Are you looking for some new ways to use lemon verbena in your recipes? We explore all the different ways to cook and bake with this strong scented lemony herb.
Lemon verbena’s fresh citrusy scent and taste can spice up a wide variety of foods and drinks. It’s often used in teas, both cold and hot. Lemon verbena can add zest to sweets—cakes, cookies, syrups, yogurt concoctions, and more.
It’s also used in savory salad dressings and meat sauces. You can even substitute lemon verbena leaves for actual lemon in many recipes.
Preparing Lemon Verbena for Cooking
Leaves are at their most fragrant just before the plant’s flowers open.
The most tender and flavorful leaves will be at the tips of the branches. Pinching these off will encourage your lemon verbena plant to branch out and become bushier.
The Herb Society of America recommends using these tender leaves to chop into dishes, reserving tougher leaves to steep in liquid.
Making Tea with Lemon Verbena
Lemon verbena makes a refreshing tea. Steep fresh or dried leaves for about 5 minutes in boiling water; then strain out and drink.
The University of Kentucky recommends about a teaspoon of dried herb leaves in two cups of water. I often make my herb teas stronger and usually double the volume when using fresh instead of dried herbs.
They suggest combining lemon verbena with borage, or with marjoram, and anise, or with basil, lemongrass, and lemon thyme. They also recommend using honey if any sweetener is wanted.
I prefer my herbal tea straight, without sweeteners, to overpower the herb flavors. Herb teas can also be frozen in ice cubes and used to flavor other beverages.
Using Lemon Verbena in Desserts
Lemon verbena leaves can be candied and used to decorate and flavor cakes and cookies. Brush them with egg white, then sprinkle them with sugar.
The Michigan State University website offers an excellent guide to candying flowers. The same process should work for leaves.
You can make your fresh lemon verbena into a syrup. The syrup can be drizzled into beverages or over sweets. It also works as a substitute for the liquid in pie, cookie, or cake recipes. This Washington Post recipe describes how to make freeze, thaw, and use the syrup.
Lemon verbena is used in many other dessert recipes, some of which are linked below.
Flavoring Savory Dishes with Lemon Verbena Oil or Butter
Lemon verbena is also used, as straight lemon might be, to flavor meat and fish dishes. Lemon verbena is often combined with ginger, garlic, green onions, cilantro, and mint.
Herbal oil or butter can be made ahead of time and added to savory dishes.
There are different ways to make herbal oils. The Kentucky Extension recommends gently heating olive oil or vegetable oil until it is warm, then adding herbs and letting them steep in it.
Cool this herb-infused oil, pour it into airtight containers, and use it for salads, marinades, and sautéing.
The Soil Born Farms project recommends blending 1 part grape seed oil to 2 parts lemon verbena in a food processor. Then strain out solids and add salt to taste. They say this will keep for up to a week in the refrigerator.
To make herbal butter, mix one tablespoon of fresh minced herbs into ½ cup of softened butter (real butter works better than margarine). Let the mixture stand at room temperature for 2 hours for flavor blending.
Store your herbal butter in the refrigerator for up to 1 month or freeze it for up to 3 months.
Lemon Verbena Recipes
Lemon Verbena Dip
This tangy, sweet lemony dip from the Herb Society of America can be used with fruit or cookies. Made with minced tender leaves of fresh lemon verbena, this recipe for lemon verbena dip is quick and simple to prepare.
Lemon Verbena Ice Cream
Chef David Lebovitz describes how to add a cool refreshing flavor to homemade ice cream. The recipe starts by simmering fresh lemon verbena leaves with milk, cream, and sugar.
This recipe requires an ice cream maker and a fair bit of time. If you don’t have that, skip on to the next dessert idea.
Poached Fruit in Lemon Verbena Syrup
You won’t need any specialized equipment for this cool lemon verbena desert from the Los Angeles Times. Fresh lemon verbena leaves are torn, simmered in syrup, and then poured over poached fruits. Start this far enough ahead so it has time to chill.
Lemon Verbena Pesto
Not all lemon verbena recipes belong to the dessert category. Classic pesto is made with garlic, basil, and nuts. But did you know you can substitute lemon verbena for basil to give a zingy variation?
The Soil Born Farms project gives one simple recipe, which they recommend tossing with grilled vegetables or chicken. You’ll need a blender or food processor to make this one.
Petrale Sole with Lemon Verbena Beurre Blanc
This recipe from the LA Times features chopped lemon verbena leaves mixed into a sauce made with vinegar, shallots, butter, and wine. They recommend setting aside more tips of fresh verbena to use as garnishes.
Lemon Verbena Vs. Lemon Balm
Lemon verbena and lemon balm are both used to give a fresh lemony flavor to food and drink. Either can be substituted for the other in recipes.
Lemon balm is easier to grow in cool climates because it is frost-hardy. Lemon verbena must be brought indoors for the winter in all but the warmest parts of the US. See our detailed guide on growing lemon verbena.
Lemon verbena is said to have the more intense flavor of the two herbs. SFGate adds that lemon verbena is more commonly used in desserts and lemon balm in savory dishes, but there are also many recipes that suggest savory uses for lemon balm.
There are many ways of using fragrant and versatile lemon verbena. Most recipes call for fresh leaves. You can make fresh leaves into syrups or herbal butters and freeze them for later use in recipes.
Any recipe is only a starting point. I usually put in more herbs than the official recipe calls for, and I often substitute ingredients I have on hand for ingredients the recipe suggests. You may want to make a dish according to the directions once and then change it to suit your own tastes.