About This Plant
Lemon Verbena is native to Chile and Argentina and is a tender perennial shrub–meaning it is happy growing as a perennial in frost-free places. In colder climates it will need some special care. In its native habitat it grows 4 to 10 feet tall or more. In colder climates it’s more likely to grow 2 to 3 feet tall and equally wide. It can be severely damaged by frost and is often planted in pots that can be moved indoors in cold temperatures. Outdoor plants can also be covered with evergreen branches when temps dip below freezing. Its roots can also be dug up and stored in moist sand or peat moss through the winter in a cool, dark, frost-free place. The shrub is deciduous and will lose its leaves in the Fall, growing them back in the Spring. Trimming it back in the Spring will keep its growth tidy as it does have a tendency to grow rangy if not kept in check. It does quite well tolerating heat.
Lemon Verbena is often credited to have the best lemon fragrance of the lemon-scented herbs and is intensely lemon flavored. It was brought from South America to the Mediterranean in the 17th century where it was cultivated for its oil for perfume and cosmetics until cheaper Lemongrass oil replaced it. It escaped cultivation in the Meditteranean and can be found growing wild.
It forms large clumps and has narrow lance-shaped chartreuse-green leaves 3 to 4 inches long. The leaves grow in whorls of three or four to a stem and stems become woody with age. Some leaves are slightly hairy. It blooms late Summer to early Autumn and has spikes of fragrant tiny tubular, white to pale lavender-colored flowers that grow in airy spikes at the end of the stems. The oil glands are on the underside of the leaf and are used to cool the plant during hot summers. Simply crushing the leaves or rubbing against them releases the intensely lemony scent.
Victorian women would sew leaves of Lemon Verbena into the darts of their dresses and tuck them into hankies. The refreshing scent can help you feel more peaceful and is said to stimulate creativity and help to overcome inertia and listlessness. It can be used in cooking and pairs well with both sweet and savory dishes.
Lemon Verbena is difficult to start from seed as germination is very slow. It is typically grown from tip cuttings and rooted indoors in mid- to late summer. Start 4 to 6-inch cuttings in a mix of peat moss and perlite.
Plant out rooted cuttings after the weather has warmed in early summer. Plant 1” deep.
Space plants 12 to 15 inches apart.
Lemon Verbena grows in full sun. Full sun yields the best growth and the most flavorful leaves. Plants grown in the southernmost and desert regions benefit from light afternoon shade. In more northern areas, planting the shrub near a white wall or fence will surround the plant with reflected light which will enhance its growth. Plants that receive more shade than sun will become spindly and sprawling and the leaves will lack strong essential oil leves. Planting Lemon Verbena along paths and patios will allow you to frequently bump against it or grab leaves to crush and enjoy the lemony fragrance. Cold-area planting should be done at the earliest possible time in Spring so that the plant can become well established before Winter.
It prefers a well-drained humus-rich soil and is a heavy feeder. It will benefit from compost teas and sprays of diluted fish emulsion during the growing season. It grows best in evenly moist soil. If allowed to dry out, it will shed its leaves. For bushy growth, pinch away the growing tips or cut it back by halt in mid-Summer and again in Autumn. It can be grown in containers that are at least 12 inches deep and wide. Water is sparingly and pinch back to keep it compact. Lemon Verbena typically drops its leaves if temps dip below 40 degrees, entering dormancy. Leaf drop can also be triggered by root disturbances, intense cold drafts, quick temperature change or transplanting.
Leaves can be harvested anytime after plant is 8 inches tall. Essential oils in the leaves are strongest at flowering.
After Lemon Verbena flowers, small seed pods will form. To harvest seed, wait for the entire pod and stem to brown and dry. Remove the pods and open them up over a container. Inside you will find numerous very tiny black seeds.
Lemon Verbena is commonly propagated from stem cuttings. Cuttings can be placed in a jar of water to root prior to planting in potting soil, or placed in moist peat moss and perlite to root.
- Cultivated for its lemon-scented oils, used to scent soaps and cosmetics; oils do have skin-sensitising and phototoxic properties
- Culinary–used for both sweet and savory dishes
- Used to flavor beverages, such as cocktails and mocktails
Lemon Verbena is an incredibly versatile herb, able to be put to use wherever a bright lemon flavor is desired. The young leaves are sweet and tender and may be eaten raw in pestos, vinegars and salads. The larger or older leaves can be stiff, tough, and leathery. They can be minced very fine prior to used, or used whole and removed before serving. Leaves can be used in marinades, infusing oils, or making syrups. Lemon Verbena pairs well with chiles, cilantro, garlic, and mint. It is often used to season meat dishes.
Lemon Verbena can also be used to make both hot or iced teas. It also can be used in creative ways to flavor alcoholic drinks or non-alcoholic mocktails.
The rich essential oils of Lemon Verbena are commonly used in herbal remedies for digestive ailments, fever, and depression. It makes a very pleasant tea to be used for digestive disorders. Its scent is very soothing and calming. It is used to awaken sensual awareness with its aphrodisiac-like effects.
Lemon Verbena is native to both Chile and Argentina.