also be overwintered in a dark cellar. Lemon verbena hardly knows diseases and pests.
Harvesting is done in summer (July to September), for which the long shoots are cut off.
Recipe for lemon verbena syrup
125 g fresh lemon verbena
1 liter of water
1 kg sugar
Strip the leaves from the stems and slice the lemon. Heat water and sugar and simmer for 10 minutes. Then pour over verbena leaves and lemon and leave covered for a day. Then strain and heat again until boiling. Fill hot into sterile bottles and seal. Tastes very good in tea, mineral water or sparkling wine.
Lemon Verbena Liqueur
75 g fresh lemon verbena
peel of one lemon
½ liter of grain
100 g sugar
75 ml water
Cut lemon verbena leaves into small pieces, put them in a pot and pour grain over them (heated to 50° C!). Add the lemon peel, taking care not to use the bitter white inner peel. Now pour with a lid. To give the liqueur a nice green color, let it steep for only 2-3 hours. Then filter and sweeten with the sugar solution. The solution is made from 100 g of sugar (honey) and 150 ml of water by simmering the whole thing for 10 minutes. Then let the solution cool and add it to the batch. Bottle and leave to mature for a few days before enjoying.