It is hard to find a single flavor more popular in worldwide cuisines than lemon. We use the fruit of the lemon tree to get this flavor, but there are many that can give us different subtle shades of lemon flavor. Some examples would be citron, lime, kaffir lime, lemongrass, lemon balm, and one of my favorites, lemon verbena. It is one that we don’t use very much in North America, but is very popular in Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Lemon verbena comes to us from South America. While it is native to Argentina and Chile, it is also grown in Australia, New Zealand and the temperate regions of Europe. It was brought to Europe in the late 1700s by the Spanish. It became very popular in the Victorian era for its long lasting lemon scent. During the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century lemon verbena was referred to as ‘herb of Louise’ and ‘lemon Louise’. Both the leaves and the flowers of the plant may be used in food preparation.
Just 100 years ago, lemon verbena was a common ornamental plant in European gardens, but today it is very rarely found. The herb’s culinary merits have also fallen into oblivion. In Gone with the Wind, lemon verbena is mentioned as Scarlet O’Hara’s mother’s favorite plant.
A very potent herb, lemon verbena, can be used in savory stuffings and sauces, or to add a lemony flavor to fish and poultry dishes, vegetable marinades, salad dressings, jams, puddings, and beverages, or used to flavor cakes and ice cream. At the store I have partnered it with salt, pepper, garlic, and lemon zest to come up with a citrus combination that is great on chicken, fish, or green vegetables. 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. It is absolutely incredible what it does when added to a bowl of prepared fruit.