Monday, July 30, 2012

Herb Week Day 1: Lemon Verbena (Aloysia triphylla)

Lemon verbenaIn my garden, the herbs are going nuts. I think it's the combination of the intense heat and sunshine of late in the Chicago area that has my herb garden happier than ever. So this week, as I'm harvesting so many different herbs, I thought I'd share a few of my favorites and how I'm growing, harvesting, and enjoying them. Visit daily for more tips, pics, and recipes!

Lemon Verbena (Aloysia triphylla) is a new one for me. I drink a lot of herbal tea in the cooler months, so I planned early on to add a wider variety of tea herbs so that I can make my own tea, organically. The lemon scent is so vibrant and refreshing, it's pretty incredible to this newbie verbena grower.

Growing
I grow lemon verbena in an old shipping crate (read: excellent drainage) near my kitchen door. It gets morning shade and afternoon sun, and about an inch of water a week during this drought. It loves these conditions and is growing vigorously. Since lemon verbena grows year-round only in zones 9-10, it is an annual plant in our area.

Harvesting
Lemon verbena can get quite out of shape, so I harvest it when it starts looking out of bounds, cutting off about six to ten inches of each stem.

Enjoying
This plant is so versitile, there are many ways to enjoy it. It's refreshing lemony scent will freshen the air, so it is a great plant to bring indoors and use in cut flower arrangements. Recently, I removed a bunch of leaves, stuffed them in a mason jar, and set it outside in the sun for a few hours. I then strained the water into a fresh glass and added ice. It was a very refreshing drink on a scorcher of a day. For hot tea, simply steep a half cup of fresh leaves in one cup of water.

You can create lemony flavored baked goods by bruising (squishing up) some verbena leaves and mixing them with sugar and letting that sit overnight. The leaves should be removed before using the lemon-flavored sugar for baking.

Lemon verbena will retain it's scent for years when dried, and dries quickly using a dehydrator or laid out on a baking sheet and placed in a 200 degree oven for 2-3 hours. I plan to dry lots for this long Chicago winter/tea season. Because it retains it's scent so well, it is a great herb for potpourri or in drawer fresheners. Additional uses of lemon verbena include insect repellant, aromatherapy (throw a handful into your next hot bath), and as a welcome addition to salads, seafood dishes, and fruity drinks. Medicinally, it is said to help with fighting colds, depression, digestion, insomnia, and stress.

Lemon verbena recipes: Over 100 recipes for lemon verbena from bakery items to cocktails to ice cream, to salads. I can't wait to try some of these!

So, if you've never grown this herb, I encourage you to plant it next season!

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