April 21, 2022
Lemon Verbena makes a beautiful addition to the garden for many reasons. It’s a hardy perennial plant, so you can plant it once and harvest it for years, and it often isn’t readily available at the grocery store—it’s even difficult to find at the Farmers Market. Hard to find herbs and veggies are some of my favorites to grow and, honestly, one of my main criteria when deciding what to plant in the garden. The fresh verbena leaves possess an exquisite flavor and fragrance and a much stronger expression than the dried ones. Hence my tendency to use it in its new state for herbal tea, cocktail garnishes, and to accompany fresh fruit.
This verdant perennial needs sunshine—about six to eightt hours, so pick out a wonderfully sunny spot. Quick to grow and lovely to smell, it performs beautifully in pots, but it can grow five to six feet high planted in the ground.
Over the years on the blog, I have shared a few of my favorite ways to utilize this prolific and pretty plant, including Apricot Jam With Lemon Verbena, Peach and Lemon Verbena Sorbet, and many other recipes in the book (check out the summer chapter!). The easiest way to showcase the plant’s fantastic flavor and fragrance is to use it as a garnish for a mocktail or cocktail (see the recipe below for my Summer Sonics). Also, forgo mint for a fruit salad and try lemon verbena in its place—you won’t be disappointed; it plays wonderfully well with melons and stone fruit.
Perhaps my favorite use of Lemon Verbena of all is in a cold brew tea. This is such a treat on a hot day (no need to fire up a kettle) and a delicious decaffeinated brew that beautifully reflects the unique flavor characteristics of the plant. Simply harvest a large handful of fresh leaves and gently rinse under the tap to displace any soil or critters. Then place the clean leaves in a large pitcher. Cover with cool water and place in the fridge for no less than four hours, strain over ice, and enjoy.
The fragrance is floral, lemony, and has slight vanilla notes—honestly one of my very favorite fragrances. Every time I’m in the garden, I rub the leaves on my wrists as a perfume—a tip I borrowed from Laura Ingalls (Can you tell I watched Little House on the Praire on a loop after school?)
Yet another reason to love it is the larger stems also make a fabulous addition to floral arrangements. The flowers on the sprigs start purple and turn white. Beauty all around!
I hope the Brits don’t mind my suggesting half tonic and half soda water for this cocktail. It’s so light and delicious and has less sugar. Rum, gin, vodka, and white port all work beautifully in a sonic, but my favorite is a white port, which adds a wonderful richness and is an awesome less-alcoholic option for day drinking. Garnish with lemon verbena and orange slice (dried or fresh) for a perfectly refreshing warm-weather drink.
BAR TIPS & SUPPLIES
FUN ICE Love your home ice program—make your own with molds, or visit a specialty grocery store for “fancy ice.” Try the Williams Sonoma King Cube Tray with Lid, or Penny Pound Ice from Bristol Farms.
PORTO Unlike most red ports, white ports can last after opening. Try Sandeman Porto Apitiv Reserve (yum).
SPARKLING WATER Try Aqua de Piedra or Topo Chico (these have bigger bubbles than other brands, and bigger bubbles hold up when diluted with alcohol and mixers).
TONIC Nowadays, almost every store has interesting tonic waters. Seek out something organic with natural ingredients and made without high-fructose corn syrup. There’s also tonic syrup from a few sources, which is a nice thing to have stocked in your bar—simply mix it with sparkling water.
4 ounces (½ cup) white port
2 ounces (¼ cup) chilled sparkling water
2 ounces (¼ cup) chilled tonic water
2 sprigs lemon verbena (garnish)
2 plum wedges and 2 orange wedges (garnish)
Fill 2 glasses with ice. Add port, sparkling water, and tonic water, dividing equally. Garnish with plum, orange wedges, and lemon verbena.