What To Do With Lemon Verbena

Brooke Newberry
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Sounds exotic, looks pretty and smells amazing.  We’d take it to dinner. Literally.  Lemon verbena is a lovely woody shrub with long, glossy leaves and tiny, purple tubular flowers that spans 6 feet tall and 8 feet wide.  She’s happy in the ground in warmer climates but is also content when grown in containers and indoors.  When bruised or crushed the leaves emit a powerful lemon scent, making this herb an aromatic choice for planting near outdoor living areas and garden paths.

So, what to do with her? Consider using the herb as you would use lemon zest.  Lemon verbena’s flavor carries the distinct flavor of lemons (without the acidity of the fruit’s actual pulp) and has a fragrant garden-green essence that comes from the plant.

The leaves can be used to perk up savory meat dishes, but they really sparkle in sweet fruit dishes and desserts.  They’re also popular in cocktails, teas, and in making cologne and perfume.  Lemon verbena’s leaves are tough and leathery, so a rough chop on a sturdy cutting board or mincing them with a food processor is best.  Often it’s easiest to use a whole leaf to season a dish and remove it after cooking and before serving.  Here are some simple ideas for working with this fragrant marvel below:


  • Steep lemon verbena in milk or cream for ice cream, sorbet, custard or pudding.  There are tons online.  These dessert recipes will require straining the leaves after cooking.
  • In a sealed container, submerge a few leaves in granulated sugar and leave for 2 days.  Use infused sugar for sugar cookie recipes and sprinkle on top of pastries.
  • Make herbaceous salad dressings or marinades.  Use to infuse brines for grilling pork chops and chicken. Try this lemon verbena salad dressing made with Greek yogurt.
  • Sprinkle minced leaves over peas and brown rice just before serving it.
  • Add to fruit and vegetable quick bread batters.
  • Add just a sprig to cold, light-bodied white wine.
  • Place whole leaves on top of meat or fish.  Sear in a skillet, verbena side down first.
  • Like dill in your tuna salad or chicken salad?  Use chopped verbena as a substitute, or in addition to a zing.
  • Lemon Verbena is great in fruit desserts.  Learn how to pair it with the proper cobbler recipe here.
  • Combine with lavender and sage for a lovely trifecta (think cocktails and desserts).
  • Blend with basil for punchy pesto.
  • Add lemon verbena as an unexpected touch to an aioli recipe.  Serve with fries, fish, or a Spanish tortilla.
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