Lemon verbena (Aloysia citriodora), a lemon-scented herb native to South America, has numerous culinary, aromatherapy and medicinal uses. It was first introduced to Europe by Spanish traders and explorers, and its use soon spread across the world. About 20 different species of the plant are currently found growing in the United States. The plant was once cultivated commercially in Europe for its fragrant essential oil, but was soon replaced by lemon grass as a less expensive alternative. Today, lemon verbena oil and the herb itself are still widely used by herbalists and natural healers.
The many culinary lemon verbena uses include flavoring candies and desserts, adding fragrance to stews and soups, and as an alternative to lemon zest in recipes. The herb combines marvelously with fish, poultry and fresh fruit. Its almost flowery taste is more complex than plain lemon, lemon zest or even lemon balm. The herb also makes a fantastic addition to homemade ice creams, sorbets and lemonades. Lemon-scented vinegar is sometimes made by steeping fresh lemon verbena leaves in vinegar for several weeks. Dried and powdered leaves are often used as a meat rub and can impart their flavor to marinades and stuffing.
Because of its strong fragrance, lemon verbena is often used in aromatherapy. The plant's essential oil is believed to have relaxing properties, and many healers use it to reduce stress and anxiety in nervous patients. The oil may also enhance the appetite and stimulate digestion when inhaled. In cases of sinusitis or respiratory infection, lemon verbena oil may help reduce congestion and bronchial inflammation. Like other citrus scents, lemon verbena is considered refreshing, uplifting and energizing.
Lemon verbena contains numerous phytochemicals, or non-nutritional plant compounds, that may be useful in the prevention of disease. The plant may provide benefit for sufferers of digestive upsets, nervous tension, headaches and depression. Other common medicinal uses include reducing flatulence, treating diarrhea, reducing body temperature during fevers, preventing asthma symptoms, regulating the menstrual cycle and lessening the effects of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Externally, the herb may help reduce cellulite, heal cold sores and boils, and reduce the appearance of acne.
Using Lemon Verbena
Internally, lemon verbena is most often taken as a tea. To make, steep 1 tsp. dried or 1 tbsp. fresh leaves in 1 cup boiling water for 10 to 15 minutes, strain, sweeten with honey and drink. This tea also makes a refreshing cold beverage, or the leaves can be combined with other less appealing herbs to enhance flavor.
Externally, the herb is applied in the form of poultices and washes. To make a poultice, crush the fresh leaves and combine with water to help them stick together. Apply to the affected area, cover with a thin towel or layer of cheesecloth, and tape into place. Change once or twice a day. To make a wash, simply prepare the tea as described above and apply to the affected area. Lemon verbena essential oil is used topically in many natural cosmetics for reducing cellulite and treating acne.