Sunday, September 12, 2010
Herb of the Week -- Lemon Verbena
The herb of the week is Lemon Verbena
Lemon Verbena (aloysia triphylla) also sometimes called Lemon Bee Brush is a deciduous perennial shrub native to South America where it can reach 10 to 15 foot heights. Here, in cooler climates, it generally is more restrained. It grows well year round in zone 9, in other zones will do well during the warm months, but should be taken inside during the winter.
Not to be confused with the 250 or so different species of beautiful flowering plants in the genus Verbena, Lemon Verbena, a completely different, but related plant, has a somewhat disappointing flower, but makes up for it with an incredible scent.
Although a cousin of Verbena, the flower that share a common name, Lemon Verbena differs in that it produces only 2 seeds per flower, while true Verbena produces 4 seeds per flower.
Once it was discovered that it was not truly a verbena, the plant was given the name Aloysia in the early 1800’s named after Maria Louisa, Princess of Parma, wife of King Carlos V of Spain.. One only has to smell the leaves of the plant to know where the better known name Lemon Verbena came from. The Triphylla part of the name is a nod to the fact that leaves generally grow in clusters of three, although this is not always the case. Many plants will have four, or even five leaves per cluster.
In Gone With The Wind, Scarlett O’Hara’s Mother Margaret Mitchell states that Lemon Verbena is her favorite scent.
Not being an avid fan of Gone With The Wind, I have to admit that I had not heard of this plant before, so when we added it to our garden this year, it was a new and exciting mystery for me. I love plants like that. They give me a chance to play, to try new experiences and learn new things.
Lemon Verbena has a long history as a sacred and medicinal plant. Garlands and wreaths of it were commonplace at festive ceremonies as well as its use in teas and drinks for ceremonial occasions and for bridal posies and festive parades. Considered to be a calming and gentle medicine, its history is lost in the mists of time. But every village square and place of worship had lemon verbena planted around it and hedges of it protected graveyards, inns and places of family gathering.
Lemon Verbena is a fast growing plant that Likes full sun, but will tolerate some shade, likes fairly dry soil, and does not require a lot of extra care. If you want tall, spindly, branches, you can just let it go, or if you want to keep it shorter and bushier, pinch off the ends of the stems from time to time, to force new growth. These tender leaves you just pinched off are the best for culinary use, as the larger older leaves tend to be a bit tough.
Leaves can be harvested as needed or as available throughout the year, or stripped from twigs and branches as you prune the plant to fit the space you have available for it. Commercially it is harvested once during full bloom, and once again at the end of the growing season.
The plant will lose it’s leaves in the fall, like most deciduous trees, so, it is not a bad idea to harvest them when you see the first one drop, rather than wait for them to die and dry out and look bad.
The leaves are useful for many things. Where grown commercially, oil extracts are provided for use in cosmetics and toiletries.
Culinary uses for Lemon Verbena seem to be mainly desserts and beverages, although the tender leaves can be used chopped up in salad dressings or in fruit salads, or left whole as a garnish for chilled drinks. You can also use the leaves in cooking fish or poultry or add it to marinades. You will get the lemon taste, but be aware you wont have the acidy “tang” of lemons. Try adding a few leaves to the pot when you cook rice, easily taking them out when the rice is done.
Another very easy way to use the leaves is to steep them in milk, the milk then used as an ingredient for puddings, cake or cookie icings, or homemade ice cream -- for anything calling for milk that would be pleasant with a lemony addition.
6-10 leaves can be buried in a cup of sugar, and left to sit, then use the sugar, like the milk above, in anything that would benefit from a light hint of lemon.
Pastry chefs have been known to put a few leaves on the bottom of a cake pan before they pour the batter in. The heat releases the oils into the cake as it bakes. Just remember to peel off the leaves and throw them away when you take the cake out of the pan.
Try an infusion of Lemon Verbena in Olive Oil, with just a bit of garlic, brushed over skewered chunks of summer squash, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, green peppers, and onions, grilled to perfection as a gourmet addition to any picnic or barbecue this summer.
Or you can make your own “Mrs. Dash” type seasoning, to use on a variety of different foods, I like it on Baked potatoes, steamed vegetables, or cottage cheese.
1/2 cup dried dill weed
1 tbsp. dried lemon verbena
1/2 cup dried minced onion
1 tbsp. dried lovage, or celery seeds
2 tsp. garlic powder
2 tbsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. paprika
1 tbsp. dried marjoram
In batches, grind all ingredients together. Store in an airtight container out of the sunlight and away from heat.
Want some more ideas?
Blend Lemon Verbena with Lavender and Rosemary for a massage oil.
Mix dried leaves with whole cloves and stick cinnamon, for air fresheners, put some in cheesecloth in your vacuum bag to freshen air while you clean, or in the back of your drawers, (it may be uncomfortable to sit down if you misinterpret which drawers I am talking about.)
Tie a bunch of fresh Lemon Verbena sprigs over the hot water tap and make a scented bath. This helps tired muscles relax; aching shoulders release their tension and even the nasal passages are opened by the strong refreshing scent. Lemon verbena has the ability to help break down cellulite, as well as to exert a soothing, healing and toning effect on the skin.
Add 1 cup of boiling water to 15-20 leaves, steep for about an hour, remove the leaves and use the water as a hair rinse, after you have used shampoo and conditioner, leaving your head feeling and smelling fresh and clean.
Medicinally, the best way to use Lemon Verbena is by steeping it to create a tea.
Place four leaves in a cup of boiling water, let it stand for five minutes, stir, strain, add a slice of lemon and a touch of honey and sip slowly to ease tension, anxiety, stress and indigestion and to reduce fever. Its calming, soothing properties seem to ease a feverish cold, relax muscles, ease asthma, colic, flatulence and diarrhea.
Personally, I would add a mint leaf or two, both because I like the way Mint and lemon combine, both the aroma and the taste, and because Mint and Lemon Verbena share many of the same benefits.
A word of caution. Although it is not officially a narcotic, Lemon Verbena tends to be very relaxing when consumed as a tea, so you should be careful when driving or using heavy machinery after drinking it.
Lemon Verbena is reported to have a positive effect on the liver and is recommended by herbalists in tea form for recovering alcoholics.
There seems to be a difference of opinion when it comes to the magical properties of Lemon Verbena.
Hoodoo magic teaches that Lemon Verbena is said to break up old conditions and clear away unwanted things and people. You can make a “Break-Up Packet“ to bring strife to a couple and cause them to divorce. Simply steal a piece of clothing or use a photo from each, (a lock of hair will work as well), place Lemon Verbena between the two items to sour the couple, wrap the items in cloth, and bury the packet under the doorstep where the couple must cross over.
Meanwhile more traditional earth magick holds that Lemon Verbena is bound to the moon and water. It is used in spells associated with healing, health, friendship, love, and success. Historically, it is a symbolic plant used to transmit messages between lovers.
Carry Lemon Verbena in a charm or sachet to find love, or burn it as an incense when doing spells related to success. Drink as a tea to ease emotional pain after the break-up of a relationship or other personal hurt. Soak leaves in wine for several hours, strain, then share the wine with the object of your affection to influence love.
I’m afraid you’re on your own on this one, use it whichever way you want, I cannot guarantee the result….
Strictly as a point of information, and I cannot stress strongly enough that I do not endorse, suggest, or recommend this, many of the South American Native cultures believe that the plant will cure snakebite and is an antidote for poisons, and they carry a packet of the seeds with them, to be chewed if bitten by a poisonous snake or spider, or exposed to poison in any other way.
I think I’ll end with a much better way to use Lemon Verbena, and one I DO endorse and recommend, came to me, courtesy of a UK Organization, known as The Herb Society, where I found the following recipe in one of their articles: (its written in “British” but it looks pretty easy to translate…)
Strawberry Lemon Verbena Dessert
Serves 3- 4
A small handful of lemon verbena leaves
45g (1½oz) Sugar Cubes
340g (12oz) Ripe Strawberries (hulled)
250g (9oz) Mascarpone Cheese
Few springs of tender lemon verbena for decoration.
Method - Put the Lemon Verbena leaves into a mortar or strong bowl, with the sugar cubes. Pound with a pestle or the end of a rolling pin, until the sugar is crushed, and the lemon verbena leaves have disintegrated, colouring the sugar a beautiful green.
Now crush the strawberries with a fork (a food processor is too harsh). Gradually work the crushed strawberries into the mascarpone cheese, with enough of the verbena sugar to sweeten to taste. Spoon into individual dishes or glasses and serve topped with a spring of tender lemon verbena and a strawberry dipped in verbena sugar.
Now, I’m suddenly hungry…….