By: Mary H. Dyer, Credentialed Garden Writer
Verbena is a tough little plant that thrives in punishing heat, direct sunlight and nearly any type of well-drained soil. In fact, verbena doesn’t appreciate being pampered and prefers being left alone. Once you’ve grown a crop of this amazing herb, what are the uses for verbena? Read on to learn more about the many ways to use verbena.
There have been many ways to use verbena plants – most often vervain varieties or that of lemon verbena. Victorian ladies valued the refreshing scent of lemon verbena, often tucking a sprig into a hanky or rubbing a leaf on the back of their neck, but what about verbena in cooking, and verbena as medicine?
Verbena may contain powerful anti-inflammatory compounds, and the above-ground parts of verbena plants have been used to treat a number of conditions and complaints. For example, the plant may relieve pain associated with arthritis or gout. Additionally, many people use verbena to treat bruises, burns, itching, and other skin conditions.
Verbena may relieve symptoms of the common cold and upper respiratory problems. A verbena gargle may sooth sore throat. Verbena is sometimes used to treat sinus problems, often in combination with other herbs.
Some people think verbena may be an effective treatment for kidney and liver problems, urinary tract disorders, gall bladder disease, and digestive problems, including constipation, diarrhea, and gas. Although it hasn’t been proven, verbena is sometimes thought to be an effective treatment for depression and anxiety.
Note: Don’t use verbena (or any other herb) without discussing your health problem with a physician or other health care provider.
There are many types of verbena, and while many are attractive, the flavor is bitter and unpleasant. Lemon verbena, however, provides a citrusy aroma and lemon-like flavor to a long list of dishes. For this reason, using lemon verbena in cooking is a common practice.
Keep in mind that the flavor is quite intense, so use a light touch when adding lemon verbena leaves to your culinary dishes, such as:
Disclaimer: The contents of this article is for educational and gardening purposes only. Before using or ingesting ANY herb or plant for medicinal purposes or otherwise, please consult a physician or a medical herbalist for advice.
This article was last updated on
Emily Dashiell, ND, is a licensed naturopathic doctor who has worked in group and private practice settings over the last 15 years. She is in private practice in Santa Monica, California.
Vervain (Verbena officinalis) is a flowering plant in the verbena family of herbs. While there are well over 250 species of verbena, vervain refers specifically to the types used for medicinal purposes. In addition to V. officinalis, less common varietals include blue vervain (V. hastata) and white vervain (V. urticifolia).
Verbena officinalis is a perennial plant with delicate, jagged leaves and small, five-petaled blossoms. Although vervain has no scent, alternative practitioners believe that vervain has anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antispasmodic, and analgesic (pain-relieving) properties beneficial to one's health.
Vervain is also referred to as American blue verbena, simpler's joy, holy herb, mosquito plant, and wild hyssop. In traditional Chinese medicine, it is known as mǎ biān cǎo.
Verbena officinalis should not be confused with lemon verbena, a garden herb used for cooking that also has medicinal properties.
Lemon verbena, also known as lemon beebrush, Aloysia citriodora or Lippia citriodora, is a flowering plant that belongs to the family Verbenaceae. This herb originated from Chile and Argentina where warmer climates encourage it to grow up to 3 meters high. Today, they can be purchased from garden stores and planted in a pot. I personally had no luck with potting my seedling and had to transplant it directly in the ground. Once I did, it grew tall and bushy. In my experience, it also seems to like the warm climate here in Southern California.
Just brushing past a lemon verbena makes you smile. The scent is like lemon popsicles on a hot, sticky July day, cool, refreshing, sweet, and invigorating. Although lemon verbena grows in zone 8 to 10, I successfully overwintered a bush in Mission, BC in zone 7b, inside an unheated greenhouse. The perennial shrub reached 6 feet in height and was cut back every year. In zone 3, where I currently garden, it is a container plant that spends the summers inside a pot in the greenhouse and comes in for the winter. I buy it as a bedding herb. Lemon Verbena seed is sterile so it must be propagated by cuttings. Thankfully, it roots readily.
If you are in zone 9 or 10, you can grow Verbena in your garden. If you are colder than that, try container growing it and bringing it indoors before the first frost in your location. And once the leaves drop, don’t water it much. Resume watering when you see the first leaf buds of spring.
Aloysia triphylla has glossy narrow, lance-shaped leaves, opposite each other on an upright stem, alternating in pairs up the stem. It bears inconspicuous white-pink flowers in joints where the leaf meets the stem and a spray of small white flowers at the top of the plant. The leaves are highly scented. If allowed to overwinter in a mild climate, the shrub reaches heights of 4 to 6 feet and will need to be pruned back to keep from becoming scraggly.
In colder climates, it is grown in containers and overwintered indoors. It will lose its leaves in the fall and needs only very scant watering during the winter. But the leaves will come back when it is put outdoors in the spring.
It is native to Chile, and Argentina, and was brought to Europe by the Spanish Conquistadors in the 17 th century. Due to its late introduction to the Materia Medica of Western herbalism, it was not taken seriously as a medicinal herb, and today is used mainly as a tea herb. This is a shame because Lemon Verbena has marked carminative and antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory properties that aid digestion and have a protective effect on the colon. It is also an anti-depressant and sharpens concentration, while at the same time it is calming and tonic to the nervous system. Its cooling lemon scent also keeps flies and mosquitoes away.
Plant a large container of Lemon Verbena near the entrance to your home, so that you brush past it, as you enter the house. The scent will keep mosquitoes out of your house.
In the 19 th century, Victorian ladies put a sprig of lemon verbena in their pocket-handkerchiefs to sniff on a hot day, and refresh themselves. The leaves steeped in sun tea are refreshing, offering their sweet lemon flavour to the tea.
Today it is used in cooking for its fresh lemon taste. It is added to alcoholic beverages and made into tea. Recently scientists are studying lemon verbena for its anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic, and anti-oxidant benefits. Perhaps it’s time to love this refreshing plant more and plant a pot of lemon verbena near your back door.
Lemon Verbena is a digestive tonic, calming, mild expectorant, sleep aid for insomnia due to general tension. It reduces fever, relieves joint pain, and it’s anti-inflammatory.
The essential oil is used in aromatherapy. It quickens the brain and sharpens concentration. The cool and refreshing fragrance of lemon verbena increases energy, relieves fatigue, and overcomes feelings of apathy, disinterest and listlessness.
The tea is used as a tonic for the nervous system. It relieves spasms of the digestive tract and aids digestion.
It is being studied for the relief of joint pain and inflammation.
Add the Lemon Verbena Mongraph to your herbal notebook.
Download the Lemon Verbena Monograph (pdf) and learn about the antispasmodic, carminative, anti-inflammatory, sedative, and tonic effects of lemon verbena and how you can make better use of it in your homestead medicine bag.
Want to learn more about using herbs at home for your family’s health and well-being? Join me at the Herbal Academy (#ad) of New England. The Introductory Herbal Course starts soon. If you’re ready for a bit more in-depth work on herbs and human anatomy, join me in the Intermediate Herbal Course — 10 units over 10 months, to gain a strong foundation in the use of herbs, the philosophy behind the different schools of herbal practice, and how herbs interact with the human body. I’m loving the course and I’m sure you’ll really get a lot out of it, too.
Caturla N, Funes L, Pérez-Fons L, Micol V. “A randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled study of the effect of a combination of lemon verbena extract and fish oil omega-3 fatty acid on joint management.” Journal Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2011 Nov17(11):1051-63. doi: 10.1089/acm.2010.0410.
Malekirad, Ali Akbar Hosseini, Nasser Bayrami, Mansour Hashemi, Touraj Rahzani, Kobra Abdollahi, Mohammad “Benefit of Lemon Verbena in Healthy Subjects Targeting Diseases Associated with Oxidative Stress” Asian Journal of Animal & Veterinary Advances Sep2011, Vol. 6 Issue 9, p953
Starting in mid-spring, the guy I get most of my produce from brings in long stalks of verveine citronnelle, bushy with feather-shaped leaves, faintly sticky and powerfully fragrant. Rub one with your thumb and it will knock you over with a floral and citrusy scent that does bear resemblance to lemongrass, as the French name points out (citronnelle means lemongrass).
The most natural thing to do with the leaves is to infuse them for herbal tea, to be served hot of chilled, but I was looking for more ideas so I turned to you — via Twitter et Facebook — and the Internet for suggestions. Here’s a compendium below I hope you find it inspiring if you come across that lovely herb yourself!
Lemon verbena + Peach
Lemon verbena + Apricot
Lemon verbena + Raspberry
Lemon verbena + Strawberry
Lemon verbena + Rhubarb
Lemon verbena + Pear
Lemon verbena + Citrus (especially grapefruit)
Lemon verbena + Yogurt
Lemon verbena + Ginger
Lemon verbena + Fish
Lemon verbena + Chicken
Lemon verbena + Pork
Make herbal tea, hot or iced, with lemon verbena on its own or mixed with other herbs, such as mint or sage.
Prepare a simple syrup for cocktails, non-alcoholic spritzers, iced tea, or lemonade.
Infuse it in the cream for panna cotta and other custard-style desserts, such as crème brûlée, and pots de crème.
Infuse it in the whipped cream for peaches and cream.
Make a simple syrup to moisten a sponge cake or a rum baba, drizzle onto crêpes and yogurt, or dunk in some ladyfingers for a strawberry charlotte or tiramisu.
Add to a strawberry or peach soup.
Make lemon verbena sugar (whizz fresh leaves with sugar in a blender) and use to make simple butter cookies.
Chop finely and add to a fruit salad.
Infuse it in ganache for filled chocolates or macarons (advanced!).
Include in the syrup when poaching pears or peaches.
Make a lemon verbena jelly with gelatin or agar agar.
Add to white fish fillets cooked en papillote.
Insert a handful in the steamer when steaming chicken breasts.
Have you ever encountered lemon verbena? How do you like to use it? All additional suggestions are welcome!