Have you ever had a pot of lemon verbena in your kitchen? If not, this is the time to get one. Lemon verbena tea has an extraordinary taste and extraordinary effects. A cup of its notable flavor can brighten the day and by night a cup is soothing and relaxing. I personally just pour some hot water over the leaves for around 10 seconds, (the pre wetting of the leaves releases the flavor more quickly) prior to using them for brewing my tea. If you don’t have access to a live plant, however, you can purchase the dried leaves in supermarkets. The flavor is so delicious!
Lemon verbena is one of more than 30 species of aromatic shrubs in the genus Aloysia (family Verbenaceae), all native to the warmer parts of Argentina and Chile. The species name describes the characteristic whorls of three leaves that form along the stems. Not uncommonly, however, the whorls consist of four leaves, sometimes on the entire plant and sometimes just on certain stems. Lengthiness is its natural state; this is the herb that grew like a gangling shrub in gardens of long ago, reaching 6 ft. or taller and sprawling nearly as wide. Narrow leaves to 3 in. long are arranged in whorls of three or four along branches. Bears open clusters of very small flowers in summer.
Its botanical name has undergone a cycle of change in the two centuries since it was introduced to England as Verbena triphylla. Its lemon scent was the source of an alternative name, V. citriodora (verveine citronelle in France). A Spanish researcher assigned it to the genus Aloysia (named for Maria Louisa, wife of King Charles IV of Spain) because its fruit separates into two nutlets, whereas the fruits of Verbena species separate into four. The plant was known as A. citriodora until it was moved again in the early nineteenth century, this time to the genus Lippia (named for an Italian botanist named Lippi). Though lemon verbena is sometimes still offered as L. citriodora, it has long been reassigned to the genus Aloysia, this time as A. triphylla.
The leaves and flowering tops of lemon verbena are used in teas and to flavor alcoholic beverages. The plant is also an ingredient in some desserts, fruit salads, and jams. Some people find they can even use lemon verbena leaves as a replacement for actual lemon zest or juice. It is used in perfumery, especially in making toilet water and eau de cologne. The plant is often grown as an ornamental, but it needs to be kept indoors during winter months in northern regions. As a medicinal plant, the leaves and flowers of lemon verbena have been used as an antispasmodic, antipyretic, sedative, and stomachic.
Of all the lemon-scented plants in the world, none can rival Lemon Verbena. Aloysia citrodora plant has the most potent citrus smell out of any herb in existence, fresh or dried. The potent aroma has many uses, one of the most common being to add scent to potpourri. The stems or leaves can be chopped and added directly to the potpourri to add the smell of fresh lemon. In days long past, women used to stuff lemon verbena in their hats, sleeves and clothing to improve their smell, almost as a kind of natural perfume. Back then, the scent was thought to promote intimacy, though this is now known to be untrue.
Lemon Verbena Macaron
* wasabimon – by Anita Chu*
Yield: 24 macarons
200g almond meal or ground blanched almonds
200g confectioners’ sugar
150g egg whites, divided into two 75g portions
Lemon verbena buttercream (recipe below)
Stack two baking trays on top of each other. Line with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper.
Process almond meal with confectioners’ sugar in a food processor. Sieve out any large bits of almond. Combine sugar and water in a saucepan. Heat on medium until all the sugar is dissolved. Meanwhile, place 75g of egg whites in a mixer bowl with the whisk attachment. Continue cooking until the sugar syrup reaches 118 C/245 F. While the sugar is cooking, begin whisking the egg whites. They should reach stiff peaks by the time the syrup is at 245 F. If it whips too fast, turn down or turn off the mixer.
Turn the mixer speed to low. Carefully pour the sugar syrup in a slow stream into the mixer. Turn the mixer speed to high and let the meringue for several minutes until it has cooled and appears glossy and firm. In a large bowl, combine the almond meal mixture with the remaining 75g of egg whites until partially combined. Scoop the meringue on top of the almond meal mixture. Using a spatula or dough scraper, carefully fold the meringue in, trying not to deflate it. The final batter should be thick and flow slowly like magma. Do not overmix. Scoop the batter into a piping bag fitted with a 1/2” diameter plain tip.
Pipe 1 1/2” rounds of batter onto the prepared baking sheets. Let the sheets sit for about 20 minutes to let the shells harden. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 160 C/320 F. Bake one set of macarons for 15 minutes, rotating once. Let tray cool for a few minutes before removing from the silicone mat. Let finish cooling on wire racks. Once macarons have completely cooled, sandwich them together with a tablespoon or so of lemon verbena buttercream. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Lemon Verbena Buttercream Frosting
Yield: about 1 cup of buttercream
2 large egg whites
6 ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into 1 inch pieces
100 ml heavy cream
1/2 cup (3 g) lemon verbena leaves, washed and dried
250g white chocolate, coarsely chopped
Combine the sugar and egg whites in a medium heatproof bowl and place over a pan of simmering water. Whisk the sugar mixture constantly over heat until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture looks smooth and shiny, about 3 minutes. Remove mixture from heat and pour into a stand mixer bowl. Whisk on medium speed for about 5 minutes until the mixture has cooled. Switch to the paddle attachment and with the speed on low, add the butter a few pieces at a time, beating until smooth.
When all the butter has been added, beat the buttercream on medium-high speed for about 6-10 minutes until it is very thick and smooth. In a medium saucepan, combine the lemon verbena leaves with the cream. Heat on medium until warm. Remove from heat, cover, and steep for an hour. Place chocolate into a bowl. Strain the leaves from the cream. Reheat the cream until it just comes to a boil. Slowly pour the cream over the chopped chocolate, stirring to dissolve the chocolate. Continue stirring gently until mixture is smooth. Allow to cool and thicken before using.
Combine the milk, cream, 1 cup sugar, and lemon verbena leaves in a heavy saucepan. Heat on medium-high until the mixture reaches a simmer.While the mixture is heating, whisk the egg yolks and 1/4 cup sugar together in a large bowl until smooth and thick. Remove the milk mixture from the stove and pour a little into the eggs to temper it, whisking constantly. Pour the eggs into the milk mixture, whisking all the time, and put the saucepan back on the stovetop.
Cook the mixture over low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. When the mixture has thickened enough so that it coats the back of the spoon and can hold a line drawn through it, remove from the heat. Pour the mixture into a clean bowl and let cool. Strain to remove any lumps and then cover the mixture with plastic wrap and let chill in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight. Freeze in an ice cream maker per manufacturer’s instructions. This will keep in the freezer for about a week.