Lemon verbena is grown for its aroma and culinary taste. Unlike most herbs with culinary value, lemon verbena can be used fresh or dry without losing most of its aroma. To dry the flowers and leaves of the herb, tie the stems at the bottom and hang to dry. Alternatively, strip off the leaves and place them in a dehydrator.
Lemon verbena was brought to Europe by Spanish explorers, mostly from Chile and Argentina, in the 17th century. There, the herb was grown for its oil which has a lemony flavor. The oil was used in cosmetics and perfumes until cheaper alternatives including lemongrass oil replaced it. Apart from being used in the beauty industry, the herb was commonly used in the Victorian Era to make potpourri. Today, culinary uses of lemon verbena include dressing fruit salads, flavoring drinks, marinades, and fish soups.
Lemon verbena bread
I 1/2 cup sugar
¼ cup lemon verbena leaves, chopped
2 teaspoon verbena blossoms, chopped
Fresh juice from 1 medium-sized lemon
1 stick unsalted butter
1 ½ cup sifted flour
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
Grated rind of 1 lemon
2 large eggs
½ cup milk
¾ chopped nuts (optional)
Process: Cream butter with verbena leaves in a food processor or mixer. Add 1 cup of sugar and beat until thoroughly mixed, then put in salt, eggs and the rest of the ingredients except the lemon juice, the verbena blossoms, and the remaining 1/2 cup sugar.
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Grease loaf pans and pour in the mixture. Bake at 350o F for about 40 minutes. To test if the bread is done, insert a cake tester or toothpick into the bread. If the tester comes out clean, the bread is done.
Leave the loaf in the pan and prepare glaze using the remaining ½ cup of sugar, lemon juice, and verbena blossoms. To prepare the glaze place the sugar, lemon juice and blossoms in a small saucepan and stir over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. While the loaf is still hot, pour the glaze over it and allow to sit for several hours. Remove loaf from pan and wrap in foil overnight before serving or freeze immediately.
Lemon verbena sugar cookies
2 teaspoons fresh verbena leaves, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh verbena flowers, chopped
2 ½ cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup of sugar
1 ½ teaspoons zest
1 cup unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
Extra sugar for rolling
Process: Combine all the dry ingredients. Beat butter, eggs, vanilla, and sugar in a separate bowl until thoroughly mixed. Add half of the flour mixture and beat thoroughly. Stir in remaining dry ingredients with a wooden spoon. Make rounded teaspoonfuls. Roll in extra sugar. Place on an ungreased baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees until edges are slightly golden.
Ultimately, unlike many herbs that have been replaced over time, the culinary uses of lemon verbena have consistently ensured that the plant is as famous as it was centuries ago when its oil was sought after for making perfumes.