Aloysia triphylla, the Lemon Verbena (also known as yerba Louisa), is a large tender shrub native to South America mainly, Argentina, Peru, and Chile. It gets its common name from the strong lemony scent and flavor given off by the leaves when they are crushed or brushed against. Lemon Verbena belongs to a group of plants called “citrus mimics,” which, as can be inferred, all have citrus–scented foliage. The lemon verbena plant has more lemony than the actual fruit. The plant blooms during late summer, though the small, white, inconspicuous flowers aren‘t very ornamental.
Though the two plants share the same name, lemon verbena has no resemblance to the verbena flower, which is quite attractive. That‘s not to say that lemon verbena isn‘t attractive, it‘s just not decorative. Lemon Verbena has narrow oval leaves in whorls of 3 or 4. It reaches a height of 6–10 feet when grown in the garden, less in containers. The tiny lavender or white flowers appear in early summer and bloom for several weeks. They are borne in a loose, pyramid–shaped panicle at the ends of the stems.
Lemon Verbena Uses
Lemon verbena plant has the most potent citrus smell out of any herb in existence, fresh or dried. The potent aroma has many uses, one of the most common is to add scent to potpourri. The stems or leaves can be chopped and added directly to the potpourri to add the smell of fresh lemon. In days long past, women used to stuff lemon verbena in their hats, sleeves and clothing to improve their smell, almost as a kind of natural perfume. Back then, the scent was thought to promote intimacy, though this is now known to be untrue.
Whether you grow it in a container or in the garden, plant Lemon Verbena where you can take advantage of its fragrance. Put it near a pathway or place a small pot in a sunny kitchen window. The leaves can be used in potpourri or added to iced drinks. Lemon Verbena makes an excellent herbal tea. Add a sprig or two to a bouquet, or float some in small finger bowls. Lemon Verbena can also be used in cooking, for example, in sauces for fish or chicken. Put a leaf in the bottom of a jar when making jelly. Lemon Verbena is only winter–hardy in the mildest climates, but it can be successfully grown outdoors all year in a container if given winter protection.
Growing Lemon Verbena
Planting against a warm south–facing wall will allow it to survive in areas with cooler winters. Otherwise, Lemon Verbena can be grown indoors in a cool position all year or placed outdoors for the summer. It can stand on the patio or the whole pot can be sunk to its rim in the garden. Bring it in again when the weather turns cool in fall.
Lemon Verbena is easy to propagate from tip cuttings taken in spring or early summer. Take cuttings from the pruning done in spring, or use the pinched tips removed later. The cuttings should be 3–4 inches long. Remove the lowest leaves, dip the cut ends in rooting powder, and insert them in a moist mixture of peat moss and perlite. Cover this with a perforated plastic bag and place in a bright spot away from direct sunlight. Once the cuttings have rooted, they can be re–potted into individual pots and otherwise treated as mature plants. Normal indoor temperatures are fine during the growing season. Though the plant is a long–lived perennial, it cannot tolerate freezing weather, so must be grown in a container in all zones but 8 through 10.
Plant in a small container and keep in a location that receives full sunlight throughout the day. Water once every five days during spring and summer, and once every week during fall and winter. Feed once per month with a balanced 10–10–10 NPK fertilizer during spring and summer.
Care in Different Seasons
Harvest the plant‘s foliage during summer by cutting the plant back to half its height and saving the removed section. During the winter, Lemon Verbena grows over winter indoors in all but the mildest climates. It thrives best if placed in a bright, but cool position; 50°–60 °F is considered optimum during the day. The night temperature can go as low as 40 °F. Water sparingly, keeping the soil on the dry side, and don‘t feed. During the spring, remove Lemon Verbena from its pot and carefully shake off the old soil. Repot in fresh soil; well–drained commercial potting soil is fine. Older, larger specimens can be top–dressed instead. In February to March, the plant can be pruned back by one–third to half its shape. Step up watering and begin feeding every 3 weeks.
During the summer, regular watering is a must and dilute liquid fertilizer can be added about every 2 weeks. In the fall, prepare Lemon Verbena for its winter rest. Outdoor plants should be brought indoor or placed in a sheltered position. Lemon Verbena is one of those rare plants that insects or diseases hardly ever bother. Even aphids seem to leave it alone. The only problems likely to be encountered are in the overwintering. If plants are kept too warm and wet in winter, soft, leggy growth will result. Mites may be a problem in warm dry conditions indoors.
Prevent an attack by keeping plants in a cool spot and misting frequently. Lemon Verbena is usually available at most nurseries and garden centers. The plant is known to live for many years. The leaves as well can be used all year. They bloom more in summer. They have narrow oval leaves in whorls along the stems as they can grow as large as 6-10 feet. The leaves also have fast-growing ability. The flowers are scentless, but the leaves have a strong lemony fragrance when crushed or brushed against. Panicles of tiny white or lavender flowers at the ends of the stems for several weeks in early summer. Lemon Verbena is delightful anywhere its scent can be appreciated; by a doorway, along with a garden path, or on a windowsill in the kitchen.
- Water regularly spring–fall.
- Never let the soil dry out. Reduce watering in fall, and keep it to a bare minimum in winter.
- Add dilute liquid fertilizer every 2–3 weeks spring–fall, none in winter.
- Regular well–drained commercial potting soil is fine. Repot into fresh soil each spring.
- Older, larger specimens can simply be top-dressed.
- Prune back its size to one–third or half in February March.
- Pinch tips of new growth to keep plants bushy as it can be monitored.
- Propagate by cuttings.
LEMON VERBENA TEA
The primary reason lemon verbena is grown is for its culinary uses. One of the most common uses of the fresh leaves is to add flavor to the tea, hot or iced. This can be used if lemons or lemon juice is not available. It can also improve the flavor of some of the less tasty herbal teas. The leaves can be frozen in ice cubes and added to drinks that way to add a festive and unique look to your drinks. Additionally, finely chopped lemon verbena leaves can be added to a large variety of things to add lemony flavor, including muffins, salad dressings, marinades and cakes. It can also be used as an acceptable substitute for lemongrass in recipes that call for it, mainly Asian recipes. For optimal flavor, the leaves should always be used fresh or lightly cooked.
Lemon Verbena Tea Recipe
Recipe to prepare a delicate, fragrant Mexican lemon verbena tea (té de cedrón), which is lightly sweetened with natural honey. Delicious served hot or iced.
- 3 lemon verbena leaves
- 4 cups water
- 4 tsp. honey or sweetener of choice (optional)
Instructions (Prep 1 min, cook 15 mins. A total of 16 mins. Yield is 4 cups.)
- Place the 3 lemon verbena leaves in the 4 cups of water.
- Boil for 15 minutes.
- Serve hot or iced with a teaspoon of honey in each glass for sweetness.
- Chopping the leaves before boiling releases more flavor if you prefer a stronger tea. Double or triple the quantity of leaves if you are preparing iced lemon verbena tea.
You can use agave nectar, stevia or sugar to sweeten your tea instead of honey. It is also delicious unsweetened.
LEMON VERBENA ESSENTIAL OIL
Lemon Verbena (Aloysia triphylla) is in the Verbenaceae family and the oil comes from steam distillation of the freshly cut herb. The oil is mainly produced in southern France and North Africa.
This perennial shrub can grow upwards to 15–16 feet. It has a woody stem, very fragrant, delicate, pale green lance–like leaves arranged in threes. It has small, pale purple flowers and is often grown as an ornamental bush in gardens. Traditionally, this plant has been used in similar ways as mint, orange flowers and Melissa. The dried leaves are still used as a tea especially in Europe.
It is considered a refreshing, uplifting tea to help restore the liver, especially after a hang–over.
Today, lemon verbena has many great actions. Lemon verbena:
- serves as an antiseptic, antispasmodic, and detoxifying.
- is good for digestion
- is a stimulant for the liver and gallbladder.
- has sedative properties for the nervous system.
- has been used for cramps, indigestion, and liver congestion, for anxiety, insomnia, nervous tension and stress–related conditions.
- can be taken internally, inhaled or diffused.
- can be applied to the skin but it is recommended that it be diluted first because of its high citral levels, which can be sensitizing to the skin.
As for safety, lemon verbena is non–toxic but because of its high citral levels, can be sensitizing to the skin. Caution should be used in purchasing lemon verbena oil. True verbena oil is virtually non–existent. Most so–called verbena oil is either from the Spanish verbena which is an inferior oil or a mix of lemongrass, lemon, citronella, etc.