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Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Improve Your Demeanor with Lemon Verbena

This herb is little used medicinally as it is a relative newcomer to Europeans and North Americans, being introduced into Europe in the late 18th century by the Spanish from its native Argentina and Chile. However it shares certain qualities with lemon balm, being a sedative and digestive aid. Taken as an infusion, it is also reputed to ease bronchial and nasal congestion. The tea has a delicious fresh lemon-lime taste with an even stronger citrus flavor than lemon balm.

verbena is a tender perennial and best grown in a pot in our climate. The roots
are tender so it’s recommended to keep the herb in a pot even when planting out
in the summer. In its native habitat it will grow into a 15-foot high shrub,
but in colder climes it rarely exceeds six feet. Even in South America it is a
deciduous plant and will lose its leaves in winter. The herb can also be grown
as an annual, but it is best propagated by cuttings.

verbena unfortunately is susceptible to both spider mites and whiteflies. A
strong jet of cold water is your best weapon against these pests. The herb is a
heavy feeder and will benefit by regular applications of fish emulsion. Unlike
most herbs, lemon verbena prefers rich, moist, but not soggy soil. The flowers are tiny, tubular, lavender
colored and generally appear in late summer and fall.

In teas
and cooking only the leaves are used. The leaves are long and pointed and when
fresh, tough. If whole, they should be removed from dishes before serving.
Dried, they can be finely crumbled and added to the batter of carrot cake,
banana bread or any baked dessert where a lemon flavor is desirable. Finely
chopped fresh, or crushed dried lemon verbena is delicious added to rice just
before serving, especially with fish.

fresh or dried leaves can be added to any dish where the addition of a lemon
flavor enhances the taste, including fish, poultry, marinades, salad dressings,
preserves and desserts.

For fans
of bread pudding, here’s a great dessert using the herb:

Bread Pudding with Lemon Verbena and Fresh Berry Sauce

12 x ½ inch slices bread, crusts removed

2 cups of milk

1 cup fresh minced lemon
verbena leaves

½ tsp. pure vanilla extract

¼ tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. grated nutmeg

3 large eggs, lightly beaten

1/3 cup sugar

1 tsp. fresh squeezed lemon

Berry Sauce

2 Tbsp. butter

4 cups of fresh (halved and
hulled) or frozen strawberries

3 Tbsp. brown sugar

1 Tbsp. fresh squeezed lemon

2 cups of fresh or frozen red

Dry the
bread slices in a 250-degree F oven for about 15 minutes. Then increase oven
temperature to 300 degrees. In a large bowl combine the milk, lemon verbena,
vanilla, salt and nutmeg. Tear the toasted bread into pieces and stir into the
liquid. Allow the bread to absorb the liquid. This will take about 10 minutes.

In a
small bowl combine the eggs, sugar and lemon juice. Beat until the mixture
turns light yellow and a ribbon forms when the beaters are lifted. Stir into
the bread-milk mixture. Pour into a buttered two-quart baking dish. Bake about
50 minutes or until the top is set and springs back from gentle pressure.
Remove and set aside.

To make
the berry sauce, melt one tablespoon of butter in a large skillet over
medium-high heat. Add the strawberries and cook about five minutes. Add the
sugar and lemon juice and cook for two more minutes. Add the raspberries and
remaining butter. Cook just until the raspberries and soft and warm. Serve
bowls of the bread pudding with the hot berry sauce.

verbena was once used cosmetically, but there is some indication that the herb
may make the skin more sensitive to sunlight. It does however make a fine
addition to this:

Herbal Mouthwash

3 cups of filtered water

1oz. of fresh lemon verbena

1oz. of fresh peppermint leaves

1oz. of fresh rosemary

Bring the water to a boil in a saucepan. Add the
herbs and remove from heat. Infuse (steep) until cool. Filter out the herbs and
bottle the liquid. Keep refrigerated and warm before using if preferred.

Because of its relative modernity,
lemon verbena has few legends surrounding it. However, the herb hung around one’s
neck or some of the juice drunk is supposed to protect one from dreams. It is
also used in love spells and is reputed to make the wearer attractive to the
opposite sex.

Bruce Burnett is an award-winning writer, a chartered herbalist and author of HerbWise: growing cooking wellbeing. Bruce and his wife Delaine own Olivia’s Fashion, Furnishings & Gifts ( in Ladysmith, BC Canada. Read more published articles by Bruce Burnett on his websites: and

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