Get down and dirty in the garden
I have been spending too much time on traveling posts and I need to stay in the garden and do a post on my favorite herbs like lemon verbena. I addressed this question in one of my early posts for The Herb Companion called The Lemon Verbena Lady’s Favorite Herb, which included my favorite recipe for Lemon Verbena Bread from my favorite herb magazine, The Herb Companion.
If you are in the northern part of the United States, lemon verbena is only a tender perennial. I have had it come back in my garden, but it usually does not make it through our cold and wet winters. I have three lemon verbenas in my garden this summer. I must admit to you that I did not get my lemon verbena through the winter last year inside! With a little patience, you can get your lemon verbena through the winter. If you live in the northern part of the United States and if you have the space, you must dig up and bring in your lemon verbena. We usually leave one of our plants in a container all summer long. This lemon verbena in the photo below has never grown very well. It was neglected a bit and overgrown by the old-fashioned rose geraniums. The soil may not be as amended as it might need to be. It is just perfect though to be placed into a container and come inside. We are usually scrambling the night of the first frost to dig and put tender herbs into containers! Please be more prepared than The Herbal Husband and I are! Do it now!
Once inside, a lemon verbena usually (not always) drops its leaves and plays dead. You can dry those leaves and make them into a tea or potpourri. I usually cut the plant back to about one foot just after bringing it inside. It will go dormant. Don’t forget to water it every 7 to 10 days or stick your finger in until you reach that second knuckle and make sure it needs to be watered. You can put it in a southern exposure (where we place ours) or in a dark place. Just don’t forget to water it if it is in the dark.
The lemon verbena that has done the best was where a pineapple sage was planted last year. We just discovered today though that the lemon verbena doing the best is being attacked by the brown marmorated stink bug. Here is the damage that we found on the stem of the lemon verbena.
It may be depositing eggs for next season. The stink bug lays eggs into mid-October. The slits are causing the lemon verbena to produce new foliage, a good thing. We will make sure to cut these plants to the ground though and destroy the stems to limit the stink bug population next season. It looks like there is only one generation in Pennsylvania, but if the temperatures are right like warm spring and summer temperatures, there could be two or three.
I have additional photos and information from the University of Maryland extension website, which has a group of photos showing a couple of the stages of BMSB and more importantly says that the eggs are a light green color and are laid on the underside of leaves. The information talks about egg laying in August. Pennsylvania would be a little later because our temperatures are slightly cooler so that would make the time slightly different. They also mentioned on this site that a predator may not be ready for three years! Get that jar with soapy water out and ready. I think you are going to be busy! The Brown Mamorated Stink Bug may give the four-lined plant bug a run for its money! Always look for a university/extension website or your local county extension office when you are looking for solutions to your diseases and insects of your herbs. (See the national extension office map to find an extension office near you.)
The Herbal Husband thinks that the stink bug likes the lemon-flavored sap of the lemon verbena. Don’t you wish that were true! It is not true that the sap in the trunk of the lemon verbena is lemon flavored! The sting bug is becoming a serious pest of agricultural crops such as fruit and vegetables in the mid-Atlantic states and probably in other parts of the country shortly. They are a big nuisance bug in people’s homes and businesses. They are selling traps to catch and kill them. The Herbal Husband and I have just been smashing them as we see them. They talk about vacuuming them up to get rid of them in the home. I would have a dedicated vacuum cleaner for that because they will start to stink if you are killing enough of them at one time. There is also the possibility of a predator like the Asian Wasp being able to kill the stink bug. Hopefully that is true. Stay tuned!
This is the lemon verbena I will use to make my jelly, which I have shared my recipe in a post called A Summertime Favorite: Lemon Verbena Jelly because it seems that the stink bug has not affected the leaves. I only use fresh lemon verbena leaves in cooking. The midrib of the lemon verbena leaf needs to be removed unless the leaves are ground to a powder. I have some additional recipes using lemon verbena in cooking and I will try them out on The Herbal Husband and share them with you.
One of the easiest ways to use lemon verbena leaves is to make lemon verbena sugar. Take a jar (empty mayonnaise jars work very well.) and layer a cup or two of sugar with fresh lemon verbena leaves. Start with sugar on the bottom and then put 5 or 6 leaves per layer and end with sugar on the top layer. You should leave it uncovered for about two weeks unless the vinegar gnats start to collect. You may have to put plastic wrap on the top and stir it with a spoon or fork occasionally. That way the leaves will infuse the sugar and not become hard and clumpy with the moisture in the leaves. The sugar is delicious on cereal, in your favorite sugar cookie recipe and in iced tea or other iced drinks and in hot tea as well.
The third lemon verbena has grown modestly because it was purchased late in the season. I will use this one for tea or potpourri.
Photos courtesy Nancy Heraud
Lemon verbena keeps its clean lemon fragrance when dried. I dry the leaves and use them in potpourris and tea blends. It is very easily done by hanging branches in the attic, closet or basement and also by placing the leaves on a screen of some kind for good air circulation. All of the tea blends I make start with dried lemon verbena. It works very well in combination with any of the lemon herbs, such as lemon basil, lemon grass, lemon balm or lemon thyme. Also it combines extremely with pineapple mint, peppermint or spearmint. Because French tarragon does not dry very well, I use mint marigold (Tagetes lucida) or what some in Texas call Texas tarragon. Anise hyssop would be another choice for an anise note in tea. The other group I use with lemon verbena in tea would be rose or lemon geranium leaves. Very delightful!
Since I am known as Lemon Verbena Lady on my blog and at The Herb Companion, I should be writing more about my favorite herb! Thanks for reminding me! Hope if you are going to the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR on September 25 that you will stop by the Eating Well Stage at 3:00 PM because I will be demonstrating The Zen of Making Herbal Jelly and you will get to try some interesting flavors of herbal jellies. Until next time, I hope if you have a comment or question, you can always e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.