Nothing is so refreshing as the wonderful fresh taste of lemon! What would shade be in summer without a cool, icy glass of lemonade? Tea needs lemon and even water is more refreshing with a twist of lemon.
There are many plants that have some of the same components as lemon peel. That which makes lemon essential oil so lemony is citral, along with limonene. Some of the plants or herbs that are lemony are: Lemon Balm, Lemon Basil, Lemon Catnip, Lemon Gem Marigold, Lemon Grass, Lemon Mint, Lemon Thyme, Lemon Geranium, and Lemon Verbena.
Lemon Verbena (Aloysua triphylla) is the most lemony of all these herbs. It is very intense, paling all other lemon herbs with its crisp, lemon taste and fragrance. Just touch it and its scent will make your mouth water. Smell it and you think of lemon meringue pie. This plant is very easy to grow, but it will not survive our winters most years if left outdoors. Once brought in, it usually loses its leaves, but will remain alive if given just minimal care in a cool, bright spot. It is a good idea to cut it back and dry the leaves for tea before they drop. Once spring comes, it can be put out and grow like mad again.
A sure fire way to have lots of Lemon Verbena leaves for tea, potpourri, or baking is to grow the plant in a large pot or tub. Be sure it has drainage and a well drained potting soil. I use pro mix and plant Lemon Verbena in large clay pots that are put in the sun, usually by my mother's pool. I have had great luck feeding them a spoon of Osmocote.
I like this plant so much I even planted some directly in the ground right next to my front door. If these die over the winter it cannot be helped as I plan to leave them out just to see what will happen.
Plants that get full and lush over the summer can be cut back severely before being brought in for the winter. These leaves can be dried on a screen and then stored in a jar, until needed for tea, jams, or muffins.
In southern Italy and the south of France this plant grow to the size of a tree. The leaves are used in a very popular tea. I find that Lemon Verbena can be added to a pitcher of water, along with Apple Mint, Lemon Thyme, or perhaps a piece of Bergamot, another flavorful herb. Ice, a slice of lemon, and a good stir make this a cool, refreshing drink that can be made in the morning and enjoyed all day.
Another fun recipe in which Lemon Verbena can be used is the following for Puff Pie. This easy, inexpensive recipe dates back to pre-WWII.
Puff Pie 1 can evaporated milk. Chill in freezer about an hour or until ice crystals form 1 pack lemon or lemon-lime Jello made with 1 cup boiling water, 1/3 cup sugar, 1/2 cup cold water into which 3 or 4 generous sprigs of Lemon Verbena pulverized in a blender. Dried can be used. Chill until firmer than syrup. While these are chilling, squeeze and strain 1 lemon or lime. Bake and cool a pie shell in 10" pan. Beat the milk and juice with an electric mixer until it looks like whipped cream, more than twice its original volume. Add the slightly firmed Jello (don't let it get too hard or it will lump). I use the wisk attachment for the mixer. Pile into pie shell. Chill at least two hours. Garnish with lemon slices, strawberries, or lemon verbena leaves.
Lorraine Kiefer is the owner of Triple Oaks Nursery and has been a garden writer since 1972. Click here to email her.
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