Growing lemon verbena indoors

Contents

Growing Lemon Verbena and Keeping it Alive

Lemon verbena grows best in loose, well-drained soil that’s rich in organic matter, and drainage is the more important of those two characteristics. Neither clay nor very acidic soils are hospitable to lemon verbena; a lot of sand and a little lime, respectively, seem to be the best remedies. Though moisture-retentive soil is often recommended, lemon verbena will rot if its roots are constantly wet.

Given adequate drainage, lemon verbena can tolerate a wide range of watering regimes. To err on the dry side seems to be most advisable, but observation and familiarity are the best tools for determining water needs. If you live in a climate colder than Zone 9 and plan to winter your lemon verbena outdoors, you should withhold water as freezing weather approaches so that the plant can harden off and so the roots will not be wet when they freeze. The plant will need little to no water while it is dormant, whether indoors or out.

Fertilize lemon verbena as you would any other herb plant: as often as every two weeks indoors or every four weeks in the garden when the plant is growing vigorously, less during periods of slower growth, and not at all during dormancy. In spring, following winter dormancy, some gardeners apply fish emulsion or other fertilizer to encourage growth to begin, but others question whether it’s the fertilizer or just the water that stimulates the process.

In more northern regions, lemon verbena thrives in full sun; even better is a site in the reflected light of a white fence or greenhouse wall. Closer to its native latitude near the equator, it grows better with at least some shade during part of the day.

Cultivated lemon verbena flowers and sets its two-seeded fruit most dependably in southern zones where the growing season is long, or in the more northern zones under lights. Flowering apparently depends not only on the length of the growing season, but also on stem length, and gardeners who tend to prune lemon verbena fairly hard probably will not see many flowers. The blossoms are small, numerous, and white to pale purple, clustered along the last few inches of the main stem and on short stems in the leaf axils.

For many herbs, pruning stimulates the emergence of new growth at several points along the remaining stem, but lemon verbena responds mainly at the whorl of leaves immediately below the cut. This habit gives the topiary gardener quite a bit of control, but it also means that frequent, severe pruning is required to keep the plant from becoming inordinately leggy and to increase foliage production (not to mention keeping the drying racks full).

An Herb That is Leafless, But Not Lifeless

Almost without exception, gardeners growing lemon verbena for the first time are dismayed when the plant drops all its leaves, which this herb does with the slightest provocation. The leafless sticks look so pitiful that many gardeners, thinking that the plant has died, toss it onto the compost pile. Some later have discovered the “dead” plant growing vigorously where it was thrown.

Although lemon verbena often loses its leaves and becomes dormant when days become short, it grows year round in its native haunts, where day length is virtually unchanging, and dormancy does not seem to be a requirement for its health and longevity. When temperatures fall significantly below freezing, the leaves often are damaged and eventually fall off. Some sources indicate that freezing temperatures alone can trigger dormancy, but Tom DeBaggio of Arlington, Virginia, has found that a frozen plant that is brought indoors and placed under lights to simulate summer day length will continue to produce new growth after the damaged leaves have dropped off. His experience has convinced him that day length is the main factor that triggers the metabolic slowdown of dormancy.

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In plants that are wintered indoors, sudden leaf loss frequently appears to be a reaction to rapid temperature change or root disturbance. It can be triggered by bringing a potted plant indoors in late summer or after the first frost, by digging up a plant from its summer garden spot and potting it for indoor winter growing, by transplanting a small plant into a larger pot, or simply in response to a strong, cold draft.

Many gardeners grow lemon verbena in a pot so that it will be easy to move indoors and out as the weather dictates. This is convenient and avoids annual transplant shock, but a pot differs from the ground in that the soil inside the pot changes temperature much more quickly—another source of shock. Choose a pot at least 12 inches in diameter to allow the roots ample growing room and to limit the effect of short-term air-temperature changes on soil temperature. This effect can be decreased further during the plant’s outdoor sojourn by burying the pot in the garden. The risk in this strategy, however, is that the roots may grow out the drainage holes in the pot and be broken when the plant is exhumed in early fall. Such root breakage can retard growth significantly and will probably cause leaf loss. It may be helpful to cut such plants back a little to accommodate the loss of roots.

Cold Hardiness of Lemon Verbena

Different sources list different temperatures—from 14 degrees to 22 degrees Fahrenheit—below which lemon verbena is not likely to survive. However, Andy Van Hevelingen of Newberg, Oregon, had an uncovered lemon verbena that survived a single night at 3 degrees Fahrenheit. Conditions were optimal: the stems were protected from wind, the soil completely dry around the roots, and the decrease in temperature gradual over a few weeks so that the plant had time to harden off and become fully dormant. Protection from wind seems to be critical near the edge of the plant’s hardiness range; try wrapping the dormant top with weatherproof plastic foam or burlap or covering it with mulch. Kae Snow-Stephens of Shreveport, Louisiana, covers the small but actively growing lemon verbenas in her garden with plastic garbage bags when the cold becomes threatening, and they have not only survived one-night temperatures as low as 22 degrees Fahrenheit, but have done so without losing leaves or slowing their growth.

For some gardeners, lemon verbena that winters outdoors is one of the first plants to emerge from dormancy, but others in similar climates report that growth resumes later in lemon verbena than in other perennials. If spring has sprung and you’re wondering whether your lemon verbena will ever come back, you can test for signs of life by bending or clipping off the ends of the dormant woody stems. Dry, brittle wood is dead, but you may find that the stems are alive closer to the base of the plant. One experienced gardener recommends that you resist the temptation to perform such a test because the dead wood protects that which is alive; if your curiosity can survive the wait, the answer will come eventually in the form of new growth (or its continued absence).

Dealing With Lemon Verbena Leaf Loss and Dormancy

Like other plants, lemon verbena transpires or gives off water mostly through its leaves, and it stands to reason that a leafless plant uses far less water than one covered with leaves. One of the common ways gardeners kill lemon verbena is by overwatering during leafless periods; this is especially easy to do if you’ve been watering on a time schedule. Whatever the immediate cause of leaf loss, watering must be cut back drastically, preferably by reducing the frequency of watering rather than by applying smaller amounts on the same time schedule.

In the northern United States, where lemon verbena is sure to succumb to winter cold outdoors, many gardeners allow the plant to endure early frosts, then bring the leafless plant inside and put it in a cool, dark place to rest for the winter. During this period of indoor dormancy, it receives little or no water. In early spring, the plant is watered, occasionally fertilized, and placed in a warm, sunny spot; growth should begin within a couple of weeks.

Lemon Verbena Propagation

If your lemon verbena does flower, the chances of obtaining viable seed are marginal, so lemon verbena is usually propagated vegetatively. Those who grow this plant successfully advise taking basal cuttings of the current year’s growth in summer when the plant is growing vigorously. Such cuttings root fairly easily (see “Growing Herbs from Stem Cuttings” in the February/March 1993 Herb Companion). If taken in early fall or later, when growth slows as the days shorten, cuttings will take longer to root (which increases the chance of failure) and are less likely to survive transplanting. If you do take cuttings late in the growing season, root them in 2 1/2- or 3-inch pots to postpone the need to disturb the new root systems, and use supplemental lighting, if possible.

Lemon Verbena Pests

Lemon verbena is a favored delicacy of whitefly and spider mites; many experienced gardeners and commercial growers refuse to have this herb around because they feel it attracts those pests. However, an equal number—many in the same climates—either experience no such problems or find the pests easy to deal with. Home gardeners with just a few plants can combat an infestation of whitefly or spider mites by spraying the leaves top and bottom with insecticidal soap, or with a solution of dishwashing liquid (1 teaspoon), vegetable oil (1 tablespoon), and water (1 quart) three times at ten-day intervals, rinsing about three hours after application. Indoor plants should be isolated from other house plants during treatment. Misting the plants thoroughly at least twice a week after treatment is said to discourage mites from recolonizing.

Why We Keep Trying to Grow Lemon Verbena

The charm of lemon verbena is apparent to anyone who encounters it. It can be a neat bush if kept tightly groomed, or its stems can extend into quite a sprawl. The leaves are a cheery shade of light green. But the great joy of lemon verbena is the sweet, lemony scent that leaps from the leaves at the slightest touch. This fragrance is especially strong at the peak of growth in mid- to late summer.

The most common home use of the herb is in potpourri; the dried leaves can retain their scent for years, and they are commonly available, whole or powdered, from suppliers of potpourri ingredients. Tea made from the dried leaves is a delicious lemony beverage, thought by some to be the best of the lemon-herb teas. In cooking, however, lemon verbena is deceptive; insofar as smell and taste can be separated, the smell is lemony but the taste is bitter and hot, more like citrus zest than like the fruit.

The essential oil retains the delightful lemon scent that’s characteristic of the leaves, and the oil is sometimes used commercially in flavoring liqueurs. However, it is difficult to distinguish between lemon verbena and lemongrass essential oils. Lemon oil (pressed from the lemon zest) and the essential oils of lemongrass and lemon balm seem to have cornered the retail market for lemon scent and flavor; most suppliers of herbal products do not offer lemon verbena essential oil.

The herb is rarely mentioned in literature on medicinal plants, perhaps because its medicinal effects are quite mild and can be obtained more easily with other herbs. The pleasant, fragrant tea is said to act as a gentle sedative and has been used in reducing fever, settling stomach upset and intestinal spasms, and soothing bronchial and nasal congestion.

Lemon Verbena Sources

David Merrill, managing editor of The Herb Companion, has never yet killed a lemon verbena plant.

Group Therapy for Lemon Verbena Addicts

Mail is still trickling in in response to Linda Ligon’s editorial in our December 1991/January 1992 issue. Lemon verbena clearly is important enough to warrant the stoic persistence of many gardeners, and why others nearby can grow it with no difficulty is a mystery we have yet to solve. Perhaps the answers lie in the personal accounts of both kinds of gardeners in many areas of the country. Below is a sampling of what we’ve received.

Tales of Failure . . .

I, too, am guilty of committing herbicide on more poor, unsuspecting lemon verbenas than I care to count. I can’t understand why. I buy a 3-inch plant in spring, set it in the herb garden full of wonderful expectations, water it, watch over it lovingly, but in September I still have a 3-inch plant. (Well, maybe 3 1/2 inches.) But, as always, I will return to the scene of the crime again this spring with my lemon verbena babies. Maybe this year . . .
—Ronny Kosempel, Cheltenham, PA

I stare disappointedly at the huge pot that I bought last spring, anticipating the needs of the tiny lemon verbena that I had purchased. I’ve yet to keep one of these plants alive. Our summer temperatures range into the 90s and sometimes to 100 degrees. Hope springs eternal; I’m keeping the pot and eyeing another lemon verbena plant.
—Cue Camak, Anderson, SC

If I just look at a lemon verbena, it dies—I’ve killed three of them so far. Yet an herby acquaintance right here in town has a lemon verbena bush the size of a Volkswagen, which she tends by casually slashing it back as she walks by it. I can see no logic to this.
—Robbie Cranch, Fresno, CA

I don’t want to discuss the lemon verbenas that have come into my hands to meet their demise. Herbicide is an awful thing to commit regularly on innocent plants. I always think, “It just has to live this time. I’m due!” This spring I’ll try one more time, like I always do. I’ve got to have just one.
—Cathy Leatherwood, Dallas, TX

. . . And Tales of Herb Growing Success

Last spring, I brought home a lemon verbena and planted it directly into the garden. In September, I potted it up and introduced it to its winter home in the south-facing school classroom where I teach. The first day, the leaves shriveled and died, and the kids laughed. The second day, I cut the pathetic stem to about 12 inches. And then we waited . . . and waited . . . and waited. By the beginning of December, the plant sprouted everywhere. The once-straggly stick will be a full, vibrant bush when it returns home for summer vacation.
—Eileen Gunning, Pleasantville, NY

I have five plants that I got in 2 1/2-inch pots that are now 4 feet tall. Since they must be moved in for winter, I keep them all in pots with standard potting soil, and I keep the pot significantly larger than the plant so it’s not rootbound in winter when it’s cold.

I leave the plants out through a couple of light frosts; this seems to nip any whiteflies or other bugs. The leaves also get nipped, so I prune them all off, which also eliminates possible bugs. (I’ve tried leaving the leaves on, but they fall off with the cold anyway.) I move the leafless plants into a cold frame, where they don’t get below 15 degrees. For me this seems the critical temperature; any colder, and I start getting casualties.

I water only when bone dry. We have so much rain and high humidity here that the soil is prone to mold if not completely dry between waterings. My plants begin to leaf out in February when it’s still too cold to move them outside. I water them a little more often to support the growth, but still tend to keep them on the dry side.

I’ve experimented with moving some plants outside when light frosts (around 30 degrees) are still expected, and keeping some inside until it’s warmer out. Although neither method has killed any plants, the ones that go out earlier tend to get dark green faster and are more bug-free.

I water them daily in warm weather. If they get too dry, they get brown, crusty leaves. I only feed them once or twice during the summer, and never in winter.
—Janice Keck, Tacoma, WA

I think my lemon verbena likes to be boxed in. When I lived in southern California, it grew in back of the house in a little 5-by-9-foot patch of ground between the tool shed and the extended back bedroom. From June to October, I top-sprayed it just about every day—I believe plants like to have their faces cleansed just as we humans do. Toward the end of October, I cut most of the branches, stripping the leaves for tea or potpourri.

Now that I live in the “Gold Country”, it grows against the east wall of the house with the daylilies, facing the morning sun. I’ve changed my annual routine: I wait until the last possible minute to dig it up, which is about the beginning of November (unless it snows). I put it in a 12- or 16-inch pot and give it a warm place in an upstairs bedroom. At least once a week, I give it about 1 1/2 quarts of water, and I mist the leaves frequently. One year it lost all its leaves, but they came back. Last year, it kept its leaves most of the winter.

About May, I gradually acclimatize it on the covered porch outside for about two weeks. Then it goes back out in its usual spot against the house.
—Marge Cloteworthy, Nevada City, CA

My two giant specimens (over 5 feet) have been around for at least seven years. I do recall whiteflies invading them many years ago. I’m fairly sure that I sprayed them with Safer’s soap a couple of times, and it helped but did not eliminate the pests. The next year I decided to isolate the lemon verbena from the other plants I brought in from the garden. I put it in the family room near an east-facing window, and it flourished there and flooded the room with fragrance every time anyone brushed against it. I remember cutting it back hard—to about 4 inches from the soil—sometime in February. By the following fall, that same plant and a second one had become too large to be house plants.

Now I bring them into a dimly lit, unheated entryway in the largest plastic pot available. I cut back all stems immediately to 6 to 8 inches from the soil, and then neglect them until February, watering them only lightly once a month or less. There’s nothing for whiteflies to feed on, and I haven’t had that problem recently with any of the plants I bring in.

Around the middle of February, I move them closer to the sunlight from the west-facing window in that same entryway, and start a heavier watering program. I add kelp to the water and water deeply—until it seeps from the bottom of the pot. It takes about three weeks for some green to poke through, at first at the ends of the branches. I’m elated when those first green tips appear, long before there’s any other sign of spring’s renewing power outside.

As the green tips spread all over the plant, I increase the amount and frequency of the fishy water the plants receive. By April, the green growth is getting leggy, and I clip the stems back to encourage branching.

My recommendations are: grow your lemon verbena in full sun outside all summer to make a strong plant. Treat it like a xeric plant by not giving it too much moisture. Bring it indoors in fall and isolate it from other plants that attract whiteflies. Give it near-drought conditions inside.

As with most other plants, there are probably as many ways to grow lemon verbena as there are growers.
—Portia Meares, Wolftown, VA

(Wikimedia Commons / H. Zell)

Of all lemon-scented and flavored herbs, lemon verbena (Aloysia triphylla) is by far the winner when it comes to fresh lemon taste and smell. Brush the narrow, pointy leaves of this shrub, and you’ll release the tempting odor of lemon.

A South American native, lemon verbena grows outdoors in most climates during the summer months. In mild climates it will go dormant during the winter. In climates that freeze, it’s best to grow the plant in a container and bring it indoors for the winter months.

Lemon verbena makes a tasty herbal tea. It’s a popular ingredient in a number of commercially prepared teas, including Vervein tea. To use the leaves for herbal tea, simple rinse them well and place the leaves in hot water, allowing them to steep for five minutes. Remove the leaves and add sweetener to taste.

Also use lemon verbena to flavor fruit desserts and ice cream, and you can add it to poultry dishes, marinades, and vinegar. It also makes a fragrant potpourri and is often used medicinally for stomach problems.

To successfully grow your own lemon verbena, keep the following tips in mind.

Provide high light. Lemon verbena requires bright, filtered light in order to thrive. Outdoors, place in a full sun or brightly lit filtered light location. Indoors, grow the plant one to two feet from a sunny window or under full-spectrum lighting.

Give lemon verbena room to grow. If you grow lemon verbena in the ground, keep in mind that it will reach 3- to 6-feet tall and 3-feet wide. To plant in a container, go to the next pot size up from the nursery container. Use high-quality potting soil that drains well.

Provide excellent drainage. Lemon verbena doesn’t do well in compacted, heavy soil that prevents good drainage. If drainage is a problem, amend the soil with 30-50 percent compost.

Water lemon verbena when the top 2 to 3 inches of soil has dried. Lemon verbena likes the soil a little on the dry side.

Fertilize. Lemon verbena is a heavy feeder. Give the plant a dosage of an all-purpose organic food monthly, from spring into early fall.

Prune. Lemon verbena becomes leggy and rangy when allowed to roam free. Pinching back some new leaves causes the plant to become bushier. Also prune off any small white flowers if they appear, which will keep the plant producing leaves. Once the plant goes dormant in the fall, do a light pruning to shape.

Dry leaves by placing them on a screen or hanging a bunch upside down in a cool, dark area. When the leaves are completely dried, they can be put in a sealed container that doesn’t let in light. When you want to use the leaves, crushing them releases the heavenly lemon scent and flavor.

Julie Bawden-Davis is a garden writer and master gardener, who since 1985 has written for publications such as Organic Gardening, Wildflower, Better Homes and Gardens and The Los Angeles Times. She is the author of seven books, including Reader’s Digest Flower Gardening, Fairy Gardening, The Strawberry Story, and Indoor Gardening the Organic Way, and is the founder of HealthyHouseplants.com.

Lemon Verbena, Aloysia citrodora: “Tea Master”

I am a voracious tea drinker. And I love making my own combinations of different herbs, like some sort of tea scientist (actually, my son enjoys this activity as well). I really try to grow my own herbs for tea instead of buying them, and one of the herbs I grow is lemon verbena. Noted for its multiple health benefits and the lovely scent of its leaves, lemon verbena is a plant I highly recommend you grow in your herb garden.

Please read on to learn how to grow this herb garden staple.

Above: Photograph by Forest and Kim Starr via Flickr. A 4-inch pot of Lemon Verbena is $7.95 at Annie’s Annuals. Native to the warmer parts of western South America and brought to Europe by the Spanish and the Portuguese, lemon verbena was mainly cultivated for its oil. When introduced to England in the 1700 it made a cozy home there. Apparently, Victorian women would tuck lemon verbena leaves into their handkerchiefs to get relief from the summer heat by inhaling the citrus smell.

Lemon verbena is a perennial shrub with slightly rough, pointed leaves that emit a powerful lemon scent when bruised. For you Latin buffs, citrodora means lemon scented.

Above: Photograph byPlenuskavia Flickr.

Cheat Sheet

  • Sprays of purple or white flowers emerge in late spring and attract beneficials while keeping away mosquitoes and flies.
  • Add a 4-inch or 1-gallon potted lemon verbena plant to your herb garden, alon side other tea favorites such as lemon balm, mint, and camomile.
  • Use the leaves fresh or dried in tea, and dried in potpourri and culinary uses.
  • Above: A package of Dried Lemon Verbena Tea leaves are $8.95 for approximately 1.4 ounces from Tea Life.
  • Above: A package of Dried Lemon Verbena Tea leaves are $8.95 for approximately 1.4 ounces from Tea Life.

Keep It Alive

  • Frost tender at around 30 degrees Fahrenheit; to avoid death in cold winter areas, plant lemon verbena in a container that you can bring indoors during the winter. If your verbena does lose its leaves, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s dead. It might mean winter is coming and it’s going dormancy.
  • Plant in full sun or part sun in hotter regions. Also, a critical component to lemon verbena’s success is making sure the soil drains well and is rich in organic matter. Clay or acidic soil is detested. Soggy roots equal certain death. Also water sparingly, weekly is good.
  • Grows to 6 feet with regular pruning (or this shrub can become leggy). As with other herbs, regular harvesting is best, and cut the entire stem (avoid just plucking the leaves off when harvesting).

N.B.: See more of our favorite herbs to grow in our Field Guides to Edibles (including Thyme, Sweet Basil, and Sage. And see our favorite tea recipes at Match 101: How to Make the Best Tea and Miracle Cure for Allergies: Gentle Nettle Tea.

Finally, get more ideas on how to successfully plant, grow, and care for lemon verbena with our Lemon Verbena: A Field Guide.

Interested in other edible plants for your garden? Get more ideas on how to plant, grow, and care for various edible plants (including flowers, herbs and vegetables) with our Edible Plants: A Field Guide.

Aloysia citriodora (Lippia triphylla)

Height: 2 – 3 m Suitable for: Dry, sunny, protected position, pots and containers

Lemon verbena is a perennial woody shrub which can grow to 3 m in height under ideal conditions, although this is rarely achieved in the UK unless grown in a glasshouse environment. Later in the summer it produces sprays of tiny white or pale lilac flowers.
Originating in South America it was introduced to Europe by Spanish explorers and is now an increasingly popular herb throughout much of the world.
Although it is a perennial herb, it is very sensitive to the cold, losing its leaves as temperatures approach freezing. The woody parts are more hardy and can withstand temperatures as low as -10ºC as long as the roots are kept dry. This makes it very suitable for growing in a container which can be moved under cover during the wettest, coldest months of the year.
Its final pot should be at least 30cm or more in diameter with well drained compost, drainage is the key to success as the roots will die if constantly wet. Feed well throughout the growing season and make sure that it has the sunniest spot to ensure that there are the strongest essential oils in the leaves.
The foliage has a powerful and true scent of lemon, of all the lemon scented herbs this is the ultimate and best.
The leaves can be harvested throughout the growing season, in fact pruning helps to prevent the plant becoming too leggy and promotes good bushy growth.
The leaves are used increasingly in cooking, and in the last few years it has changed from being an uncommon ingredient to being mentioned increasingly in recipes.
The leaves have the best flavour when fresh and can be used with fish and chicken, in marinades and salad dressings, and widely in desserts, drinks and preserves.
The most common use for the herb is probably in a herbal tea, either alone or mixed with other herbs such as mint.
Several sprigs infused in a small tea pot will give a lovely refreshing tisane, sweeten to taste if you wish with a touch of honey. This maybe chilled to give a cool drink to sip on a summer’s evening, it goes really well with anything chocolately!
For winter use the leaves can either be dried in bundles in a dark dry place, and stored whole in sealed jars, or frozen chopped in ice-cube trays of water.
Alternatively the two methods shown below will preserve the superb lemon flavour excellently.

  • A simple syrup is an easy way of preserving the lemon verbena flavour.
    Dissolve 225g sugar in 225ml water over a gentle heat. Chop and crush about ½ a tightly packed cup of leaves. Stir into the syrup and remove from the heat.
    Once cool, put into the fridge overnight to extract maximum flavour.
    Strain before using in summer drinks and cocktails.
    If you make a larger batch of this syrup it can be stored in the freezer in small jars to use in the winter.
  • A ‘Pesto’ of lemon verbena leaves ground up with sugar is another excellent way of preserving the flavours.
    It is easiest to measure by volume so add 1 cup of leaves with 2 cups of sugar to a food processor and chop until the leaves are reduced to small grains. The resulting paste can be kept in the fridge for up to a week, or frozen for long term use.

The flavoured sugar paste can be used in ice-cream and sorbet recipes, make plenty as it is an excellent way of preserving the lemony flavour for the winter months when the fresh leaves are no longer available.
Most of the recipes which you will find for using lemon verbena are for drinks or desserts.

Lemon verbena marinated salmon

  • 325ml boiling water
  • 100g salt
  • 100g white sugar
  • 3 tbs roughly chopped lemon verbena leaves
  • 500g salmon fillet pieces
  • 1 tbs olive oil

In a bowl dissolve the salt and sugar in the boiling water, stir in the lemon verbena leaves and allow to cool completely.
Choose a flat dish just large enough to hold the fillets of salmon in a single layer.
Arrange the salmon skin side uppermost in the bottom and pour over the marinade.
Refrigerate whilst the salmon marinates, allow 30 – 40 minutes for thin fillets—the tail end, and 50 – 60 minutes for the marinade to penetrate a thicker fillet.
Rinse and dry the salmon, brush with the olive oil, and either grill or fry.

How to grow Verbena bonariensis

Verbena bonariensis is a unique plant loved by fans of prairie-style planting and by butterflies and pollinators.

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The tall stiff stems tower gracefully above many other companion plants, growing up to 2m. They bear clusters of bright purple flowers through the summer months and well into September. If you’re looking for elegance and style when planting for wildlife, Verbena bonariensis is a must.

Take a look at our handy Verbena bonariensis grow guide, below.

If you’re looking for elegance and style when planting for wildlife, Verbena bonariensis is a must. Verbena bonariensis and ipomoea lobata

Where to plant Verbena bonariensis

Grow Verbena bonariensis in moderately fertile, well-drained soil in full sun.

Sowing Verbena bonariensis seeds in a pot

How to plant Verbena bonariensis

You can grow Verbena bonariensis from seed. Seeds can be sown directly in the ground where they are to grow, in spring. Or you can start them off early, in late winter, using modules filled with compost and keep these under glass. Pot on when seedlings are large enough to handle, and plant them outside after the danger of frost has passed.

Verbena bonariensis flowerheads

Looking after Verbena bonariensis

Verbena bonariensis doesn’t need staking, despite its height, as the stems are stiff and wiry. In fact an established plant can provide support for neighbouring perennials in a mixed border. Flowers also don’t need deadheading.

Plants look good left standing after the flowering period has ended, and through the months of decay, but don’t survive cold winters well. The key to ensuring that Verbena bonariensis overwinters successfully is to protect the crown of the plant from frost, particularly in colder regions where they are borderline hardy. The dead stalks can be left to provide winter interest, but an autumn mulch with well-rotted manure or a covering of straw, will protect the roots from frost.

Cut back the old stems in spring, as new shoots start to show at the base of the plant.

Propagating Verbena bonariensis

Given the right conditions, plants will self-seed freely. However, the most reliable method of propagating Verbena bonariensis is to take cuttings in early autumn.

Video: Taking cuttings of Verbena bonariensis

Verbena bonariensis with tortoiseshell butterfly

Verbena bonariensis: problem solving

With the right growing conditions and a little protection over winter, Verbena bonariensis is a trouble-free garden plant. However, in some areas, particularly where growing conditions are hot and dry, they can become invasive.

Verbena bonariensis ‘Lollipop’ with Lagurus ovatus

Verbena bonariensis ‘Lollipop’

While there are many annual and perennial varieties of the verbena family that are popular with gardeners, Verbena bonariensis is alone of its species and there’s only one cultivar currently available.

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  • Verbena bonariensis ‘Lollipop’ – this is a low-growing version of the original species. With a maximum height of 60cm, ‘Lollipop’ works in smaller gardens and containers, and at the front of borders, where the nodding clusters of flowers contrast beautifully with ground-hugging plants like Alchemilla mollis

When you hear “lemon verbena,” are you immediately whisked away to a tranquil spa-like setting where aromatic fragrances are swirling through the air? Do you find yourself unwittingly suspended in a state of deep relaxation? If so, you have already experienced the delightful scent of lemon verbena. Its perfume alone is reason enough to add this tangy little herb to your garden this year.

And that’s not to mention that it can be used to flavor teas, to infuse into sugar, and to add zing to many other culinary delights. If you are looking to grow just one lemon scented herb, lemon verbena is a superb choice.

Most herbs used in the U.S. are indigenous to Asia, the Middle East or to Europe, but lemon verbena (Aloysia triphylla) originated in South America. The leaves have a lemon zesty fragrance and flavor that have been used historically in a myriad of medicinal and edible ways. While lemon verbena has many uses, it also makes an attractive ornamental plant. It is a surprisingly large herb that can grow up to fifteen feet tall in U.S. Hardiness Zones 8 to 11. In colder climates it will stay much smaller and can be grown as an annual, or grown in a container and overwintered indoors.

How To Grow and Care for Lemon Verbena

Lemon verbena can be started from seed. If you choose to start your seeds indoors, begin your seeds several weeks before the last frost in your area in flats or trays. Use a good garden soil mixed with a handful of peat moss or compost. Place your seeds an inch apart over the surface of the soil and cover very lightly with a thin layer of soil. Moisten the soil well, and wait until your seedlings have at least one set of leaves before transferring them into larger pots or into the garden.

In warm, tropical climates, you will be able to plant lemon verbena seeds directly. Consider planting your seeds in the fall. Or wait until the last danger of frost has passed and the ground is warming. Plant your seeds in rows in a sunny location, and cover lightly with soil. Water thoroughly, and keep your seedlings moist but not wet. Thin away the weaker seedlings to allow the stronger specimens better access to nutrients and water.

Another option for growing lemon verbena is to grow it from a cutting. Place the cutting in a vase of water. When several roots have developed, carefully place the cutting with its new roots directly into soil. Be gentle with those roots.

Lemon verbena plants will be the most flavorful and aromatic when allowed 6 to 8 hours of sun each day. They like to be moist, but never wet. In fact, it is best for you to err on the dry side rather than to allow your lemon verbena to be overly soggy.

Lemon verbena loves to be fed occasionally. Try a fish emulsion early in the season to stimulate growth. Once a month during the growing season, treat your lemon verbena to another round of fish emulsion or compost.

Well before the first freeze nips your garden, bring your lemon verbena plant inside. It is a heat-loving plant that can’t tolerate much more than a chill. Protection from the wind specifically seems to improve the plant’s hardiness.

Your lemon verbena will drop its leaves and go dormant in the fall and winter. This is normal, as it is a deciduous plant, so don’t give up on it. Set your lemon verbena aside to rest for the season. Early in the spring, begin to water it lightly. Place it in a warm and sunny location to wake it from its sleep. Prune your lemon verbena early in the spring after you see green appearing on the plant. The green will indicate which part of the plant is still living and which part is dead and should be pruned.

Pests and Problems

Aside from protecting your plant from chilly temperatures and maintaining a proper moisture balance, your lemon verbena should be easy to maintain. Its lemony scent acts as a natural insect repellent. In spite of that, lemon verbena is prone to infestations of spider mites and white flies, especially if the plant is too dry. Isolate your infected plant away from other plants, and mist it with an insecticidal soap. Rinse it with water, and hopefully your lemon verbena will be as good as new.

For an excellent overview on how to grow lemon verbena, visit:

The Zesty Sweet Scent of Lemon Verbena (Mother Earth Living)

And for a simple yet delicious lemon verbena recipe, watch this video:

Herbscaping – Lemon Verbena (P. Allen Smith)

Lemon Verbena

Aloysia triphylla

Tender Perennial

Description

Lemon verbena is a woody shrub with narrow, glossy green leaves. It also produces small white flowers. It is an attractive plant for container growing. It has a strong lemony fragrance.

Culture

Because lemon verbena is frost sensitive, it is best grown as a container plant so it can easily be moved indoors during the winter. Use containers with ample drainage holes and fill the container with a prepared soil mix. Keep the media uniformly moist but avoid overwatering. Outdoors, place the plant in a full sun location. Because lemon verbena is a heavy feeder, fertilize using a general purpose liquid fertilizer about every two weeks. Tip cuttings of lemon verbena root easily and plants grow fast. They benefit from occasional pruning or frequent harvest to maintain a nice form. Move the plant indoors before frost and place in a bright light area. Water as needed to keep soil uniformly moist, but reduce the fertilizer frequency. As the plant ages, it will develop a woody stem and foliage quality may start to decline. Because cuttings root easily, it is suggested to discard the older plants after taking cuttings. The new plants will provide much better foliage and often have a better appearance and be more vigorous.

Harvesting

Harvest leaves as needed throughout the season. Leaves are used fresh or can be dried and stored in sealed containers for later use.

Use

Lemon verbena is used to flavor beverages, salads, jellies, sauces, soups, fish and meat dishes. Its strongly lemon flavored leaves can be used where lemon is called for in recipes.

  • Introduction
  • Herb Directory
  • Preserving Herbs
  • Recipes
  • Credits

There’s something so quintessentially farmer’s market-y about herb stands. With their rows and rows of woody, leafy, flowery bunches, the scents mixing and wafting down the lanes, that absolutely evokes some hippie fantasy of strewing my front stoop with fragrance, medieval-style, and hand-crushing leaves into a peaceful cup of herbal tea which I will then sip on my hand-hewn wooden rocker while I watch the sun set over an uninhabited landscape.

But alas, I live in Los Angeles, so there’s no such thing as an uninhabited landscape, and frankly, I think herbal tea mostly tastes like lawn clippings. Or punishment. But I still love herbs – fresh ones and dried ones and flowering ones… I grow them by the untended bunches, and then forget to use them in cooking because, let’s face it, they’re in the back of the yard that we never cut so I’d have to hike through calf-high grass to get to them, and I never remember I want to use them until I’m cooking dinner at ten o’clock at night (we keep odd hours in our household) so we’re also looking at slogging through dew, spider webs, and possibly encountering a pile of dog poop along the way. Needless to say, I end up using my overgrown plants mostly as decoration, and annoyingly enough end up buying my fresh herbs.

But I was determined to find some more uses for the plants in my yard, and I started with lemon verbena. All I knew about it when I planted it is that it smelled lemony (natch) and it would grow well in our I forget to water arid climate. And it’s in my soap. As a result, frankly, it smells kind of soapy. But I think that’s just me.

This is actually an older picture. It’s now tied back with zip ties because it’s taking over the entire yard.

Well, grow well it did. What started as a tiny little herb in a 4 inch pot that I was pretty sure wouldn’t last the month because I am a HORRIBLE gardener has become a tree threatening my tomatoes (the only thing I ever grow reasonably well.) So I’ve got to use it for something.

If you’re buying it at the market, they’ll sell you a few small branches rather than the jungle that I own, but the first thing you’ll probably notice is that the leaves are sticky. It’s weird. They’re not sticky like honey, they’re sticky the way I imagine Spiderman’s hands. And that proves I’ve lived with a nerd too long. But it’s true! They have fine hairs or something covering each leaf so they grip. This is annoying when you’re trying to separate the leaves, but really really nice for the recipe that follows.

The leaves are pale to bright green, long and thin, and a little on the tougher side, as herbs go, so you’ll want to infuse them in something (tea, oil, vinegar) or chop them up small – they’re not particularly fun to chew, though they taste fine. Though they smell almost overpoweringly lemony and sweet, the taste is actually slightly bitter and green with mere lemon overtones. Imagine lemon zest if you also got a little pith in there. It’s not a bad bitterness, just be forewarned if you’re expecting a lemon substitute. It’s not.

But it’s lovely for an unexpected hint of lemon. We added some to a rosemary pesto to give it a slight zing (recipe to follow with Rosemary post), but our favorite use for it (other than cocktails…yum!) was with salmon. The grip of the leaves allowed us to layer them on top of a very nice fillet, bake/broil it quickly in the toaster oven, and voila! A very, very quick meal that looked gorgeous and tasted very sophisticated. The lemon verbena added a hint of citrus without blasting the fish with acidity, and the slightly vegetable flavor of the green leaves added a complexity that cut through the meatiness of the fish – though I think they’d work just as well if not better with a lighter fish or even chicken to play up the lemon flavor even more. Next on the lemon verbena experiment train? Lemon Verbena Sorbet. I’m very excited, but also quite afraid it’s going to taste like old soap. Anyone tried this before?

Lemon-Scented Salmon

Press lemon verbena leaves (sticky side down) in single layer on salmon fillet. Feel free to place them prettier than I did. Drizzle lightly with olive oil to protect the leaves from burning. Bake or broil at 400 until fish is just barely cooked – it should be opaque pink rather than glassy in the thickest part, or flake easily with a fork. Remove from oven, sprinkle with sea salt, and let sit 3-5 minutes to finish cooking. If you prefer a more lemony flavor, squeeze half a lemon on top before serving. You can eat the leaves if you like, or peel them off as you eat.

Parts Used? Mostly leaves. The flowers are supposedly edible also, I just haven’t found anything on using them other than in teas.
Worth the price of organic? I always think herbs are worth the price of organic since you’re using them in their raw form, often as an addition just at the end which means nothing is getting cooked out (which I guess makes no sense at all, but it’s my gut reaction), and sometimes in relatively large amounts. If you’re drying them, all their properties are getting concentrated, which makes me even more inclined to go organic. But it’s not like they’re on the Dirty Dozen or anything, so, you know, go with what makes you happy.
In season: Summer, though all year in warm climates.
Best with: fish, stone fruits (peaches, nectarines, cherries), sugar, infused in anything liquid that you want to smell like lemon (sugar syrup, oil, vinegar).
How to Store: Place the stems in water like flowers, or store wrapped in a damp paper towel in the fridge. Cut branches don’t last long – maybe 2 or 3 days, and get woodier as they dry out, so use quickly.

9 Amazing Benefits of Lemon Verbena

The fascinating health benefits of lemon verbena include its ability to protect muscles, reduce inflammation, boost the immune system, calm the stomach, reduce fevers, soothe nerves, and clear up congestion. It is also popularly used for weight loss.

What is Lemon Verbena?

Although lemon verbena is native to South America, it has largely become a globally accessible plant and herb due to its powerful medicinal effects and qualities as a food additive. Scientifically known as Aloysia citrodora, another common name besides lemon verbena is lemon beebrush. The plant is a perennial shrub that has a powerful lemony scent, which intensifies when the leaves and flowers are touched or bruised. The shrub can stand 2-3 meters high and has small purple and white flowers. Its initial widespread use was as a food and flavoring additive, particularly being added to poultry and fish dishes, as well as salads, dressings, jams, and various beverages. However, the traditional uses of lemon verbena as a medicinal herb have come back into fashion, especially since modern research has revealed a wealth of unique components that make this plant very important for human health.

The essential oil of lemon verbena, when extracted, contains a high concentration of powerful antioxidant compounds, including verbascoside, nerol, geraniol, and citral. The most common use of lemon verbena outside of herbal pill supplementation is as an herbal tea. The leaves can be dried and then steeped for a powerful boost to many of the organs and metabolic processes.

Lemon verbena leaves Photo Credit:

Health Benefits of Lemon Verbena

Let’s take a closer look at the impressive health benefits of lemon verbena.

Weight Loss

While green tea is often suggested for those on a diet, lemon verbena is effective too. There are only 2 calories per serving and the rich mix of organic compounds has an effect on the body that reduces the “munchies”, thereby preventing you from snacking between meals and compromising your diet. One study showed that lemon verbena helped reduce appetite by affecting certain hormones (ghrelin and glucagon-like peptide-1) that control appetite.

Strengthens Muscles

This is one of the unique qualities of this herb and one that you don’t often find in simple teas. When you use lemon verbena tea as an exercise supplement, research has shown that the high antioxidant properties decrease damage done to the muscles during the workout, without inhibiting your body’s development of additional muscle mass and increased stamina. This makes lemon verbena the perfect pre or post-workout companion!

Reduces Inflammation

Arthritis and injuries can both wreak havoc on our joints and mobility. As we age, or when we get injured, it can be difficult to ever feel whole again because our joints are in constant use and rarely have time to heal properly. Lemon verbena has been directly linked to reducing joint pain and faster recovery for joint-related injuries. This is primarily due to the impressive levels of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds in this little herb. One study published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine showed that after 9 weeks of treatment with lemon verbena and omega 3, subjects experienced significant reduction of pain and stiffness as well as improved physical function.

Boosts Immunity

Oxidative stress is a result of free radical activity and their presence throughout our body’s organs, which weakens the immune system by stretching it too thin and distracting it with cellular mutation and chronic diseases. Research has connected lemon verbena to lower oxidative stress levels and better overall health of the body, evidenced by accelerated antioxidant enzyme activity, while markers for inflammatory vascular damage decreased.

Aids in Digestion

Lemon verbena tea also has certain soothing qualities that have been traditionally relied on to relieve stomach issues and indigestion in different cultures. This herbal preparation has anti-spasmodic qualities that help it calm the stomach and eliminate cramping and bloating, which can lead to discomfort and gastrointestinal issues. As mentioned previously, lemon verbena tea helps to regulate the appetite by affecting certain hormones that control appetite, which helps prevent the discomfort associated with overeating.

How do you use lemon verbena? Photo Credit:

Reduces Fevers

In traditional South American medicine, lemon verbena was trusted as a diaphoretic, meaning that it stimulated sweating, and was, therefore, used to break fevers and speed healing for those suffering from inflammatory illnesses.

Relieves Anxiety

The antioxidant compounds found in lemon verbena can also have an impact on the hormonal balance in the body. While this effect isn’t dramatic, it has been known as a calming beverage and is prescribed for those with nervous afflictions or chronic stress, as it can ease the mind and calm the body.

Treats Congestion

The final beneficial attribute of lemon verbena is its expectorant properties. This means that drinking the tea can loosen up congestion in the respiratory tracts and help eliminate the phlegm and mucous in that system. Phlegm can be a breeding ground for bacteria and other pathogens, so drinking a tea that can help get rid of that unwanted material is definitely a good way to improve your immune system.

Word of Caution: Despite this generally positive portrayal of lemon verbena, some people do suffer from mild dermatitis as a mild allergic response. Also, if you suffer from kidney disease, its active ingredients could potentially worsen the condition, so avoid its use. Consult a trained medical professional before changing your health regimen or replacing a pharmaceutical drug with an herbal remedy.

How to: use lemon verbena


Photo – photolibrary.com

You’ll want this fragrant shrub near the front or back door, or by the front gate or path, so that whenever you go in or out of the house you can brush its scented leaves and sense the air become perfumed with its lovely lemon fragrance. The bonus of having it close is that it’s no trouble to snip off a few branches to scent your spring cooking and baking.

Lemon verbena, Aloysia citriodora, will grow just about anywhere in the country though it doesn’t like frost much and will drop leaves and sulk when the weather is really grim. Choose a position with plenty of sun and keep it pruned by snipping the flowers for jugs and glasses indoors throughout spring and summer, and picking small branches to strip the leaves for cooking, or for making tea. This tip pruning will promote bushiness and prevent it growing into a straggly shrub as lanky and tall as a basketballer.

Lemon verbena poached pears

Place 2 cups of sugar and 6 cups of water in a saucepan and slowly heat to dissolve the sugar, then bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Peel 4 buerre bosc pears and add them to the syrup, along with a handful of lemon verbena leaves. Simmer gently, for 15-20 minutes until tender.

Lemon verbena sugar

Bury half a dozen leaves per cup of caster sugar in a jar and use the lemon-scented sugar to dust shortbread or muffins before baking, or to lend an exotic note to fresh strawberries or fruit salad.

Lemon verbena sorbet

Whizz a cup of fresh, washed and dried lemon verbena leaves with a cup of caster sugar in a food processor. Scrape into a bowl, add the zest and juice of half a lemon and 3 cups of water and stir to dissolve. Strain to get rid of leafy bits, add a slug of limoncello and churn in an ice cream maker. Serve for dessert or as the basis of a cocktail, with a shot of vodka poured over, or topped with a glass of sparkling wine.

Lemon verbena tea

Steep fresh or dried leaves in boiling water. To dry leaves spread on baking paper on baking sheets and place the trays in the oven set to its lowest setting for 2- 3 hours. The dried leaves retain their fragrance. Dry a mix with mint or a little ginger.

Lemon verbena ice cream

Steep two handfuls of fresh washed and dried leaves to a litre of milk/ cream, following your favourite basic ice cream recipe. You might also add a finely chopped leaf to add to the churned ice cream for extra flavour and tiny flecks of colour.

Text: Robin Powell

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