Sunday, 10 September 2017

Lemon verbena

Something I find a little shocking, should I happen to be in a supermarket in the lead up to Christmas, is seeing a small sprig of rosemary or sage in a cellophane wrapper for sell for £1.95 or more. These are such easy herbs to grow and, being perennial, by growing your own you will have not only a ready supply for many Christmases to come but for Easter and Thanksgiving too, or indeed for a meal at any time of the year.

I grow a number of herbs which by and large are ones we regularly use in the kitchen. As summer begins to slowly slip away many herb plants by this time of the year can begin to look rather shabby. This is one of the reasons I don't have a dedicated herb bed as by the end of the summer it has lost its freshness and can look somewhat drab. Because aesthetics are important as well as functionality I prefer to grow most of our herbs in pots where they can more easily be individually managed. Grown this way they can also be arranged to make an attractive garden feature. There are other benefits. Some herbs such as mint and thyme can spread rapidly and with vigour so that it is easy to lose control of them in a bed. Moreover, not all herbs like the same growing conditions. Herbs grown in pots can also be located near to the kitchen door so it is easy to step out and collect what you need at the time you need it. 

Herbs arranged in pots with lemon verbena on the far right

Although I've never set foot in Scarborough nor visited its fair, I do in fact grow parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. The latter in a range of varieties as well as the variegated forms of sage alongside the common sage which is so valuable for cooking with. Mint, oregano and bay also feature as well as a few others. Probably my favourite, though, is lemon verbena.

I have grown lemon verbena (Aloysia citrodora) for many years. It is to my mind the lemonest of all lemon-scented herbs and most days I feel compelled to rub a leaf to release the aroma. Lemon verbena has lanceolate, slightly rough leaves and for me grows to about 3 or 4 feet by the end of the summer. It holds it's thin stems upright and the leaves are spaced in such a way as to give it an airy, delicate look.

Lemon verbena is on the tender side and a protracted hard frost can kill it off. Most years, however, although the top half of each stem will die back new leaves will sprout lower down. You have to be patient as it is late to spring into new growth which could be into May. I usually take some soft wood cuttings at the end of the summer which I overwinter in the greenhouse. They take quite easily so replacement plants are always to hand and I usually end up giving a lot of them away to visitors.

Lemon verbena (Aloysia citrodora) close up

Lemon verbena likes full sun and this helps make for the strongest lemon scent. However, unlike many other herbs which thrive in relatively dry, low nutrient environments, lemon verbena prefers richer conditions and regular watering.

In the kitchen lemon verbena has many uses. For example, it can be used to flavour lemon drizzle cakes, used in lemon chicken recipes and in salad dressings. But I most often use it to make lemon verbena tea. Simply pick about 10 or so leaves, tear in half and infuse in a pot of boiling water for a few minutes. I use one of those tea pots with a built in infuser. Just the drink for a summer's day. Or indeed any day...


  1. Hi Philip. Planting herbs in pots sounds a good idea. They need lots of drainage. I make lots of cuttings.

  2. Hi Dave, yes drainage is very important. The original lemon verbena I acquired must have been 10 years ago and I've taken cuttings ever since.