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Lemon verbena

Aloysia triphylla

Tender Perennial

H 3 – 4 S12 – 15 Sun, Partial Shade

Aloysia triphylla is native to South America and grows to 15" height in Argentina and Chili where it is found on roadsides. The Spanish brought it to Europe where it was used in perfume. It has been a favorite for garden rooms in North America since its introduction in the 1800's. It was named after Maria Louisa, Princess of Parma in 1819. In my opinion, it has a clean, sharp lemon scent that makes it the Queen of lemon-scented herbs. In Gone with the Wind, lemon verbena is mentioned as Scarlet O'Hara's mother's favorite plant. One whiff of the smell, and I predict you will not want to live without this luscious smelling herb.

Harvest and Use: As a culinary, lemon verbena makes one of the best beverage teas, especially when blended with mint. It can also be used to brighten the taste of fish, poultry, veggie marinades, stuffing, salad dressing, jellies, and vinegar. Chop up leaves and put them in drinks. As the leaves are tough, remove them before serving. Finely crumbled dried leaves can be added to the batters of carrot, banana, or zucchini bread. Try adding some to cooked rice just before serving.

Dried leaves hold their scent well and are used in potpourris, sachets, and pillows. The oil has been used in cologne, toilet water, perfume, and soap. A strong infusion can be added to the bath. But as it is expensive, it has been replaced by the use of lemongrass.

Lemon verbena infused oil makes a wonderful massage oil. It blends well with lavender and rosemary. Use it in creams and lotions. A lemon verbena compress reduces puffiness around the eyes. A floral vinegar softens and freshens the skin. You can harvest sprigs all summer. For your main harvest though, cut back the plant halfway in midsummer and again before taking it in.

Cultivation and Propagation: Lemon verbena is not a showy plant, but it does have attractive leaves and should be the first on an aromatic garden list. It is an unassuming deciduous shrub with pointed leaves and white blooms that appear in summer. It is a zone 9 plant that is grown in a container everywhere else. It likes rich, well-drained soil and to be moist, but not soggy. Full sun and a pH of 6.5 keeps it productive. Apply fish emulsion regularly as it is a heavy feeder. Pinch the tips of the stems to keep it bushy. When bringing in for winter, cut away the thin spindly branches. Do not throw these away. They are aromatic and can be used to freshen a clothes drawer. The plant is deciduous, and it is normal for it to drop all its leaves when it goes dormant. Keep plants on the dry side and cool when dormant.

Lemon verbena is best propagated by cuttings taken in summer. Keep cuttings and the plants from which they are taken in the shade and well-watered as they wilt readily.

Pests: Mist and wash leaves, especially undersides, to keep it free of spider mites. Mites and whiteflies are notorious for loving lemon verbena and will infest plants unless they are monitored carefully and often.