Lemon Verbena

  • Plant Type: Perennial, zones 8-11
  • Sun: Full sun with light afternoon shade in hottest regions
  • Plant Size: 4 to 6 feet tall, 6 to 8 feet wide
  • Culinary Use: Fresh or dried leaves for flavoring tea, desserts, sorbet, pudding

Lemon verbena offers wonderfully fragrant foliage rich with sweet lemon flavor—with no sour notes. This is the herb used to make lemon zinger tea. Plants are evergreen perennials in warmest regions. In colder areas, grow lemon verbena in a pot and move it indoors for winter. In the garden, stems can soar to 6 feet on a clump up to 8 feet wide, creating a sweetly scented shrub.

Plant Spacing: 6 to 8 feet. Plants Per Person: 1.

Secrets to Success »

Lemon verbena is native to tropical climes, where day length is unchanging and sunlight is abundant. Plant in spring after all danger of frost has passed and when night temperatures are consistently above 50 degrees F. Tuck plants into fertile, well-drained soil in full sun. Provide afternoon shade for plants grown in the Deep South or desert areas. In early spring and throughout the growing season, fertilize lemon verbena with Bonnie Herb & Vegetable Plant Food. This organically based fertilizer is low in salt and won’t cause ugly brown leaf tips.

Cut plants frequently to keep lemon verbena looking its best. For the main harvest, cut plants back by half in midsummer.

Harvest and Use »

Harvest leaves at any point after plants are established. Pick leaves in the morning, after dew dries. Air dry leaves on screens or gather stems in bunches and hang upside down. Use lemon verbena in recipes in place of lemon zest. Leaves are tough and leathery; mince them very fine for consumption. Many times it’s easiest to use a whole leaf to season a dish and remove it before serving. Steep lemon verbena in milk and use to create sorbet or pudding. Bury a few leaves in sugar in a sealed container; use this sugar to flavor cookies and doughs. Use leaves to flavor vinegar, salad dressing, or sauces. Add dried, crumbled leaves to rice just before serving or blend into quick bread batters.

To preserve lemon verbena, dry whole leaves and store in sealed containers in a dark place. To release flavor, crumble leaves finely just before using. You can freeze lemon verbena, whole or chopped, in ice cube trays filled with water. You can also blend finely chopped leaves into softened butter. Store butter in an airtight container in the refrigerator for a few weeks, or form into balls and freeze on a cookie sheet. Store frozen balls in zipper bags, using them to flavor vegetables and fish or to spread on bread or pancakes.

Try these garden companions »

  • Pineapple sage to whip up fruit-flavored desserts.
  • Apple mint and bee balm for brewing a soothing tea or flavored honey.
  • Cantaloupe, honeydew melons, and strawberries to create fresh fruit salads.
  • Parsley, rosemary, thyme, basil, and onion chives for a traditional herb garden.

From Our Library