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Lemon Verbena

December 9, 2016 Back to Picks >

High on my list of must-have garden herbs is lemon verbena. The leaves of lemon verbena provide a wonderful lemon flavor and scent wherever they are used. Fresh leaves steeped in hot water make an excellent after dinner tea. It helps reduce spasm of the digestive tract and has a mild sedative effect. Dried leaves can be used in potpourri and other scented mixtures. Oil of lemon verbena can be used in lotions, perfumes, and massage oils. When I’m in my garden I sometimes take a leaf and crush it against my skin to release its delightful fragrance.

Lemon verbena is a shrubby herb with long pointed leaves. The stems are light green in spring but develop a khaki colored bark by mid-summer. It produces sprays of tiny lavender to white flowers in spring or fall, depending on how cold your climate is. Lemon verbena grows to ten feet in its native South American environs but I have rarely seen it taller than three feet.

When grown outdoors in the ground, lemon verbena is hardy to Zone 8 but during frosty weather it will lose all its leaves. The remaining branches look downright scraggly and you’ll wonder if you’ve lost the plant. Just clip the stems down to the ground and be patient. Once daytime temperatures move back into the 60s, you’ll see new leaves appearing at the base.

Lemon verbena can be a little awkward looking in the garden. Left to itself it creates a rather haphazard shape. Prune and harvest the leaves a couple of times during the growing season to keep it shaped nicely. If you grow your lemon verbena in a pot, try clipping it into a standard topiary.