A small shrub from South America, lemon verbena (Aloysia triphylla) is a delightful plant in the garden. Because it is a tender perennial, I grow two mother plants in pots that come in the house or the greenhouse in winter, and make cuttings every spring that I plant in the garden once they have rooted. It’s amazing how fast they grow once they are planted out: they’ll give me plenty of leaves for all sorts of uses. I have trained my potted plants as topiaries, but in its natural habitat lemon-verbena grows as a multi-branched, airy shrub up to 10 foot tall. In a sheltered dry-in-winter place, I suspect lemon verbena would perennialize in Zone 7: the plant would die down but new shoots would come from the roots in spring. The plant itself looks better in the ground, healthier, darker green and lusher – one does not have too keep watering it as in pots. Last year, I left one of my containers out when the temperature dropped to below 20 degree F several night in the row. The top growth died, but new shoots came from the roots, and the plant is now perfectly healthy – still in it pot. The picture above is a healthy specimen growing in a container at Morningside Farm & Nursery in Griffinsburg, VA.
The white flowers are rather small and the sweet lemon fragrance come from the crushed or brushed leaves. Plant it where you can brush against it as you go by – it’s a wonderful, slightly haunting smell. Great for delicately scenting cloth, for pot pourri or for wreaths (the flexible fresh branches are easy to fashion into a wreath that will just dry over a few weeks), it also makes a pleasant tea and is wonderful to make into fragrant syrup to poach fruit. It can also be infused for sorbet, ice-cream, flan, custard etc. I understand that lemon-verbena marries very nicely with fish – something I have not yet tried.
What I have tried – with most delicious results – is to use lemon verbena for sorbet and to poach fruits. It’s particularly wonderful with peaches , and will come handy if you ever face some peaches that are slightly under ripe, that you don’t have time to ripen, and that you must serve now. A quick poaching in lemon verbena syrup will elevate them to another dimension. Using fully ripe peaches will yield commensurably tastier results. Guests are always intrigued by the taste. The two recipes provided below (Lemon-Verbena Poached Peaches and Lemon-Verbena Syrup) are more guidelines than recipes per se. The hardest part will be to locate a lemon verbena plant. I have noted that it’s becoming increasingly easier to find, many good herb plant shops carry it.
Lemon-Verbena Syrup: Combine 2 cups sugar & 2 cup water in sauce pan, and bring to boil. Stir to dissolve syrup. Bring to boil. Turn the heat off, add a handful of lemon verbena leaves. Cover let steep until cool. Take out the leaves if wanted (making sure to press on them to extract as much liquid as possible) or leave in for a more intense flavor. Transfer to glass jar and refrigerate. Use to flavor iced tea, for sorbet and for cocktail drinks (very good in a margarita or in any drinks with citrus juice or liquor).
Lemon-Verbena Poached Peaches
– 4 lb yellow peaches, washed, halved and stoned (Or less, use one or two peaches per person)
– 1 ½ cup water
– 1 ½ cups sugar
– 4 large sprigs lemon verbena
– bring water and sugar to boil stirring to dissolve sugar
– add lemon verbena and peaches. Bring back to boil, reduce heat and simmer until peaches are tender – 6 to 10 minutes depending on ripeness.
– Take out of syrup, peel if desired. Let cool.
– Serve cool, with a tablespoon of syrup but not ice-cold by themselves or with fresh whipped cream or home-made Philadelphia-style vanilla ice cream
Note: you can reuse the syrup for another batch, and another. It will become a peach and lemon verbena syrup. As it thickens, notice that it’s quite nice to use in fresh fruit salad or on your morning pancakes.
Locavore Log: peaches from an orchard down the road, lemon verbena from the garden, cream and half & half, regionally local.