Thursday, June 15, 2006

Lemon Verbena

Prairial 27
Verbena (Verveine)

I went to the store and bought a verbena, in preparation for this day, but I seem to have bought the wrong plant for I realize now that the plant of the day in the French Republican Calendar is the Lemon Verbena (vervaine citronelle in France), which is not related to the garden Verbena which I bought (probably verbena Canadensis).

The lemon verbena is native to South America and was brought to Spain around the 17th century. Its Latin name is Aloysia triphylla. Triphylla comes from the way three leaves grow from a single node on the stem. The genus name, Aloysia, supposedly honors Queen Louisa, the wife of King Carlos IV of Spain (1751-1819). The plant is also known as Herb Louisa in English, and in other languages, for instance, Spanish herba luisa. The species name (vervain) means “leafy branch” in Latin.

Lemon verbena is an herb with leaves, which when crushed, smell even more lemony than lemons. Once a popular garden plant, now it is most often grown in containers and indoors, except in mild climates. The plant is deciduous, dropping all its leaves after a frost. It is a woody shrub, with long lance-like leaves and tiny purple tubular flowers.

The leaves are used to flavor fish and chicken dishes, but are most popular in sweet dishes and combined with fruit. They are also used to flavor alcoholic beverages and in making cologne and perfume. Make a simple infusion from the leaves to add to a bath. Rodale’s recommends putting sprigs of lemon verbena in finger bowls at a dinner party, adding the dried, crumbled leaves to batter when baking carrot, banana or zucchini bread, and sprinkling minced leaves over rice before serving it.

The French enjoy a tea made from the leaves called Verveine citronelle. For a more subtle flavor, add a single leaf to a cup of black tea. The flowers can also be used to make tea. The tea is good for colds, sinus congestions and fevers; it is calming in cases of nervousness, insomnia and stress; and it aids digestion and eases cramps.

Book References:
Kowalchik, Claire and William H Hylton, Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs
Preus, Mary, The Northwest Herb Lover’s Handbook, Sasquatch 2000
Rose, Jeanne, Herbs & Things, Grosset Dunlap

Web References:
Katzer, Gernot, “Lemon Verbena,” from Gernot Katzer’s Spice Pages
Great pictures of lemon verbena and some interesting etymology

Mountain Valley Growers provides two cool recipes (one alcoholic and the other for a tarragon/lemon verbena sorbet) plus you can buy a plant from them:

Illustration from Mary Preus’s wonderful book on herbs

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