Have you discovered Lemon Verbena?
“Joe held the cup to her lips, and she drank the tea in little sips, breathing in over it to cool it. That’s enough, she said when the cup was only half empty. How was the night?”
East of Eden, John Steinbeck
Have you discovered lemon verbena? It’s an easy to grow herb that has the scent and flavor of lemon. It’s sweeter than a regular lemon, even sweeter and milder than a Meyer lemon. The older leaves are tougher and best for tea. The newer, more tender leaves are easier to chop finely to use in baking. If combined with lemon zest, the whole lemony thing gains intensity. It can be used in place of lemon zest in most recipes. Classic shortbread cookies flecked with lemon verbena and lemon zest are a lemon lovers dream. I’ve infused milk with the leaves and then made a mildly herbaceous and lemony cake. Pound cake or shortcake destined for soaking up summer berries and their juice sing with it’s assistance. For more lemon verbena joy Bon Appetit has several recipes and so does The Kitchn.
Lemon verbena flourishes in our coastal climate with mild winters. My old plant still produces more leaves than I can use. You won’t find fresh it at the grocery store, it’s not popular enough to sell commercially and its’ shelf life is short. Sometimes it will appear at a farmers’ market. My plant had gotten woody and scraggly and in need of a good trimming. Perfect timing for this month’s Food in Jar Mastery Challenge. It was time to dry the overabundance of summer leaves to make lemon verbena tea for the winter. This was an easy and rewarding end-of-summer project. More importantly, when you dry your own herbs they will always be fresher and have more vibrant flavor than store bought. You will know exactly where your tea came from, knowledge that is often elusive in the grocery store isles.
There are several ways to dry lemon verbena leaves, even in a microwave. I opted for low tech, cutting back the plant, trimming the stems into more-or-less even lengths and wrapping several stalks together. The bunches were hung upside down to dry, encouraging all the lemon verbena oil to flow down into the leaves. Find a place to dry the stalks out of direct sunshine, but where air can circulate around the leaves. The drying process is complete when the lemon verbena leaves have lost all their moisture and easily crumble when rubbed together. If the leaves are not completely dry they will mold when stored.
Do you have a preference, herbal tea or tisane? It’s confusing, both terms can mean the same thing. What we commonly call herbal tea is really a tisane of herbs or spices. Technically a tea must contain some type of tea, black, green or white. To make Lemon verbena tea or a tisane, the leaves can be either fresh or dried. Lemon verbena combined with mint makes a very soothing drink. Mixed with green tea, lemon verbena becomes the accent flavor. In addition to all the lemony goodness, lemon verbena is said to have many health benefits.
|Lemon Verbena Tea or Tisane|
|1/4C||fresh lemon verbena leaves or 1T dried and crumbled leaves|
|1C||Hot water, not boiling|
- Make lemon verbena tea or tisane with either fresh or dried leaves. When making tea or a tisane with fresh lemon verbena bruise or tear apart the leaves to release more flavor. Then add the hot, near boiling, water to the cup or tea pot. Let steep 10 minutes, or longer if you like. Strain out the leaves and enjoy. For iced tea, just pour over ice.
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