Guest post by Peggy Riccio
Dear A Cooks and Her Books Readers – give a warm welcome to Peggy Riccio of PegPlant. Peggy is a horticulturist and herb gardening expert and is sharing about one of my favorite herbs, lemon verbena.
Known as the queen of lemon scented herbs, lemon verbena has the clearest, sharpest lemon scent in the world of herbs. Lemon verbena (Aloysia citrodora) is hardy to Zone 9 and prefers full sun and well-drained soil, rich in organic matter. Native to South America, the Spanish brought the plant to Europe where it was primarily used in perfume.
In fact, lemon verbena is mentioned in the famous book/movie, Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, which as you know was set in Atlanta. Scarlett O’Hara’s mother Ellen used lemon verbena as her signature fragrance: “The faint of lemon verbena surrounded her, floating gently from Eleanor Butler’s silk gown and silken hair. It was the fragrance that had always been part of Ellen O’Hara, the scent for Scarlett of comfort, of safety, of love, of life before the War.”
Versatile Lemon Verbena Has Many Uses
Today, you will still find lemon verbena used as a fragrance in hand lotions, soaps, perfumes, and bath products. Usually, I use mine in the kitchen. Lemon verbena pairs well with fish, poultry, fruit, vinegars, sugars, butters, and syrups. Add leaves to baked goods such as quick breads, pound cake, sugar cookies, scones, muffins, pies and custards. I add leaves to my black tea. You can prepare an herbal tisane, ass well (just the lemon verbena leaves and boiling water).
The key to using lemon verbena is to pick the leaf in the proper stage. If you rub the mature, bigger leaves you will feel the sensation of fine hairs. This rough texture is not good for eating raw, but these leaves can be used for non-edibles such as sachets, potpourris, and bath products. Or they can be used like bay leaves, where you add to fish or chicken and then remove before serving.
Pick Tender Young Leaves
When you are eating the leaf, such as baking and fresh fruit, you want to use fresh, young leaves. Pick the youngest, smallest leaves, which are smooth. These can be finely minced and added to fresh fruit, batter, butters, sugars, and most deserts.
Recently I made lemon verbena sugar cookies with minced young leaves. Although the recipe called for using lemon zest as well, I only used the lemon verbena, and I thought the cookies were very lemony. When mincing the young leaves, I realized I could cut the older, hairy leaves the same way and then mix or layer with about 2 cups of Epsom salts in a glass jar. In a few weeks, the Epsom salts would absorb the lemon scent and I could put the mixture in the bath. Or better yet, give as a “Gardener’s Gift” to my fellow gardening friends who know the value of soaking in Epsom salts after a hot day in the garden.
Grow Lemon Verbena in Your Garden
For me, lemon verbena is a “must have” for my garden and I am sure you can easily find small plants in your area in the beginning of the growing season.
Introducing Guest Author Peggy Riccio
Peggy Riccio is a horticulturist and garden communicator in Northern Virginia. Her website, pegplant.com, is an online resource for gardeners in the DC metro area. Passionate about herbs, she initiated a Facebook group called Culinary Herbs and Spices. Sign up for her newsletter to learn how easy it is to grow herbs in your home garden.
Thanks to Peggy for this guest post and for her photos!
Guest Posts on A Cook and Her Books
It’s such a treat to feature leading garden experts and authors on A Cook and Her Books. If you enjoyed reading Peggy’s story about lemon verbena, check out Shelley S. Cramm’s story about growing figs and gardening that speaks to the soul.