Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Lemon Verbena, Queen of the Side Garden

Lemon Verbena
You might say that this lemon verbena needs a little taming. But I cherish its success too much to prune it. Last year when I planted it, I thought lemon verbena was an annual. But no! It's technically a "tender perennial." I planted two of them, and one didn't make it through the winter, but this one? When I went to clear out the garden in April I clearly saw the"I ain't dead yet" look in its stalks. I cut one with my pruners and, yep, a green center. I'd call this particular plant a "tough-as-nails" perennial, since this is the north-facing wall of the house.

Tough as nails this shrub may be, but the leaves have a lemony fragrance and taste that is gentle, not at all harsh or grassy. You can make lemon verbena ice cream or simple syrup, you can put the leaves in salad or flavor vinegar with them. I like to make lemon verbena iced tea, adding a sprig of mint for depth of flavor.

Lemon Verbena Mint Iced Tea

Put water on to boil. Pick leaves off the plant, using about four leaves per cup of water. Pick a sprig of mint if you have some. Wash the leaves and chop them. When the water boils, take it off the heat and add the mint and lemon verbena. Let it steep ten minutes. Pour through a strainer into another vessel, like a pitcher. Pour over ice. Hold it up to the sun and admire its light yellow-green color. Drink.

This particular lemon verbena? It's one of those plants whose success I had nothing to do with. Gardening is like that. You can fuss over something for ages and it dies or, worse, it stays alive but never grows, and generally looks wan and spindly for months, giving you the evil eye. Or you can ignore a plant and it flourishes like this riotous lemon verbena. In July I found a gloriously healthy butternut squash plant growing in my compost, with a big old flower. It was growing sort of upside down-ish and all contorted, so I transplanted it to what I thought of as "a better place," the vegetable garden, where it dramatically wilted and died within three days.

I tell you, plants these days!


  1. Yum! I wantonly planted lemon balm once, and grew to rue the day. Lemon verbena sounds like a much better choice.

  2. Nice - I'm thinking of planting some around the patio as insect repellent - will plant enough for tea.