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More Lemon than Lemons - Lemon Scented Verbena

Posted on 17th Feb 2011 @ 12:48 PM

More Lemon than Lemons

Aloysia triphylla – Lemon Scented Verbena -  Article by Clive Larkhamlemon-verbena-leaves-and-flowers.jpg

One of the most common fragrances seems to be lemon or citrus.  Many genera have lemon scented varieties.  In some cases they are man selected cultivars and in others they are species. 

They range from magnificent trees like the Lemon Scented Gum (Corymbia citriodora) through medium sized shrubs like Lemon Scented Bottlebrush (Callistemon citrinus) and  Lemon Gernanium (Pelargonium crispum) to small shrubs like Lemon Myrtle (Backhousiana citriodora).  There are also a range of herbs like Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) and Lemon (Thyme Thymus citriodora).  There are also many cultivars of plants for which the species don’t have a lemon scent but man has found mutations that do.  Such as Lemon Mint and Lemon Basil.


Many of these are excellent for adding a lemon flavour to food and drinks with out the acidity of lemons.  They all have that delightful, refreshing fragrance which is especially strong in the crushed foliage.  Most of them are also attractive plants for various positions in the garden. 

The lemon scent comes from the make up of the constituent volatile oils.  There are several that give the lemon fragrance and it is the type and structure of the oils along with the other oils present that govern the fragrance that we are able to smell.  The most common one is citral but it is the others that give the fragrance more depth.  Limone and citronella are just two of these.  The subject of volatile oils is a whole discipline in itself and there a books, articles and numerous research projects on the uses, benefits and make up of lemon scented ones.


My favourite for many reasons is Aloysia triphylla or Lemon Scented Verbena.  Aloyisa triphylla  is a member of the Verbenacae family which is where it gets its common name of Lemon Scented Verbena.  It is also know as Lippia citriodora

It originates in South America (mainly Chile and Argentina) where it has been used for centuries.   It is one of the early plants (late seventeenth century) to be taken form the South America to Europe where it quickly became a popular garden plant.  It also has the common name of Herb Louisa supposedly in honour of Princess Maria Lousia of Parma. 


It is a large shrub (2-5m tall) with lime green lanceolate leaves and masses of small pale flowers in late spring and summer.  The flowers make a cloud of white blossom that is quite stunning.  It prefers a well drained soil with a sunny aspect.  It likes slight poor soils and is tolerant of moderate frosts. 

In warmer climates it is an evergreen and in the colder regions it will loose its leaves in early winter and re-foliate as soon as it gets some sun and warm air.  There is also a great cultivar with a tangy lime-citrus fragrance – Lime Verbena.


The leaves have one of the strongest lemon scents.  The oil consists mainly of borneol, citral, dipentene, geraniol, limonene, linalool, myrcene and nerol.  It is an important oil in aromatherapy and the perfume industry and attracts quite good prices on the wholesale markets.  It is produced by steam distillation of the foliage in late summer.


There are many ways it can be used in the kitchen (lemon or Lime form).  One of the simplest is as a tea or cold summer drink.  Simply pick three or four medium sized leaves, place in a cup and fill with boiling water.  Let sit for 2 – 5 minutes then drink.  A refreshing lemon tea with out any nasties.  Add some fresh mint leaves, steep for a bit longer then mix with chilled mineral water for a delicious summer drink – no sugars, no colours and no chemicals.  Also good as the citrus flavour for home made margaritas.  The leaves are good in stir fries and most seafood dishes.  Place some fresh salmon on foil and cover with a mixture of fresh coriander, tarragon and lemon verbena leaves then wrap and bake for 15 to 20 minutes.