What is Lemon Verbena?
Lemon Verbena is the Rolls Royce of herbs with its lemon-scent.
Originally grown in Chile, it was first introduced to Europe in the 18th century by the Spanish for its perfume. Understandably so, simply by rubbing its rough leaves it releases its sharp lemon sherbet scent. Due to its distinct smell, it is often used in cosmetics and is one of the main ingredients in many products by the well-known brand L’Occitane.
Apart from smelling good, Lemon Verbena also does you good and the smell both lifts the spirits and is simultaneously mouth-watering. Furthermore, the leaves contain vitamins A, B and C and they are digestive, antioxidant, antispasmodic and sedative. A herbal infusion or tisane made from 3-5 leaves last thing at night has calming proprieties, however a long-term use may cause stomach irritations.
Want to know more? Check out Jekka’s 5 top herbs for herbal infusions/teas & how to make them.
Naming of Lemon Verbena
Lemon Verbena is from the family Verbenaceae which is the verbena family or vervain family. Its botanical name is Lemon Verbena and the Latin name is Aloysia citradora. These stem from the Latin citradora meaning lemon-scented, while the genus commonly known as beebrushes or Aloysia in Latin, is actually named after Maria Luisa of Parma, wife of King Charles IV of Spain.
What does Lemon Verbena look like?
Aloysia citradora is a half-hardy deciduous perennial shrub. This means it sheds its leaves in winter and requires protection below 4C. When it drops it leaves, it ends up looking like a dead twig but appearances can be deceiving so never dispose of the plant before the end of summer. The new leaves reappear late in the spring.
Lemon Verbena has clusters of delicate, small white flowers tinged with lilac in early summer and rough, pale green, vibrant, lance-shaped highly aromatic leaves.
With height between 1-3m, and spread up to 2.5m, it makes for a lovely addition to a border or, ideally, be grown in a pot on a balcony or patio.
Want to know more? Read Jekka’s Jekkapedia entry on Lemon Verbena.
Lemon Verbena (Aloysia citradora)
How do you grow Lemon Verbena?
Lemon Verbena can be raised from seed in warm or tropical climates. However it is not worth doing in our UK climate.
The quickest and best method of propagation is by softwood cuttings from the new growth in late spring. Or by semi-hardwood cuttings in late summer or early autumn. Grow on in pots for the first 2 years so the plant can mature in a frost free environment.
Want to know more? Watch Jekka seed sowing and cutting videos for tips.
Lemon Verbena (Aloysia citradora) in flower
How to look after Lemon Verbena
If growing Lemon Verbena in the ground, you should protect from frost in the winter. This can be achieved by growing it against a fence or near the house so it can benefit from extra heat. Cover the area around the roots with mulching material.
When growing in containers, choose a pot one size bigger than the original. Use a peat-free soil-based compost mixed with equal part sharp horticultural sand. Water well throughout the growing season and feed with liquid fertiliser during flowering. Jekka recommends feeding your herbs with an organic liquid seaweed such as Maxicrop. Lemon Verbena is a plant that certainly enjoys being pot-bound so if you choose to re-pot, ensure to only go up by a pot one size bigger to avoid stress.
To maintain the shape of your Lemon Verbena, prune back to just above a leaf node. Be brave go as low as you dare. The best time to do this is in late spring, after all threat of frost has passed, and when you see the leaf buds beginning to swell. It is important not to prune in autumn as the leaves drop because the cold and wet can access the plant through the pruning cuts and kill or damage it. In addition, when you do come to prune your Lemon Verbena or any herb for that matter, make sure your tools are clean and sharp.
Want to know more? Watch Jekka’s videos on pruning herbs.
How to cook with Lemon Verbena?
Lemon Verbena is a delight to use in cooking and can be used in in drinks, jams, jellies , ice cream and cakes. It is wonderful to infuse its lemon flavour into milk and cream that can make custards, ice cream and crème brullee.
Below is Jekka’s Lemon Verbena syrup recipe which is the perfect summer cordial that can be made into a refreshing drink with fizzy water or added to cocktails.
Jekka’s Lemon Verbena syrup
- 150ml water
- 150g white sugar
- 5-6cm spring of Lemon Verbena
- Put the water and sugar into a small saucepan.
- Put the pan on a low heat and stir from time to time until the sugar is dissolved
- Bring to simmering point to form a syrup
- Remove the syrup from the heat, add the Lemon Verbena spring and stir well
- Cover the saucepan and leave for at least 3 hours, check the syrup is to the flavour you like. I personally like a strong flavour, so I leave the Lemon Verbena syrup to steep overnight
- Strain the syrup, removing the spring, into a sterilized bottle, label and store. The syrup will keep in the fridge for 6 weeks
Lemon Verbena (Aloysia citradora) cordial
Want to know more?
This blog builds on Jekka's previous Herbs of the month blogs: Bay (January), Rosemary (February), Salad Burnet (March), French Tarragon (April), Angelica (May), Alliums (June), Lavender (July), Basil (August), Mint (September), Szechuan Pepper (October), Thyme (November) and Curry Tree (December).
For advice on growing and maintaining herbs, check out Jekka's How to Grow Herbs videos and ‘Jekka’s Seasonal Tips’ blog series, which includes what to do in your herb garden in early spring, late spring, summer and autumn & winter. Together they form the basis of Jekka’s guide on how to grow herbs.
Herb plants are available and you can organise a collection from our herb farm in South Gloucestershire or at one of our Open Days or Herb Experiences (see our events calendar). Please see our 'Looking Good List' for availability and use our webform or email your list directly to us (firstname.lastname@example.org). We no longer offer a general mail order service for our plants but we do offer a limited selection of Jekka's Culinary Herb Boxes.