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Lemon Verbena

( Originally Published 1933 )


Verbenaceae Perennial

The lemon verbena is a subshrub from Chile and Peru, and was imported into Europe in 1784, where it has become naturalized in Italy and other portions of Europe, and is popular in gardens. It is also grown in India, Martinique, and Réunion (South Africa). Where the winters are severe, the lemon verbena is not hardy. It is a leafy shrub, growing, some say, to five feet and others to ten feet in height. In pots we have seen them reach four feet.

Root. The roots are stringy and white.

Stem. The stems are woody and branching, a little grooved, slightly downy, and marked with red.

Leaf. The leaves are somewhat verticillate, of a crisp texture, light yellow-green, oblong, but terminating in a point. They are slender, entire, shiny above, and dull be-low, rough to touch, with one central vein, and are two to three inches long. When brushed against by the clothing or the hands they give off a pleasant lemon scent with something of the lemon rind in it.

Flower. The flowers, blooming in summer and autumn, are very small and arranged in spikes, or terminal panicles, often six to seven inches long, made up of smaller opposite spikes three inches long. They are white with purplish tubes, and are not especially decorative.


The leaves are used for flavor and perfume. Infused in a cold fruit drink such as barley water, lemon squash, and iced tea, they are said to enhance the flavor of the lemon in the drinks, and make it taste like fresh limes. The dried leaves are said by some to be good as teas, but we found them tasteless. Perhaps this is owing to the climate. We float a few of the leaves in the finger bowls, flavor our jellies with them, and place a leaf on a piece of honeydew melon instead of a slice of lemon.


In northern countries they must be grown either as bedding plants, or in pots, and set out after all danger from frost is past, for they blacken and shrivel at the very first breath of winter which leaves geraniums and dahlias quite unharmed. A friend, however, kept hers in the cold cellar of an unheated house during the winter and did not water them. When stored in a heated cellar they should be watered about once a week.

This is through cuttings of half-ripened wood which strike readily in summer or early spring under glass.

Harvest. The leaves are picked as needed all through the summer.

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