Lemon Verbena – How To Grow, Preserve and Enjoy All YearOctober 25, 2008
One of my favorite blogs to read is Garden Rant. A few weeks ago a few of us got into a discussion about how to keep the winter blues away. I mentioned that preserving lemon verbena and enjoying its sunny, sunshine taste through winter was a way that helps me. Adding a splash of vodka to it to make a cocktail also helps brighten the mood. So, if you’re looking at your garden and wondering what to do with the last of the lemon verbena before your plant goes dormant, I suggest gathering up as many leaves as you can to save them for the dark months ahead.
But what if you don’t have a lemon verbena plant to work with or what if you’re reading this next spring to learn about lemon verbena? Well, here’s a tip. Buy a plant and put it in a sunny spot in the garden. This woody perennial may or may not survive winters in western washington, but I promise it is worth buying year-after-year for an unsurpassed lemondrop lemoniness fragrance and flavor. Starts are readily available in nurseries and farmer’s markets beginning in early spring. Even a 2″ start will become a good sized shrub in the garden once the heat kicks in for summer. If your plants take hold and become a returning shrub, give them room to become a good 5′ tall and wide.
So, how to harvest your lemon verbena… I try to tip mine back regularly to encourage branching and more leaves during the summer. Pinch to a node and you should be good to go. Just don’t take out more than 1/4 of the plant at any one cutting, and don’t pinch below a point you pinched earlier in the season (unless you take out the entire branch). Leaves freeze well, make a great herbal sugar paste and a wonderful simple syrup. Some will say that the taste doesn’t preserve well in a simple syrup. I think its pretty great. However, I will admit that the herbal sugar paste is a must have in any good kitchen.
Lemon Verbena Simple Syrup
- 1 big fist full of lemon verbena leaves, stems reserved
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 cup water
Heat water and dissolve sugar in it. Add leaves and stir to cover. Remove from heat and let steep about 20 minutes. Strain leaves from syrup.
To store: Pour into airtight container & put in fridge for up to about 3 weeks or so. Or pour into ice cube trays and let set over night. I suggest using the smallest cube size you can find in a tray. The cubes will not get icy-rock solid because of the high sugar content in the syrup. It will be more like a slightly mushy frozen fruit pop. Using small cube trays means it will freeze up faster and better. And, your portion sizes will be appropriate for recipes. This stuff is potent!
Reserved branches are great tossed on a grill to add fragrance. Or add to a potpourri mixture. Or just crack one apart now and again to take a big whiff of lemon sunshine fragrance.
Lemon Verbena sugar paste: Well folks. I have to say you’re going to have to figure this one out for yourselves or buy The Herbfarm Cookbook. Jerry Traunfeld taught me to make this paste in his book, and I’m not going to steal it here. Really, you want the book…and not just for this recipe! He offers growing tips and many other ways to use this and other great herbs.
Lemon Verbena Drop: I will give another shout out to Jerry Traunfeld for the Lemon Drop he offers in The Herbal Kitchen, but this is one I “McGyver’d”, if you will, on my own. This recipe makes one large cocktail. Reduce or omit orange liquer to reduce sweetness. Or add more lemon juice to make more tart.
- 2 Shots Vodka
- 1 t. orange liquer (Grand Marnier or Triple Sec)
- 1 lemon
- 1 lime
- 1/2 shot lemon verbena simple syrup or 1 tiny cube frozen lemon verbena syrup
- 1 T. Lemon Verbena sugar paste
Spread Lemon verbena sugar paste on a plate. Slice lemon in half and cut off one lemon slice to reserve. Cut one wedge off remaining lemon. Run lemon wedge around rim of martini glass. Dip glass rim into sugar paste to create sugar rim on glass. Set glass aside so sugar rim will harden.
Squeeze all of the lemon juice and lime juice, less the reserved slice, into a martini shaker (Should equate about 1 shot of fresh lemon-lime). Pour in vodka and orange liquer. Add simple syrup (if using syrup and not frozen cube). Add pinch of remaining sugar paste to shaker. Fill shaker with ice. Shake hard. Strain into martini glass.
Float lemon slice on top. Drop in lemon verbena frozen cube on top of lemon slice (if using).
And, if you’re a t-totaller (or just love sweet tea), check out this great iced tea recipe from Willi at Digginfood. It’s another great way to enjoy your Lemon Verbena. And, I bet you could adjust her recipe to use your reserved simple syrup. Just remember, a little lemon verbena simple syrup goes a long way!
Enjoy the taste of summer all year long!