Lemon Verbena

Filed Under: Culinary Herbs, Fragrant Herbs, Medicinal Herbs, Ornamental Herbs

A sweetly lemon-scented tub subject.

Lemon Verbena (Aloysia triphylla), sometimes called Lemon Beebrush, is a deciduous, shrubby member of the Vervain Family (Verbenaceae) grown for its 4″-long, shining, narrow, pointed, more or less smooth-edged, prominently veined, bright green leaves, which are borne in groups of three and are powerfully and sweetly scented of lemon. Lemon verbena is native to Argentina and Chile, where it can grow up to 20 feet tall; in temperate climates plants get perhaps 2-4 feet tall by 2 feet wide. Around August they bear whorls of tiny white flowers, sometimes tinted purple, in narrow spikes or slim terminal panicles. Lemon verbena is reputedly hardy outdoors from Zones 8-11 (it will drop its leaves in winter); indoors the plants will bear leaves year round (watch out for white fly and spider mites).

The plant has accrued many botanic names over the centuries. While Aloysia triphylla (L’Hérit.) Britt. is the current name favored by the Royal Horticultural Society of Britain, you may also find lemon verbena listed as:

  • Aloysia citriodora (Cav.) Ortega ex Pers.;
  • Aloysia citrodora Palàu;
  • Lippia citriodora;
  • Lippia triphylla Kuntze;
  • Verbena triphylla L’Hér. (sometimes misspelled Verbena tryphilla);
  • Verbena citriodora Cav.; and
  • Zappania citrodora Lam.

Lemon verbena’s former genus name, Lippia, honors Auguste Lippi, an Italian naturalist and botanist born in Paris in 1678. The plant’s common names around the world include:

  • CATALÀN: Marialluïsa
  • FRENCH: la verveine citronelle or la verveine odorante
  • GERMAN: Verbene; Zitronenstrauch; Zitronenverbene
  • ITALIAN: cedrina; Lippia citriodora
  • PORTUGUESE: erva-luísa, Lúcia-lima, limonete, bela-luísa, or doce-lima
  • SPANISH: la hierba Luisa; la vervena; la yerba de la princesa

GROWING LEMON VERBENA

Lemon verbena flowers.

Lemon verbena is cultivated extensively in the south of France for its essential oils. This suggests how to grow it yourself: Give lemon verbena a rich, well-drained soil in full to bright half-sun, and remember that it will not overwinter outside of Zones 8-11. The plants prefer a warm spot, and should be kept from cold drafts, as they tend to drop their leaves when shocked. Keep the soil evenly moist but never permit the pots to stand in water. Harvest the leaves as needed, but it is said they possess the strongest fragrance when the plants are in flower. Dried on newspapers in shade and stored in airtight containers, they will retain their fragrance for years.

USING LEMON VERBENA

Lemon verbena is edible, the leaves being sweet and free of bitterness; they may be used as a substitute for lemon grass leaves in Asian cuisine and in desserts, fruit salads, rice pudding, and punches, though Stobart warns that “to many people [its fragrance] is reminiscent of scented soap” and so such dishes may not be to everyone’s taste. In A Modern Herbal, Mrs. M. Grieve recommends drinking lemon verbena tea for many of the same purposes one would use mint, lemon balm, or orange flowers: for indigestion, upset stomach, and flatulence, and as a skin and stomach stimulant. A strong lemon verbena tea has been recommended as a breath-sweetener and decay preventative mouth rinse.

With tansy, southernwood, and rosemary, lemon verbena makes a good moth repellent, and it is famous for its use with rose buds and lavender in potpourri. An extract of the leaves may also be used to scent ink (see “Lemon Verbena Ink” in the Herb Crafts heading of the Recipes Section).

SOURCES FOR THIS ARTICLE

  • Betts, Kay. “Resembling A Citron Pill.” The Herbarist: A Publication of The Herb Society of America, No. 19, 1953.
  • Grieve, Mrs. M. A Modern Herbal In Two Volumes, Volume II (I-Z). (New York: Dover Publications, 1971. ISBN 0-486-22799-5.)
  • Griffiths, Mark. Index of Garden Plants. (Portland: Timber Press, Inc., 1994; ISBN 0-88192-246-3.)
  • Hemphill, Rosemary. Herbs For All Seasons. (Penguin Books Ltd., Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England, 6th Printing, 1983; ISBN 0-14046-217-1.)
  • Hériteau, Jacqueline. Potpourris & Other Fragrant Delights. (Penguin Books Ltd., Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England, 1980; ISBN 0-14046-320-3.)
  • Little, Kitty. Kitty Little’s Book of Herbal Beauty. (Penguin Books Ltd., Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England, 1981; ISBN 0-14046-355-0.)
  • Skagit Gardens, wholesale catalogue, 2008 issue (skagitgardens.com).
  • Stobart, Tom. Herbs, Spices and Flavourings. (Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books, 1977; ISBN 0-14046-261-9.)
  • Territorial Seed Company, 2010 Spring Catalog (territorialseed.com)
  • Wikimedia Commons: “Aloysia triphylla.”
  • Wikispecies: “Aloysia citriodora.”