VERBENA (Lippia citriodora syn. Aloysia citriodora – Verbeaceae)

Lemon or lemon-scented verbena – not to be confused with its relative, vervein, Verbena officinialis – is a native of South America (Chile and Peru). It was introduced to North Africa, India, Australia, the Caribbean islands and the island of Reunion and reached Europe around 1760. It is a perennial, deciduous, slender shrub which reaches about 1.5 m (5 ft) in height, less in temperate regions. The leaves are long, pale green and pointed, and the flowers are tubular, purple and grow in terminal clusters. The entire plant smells strongly of lemon.

Lippia comes from Augustin Lippi, a seventeenth-century Italian naturalist. The plant is now more correctly defined as Aloysia citriodora, although it is also know as Verbena or Lippia triphylla.

In Parte pratica de botanica (1784), Palau y Verdera was one of the first to describe the plant, giving its therapeutic values as a fortifier, regularizer of the nervous system, and a stomachic; he said it helped with bad digestion and flatulence, nervous palpitations, dizziness and hysteria.


Description: The leaves and stalks are steam distilled for the oil which is liquid, and a yellowish-green. It has a fresh lemony smell which is hot and bitter at the same time, so subtle that it has proved difficult to reproduce synthetically.

The principal constituents: 30 – 45 per cent citral, with caryophyllene, cineol, geraniol, limonene, linalool, methylheptenone, nerol and terpineol.

Dangers: Real essential oil of lemon verbena is rare and rather expensive so it is often falsified or adultered withcitronella or lemongrass. These make the fragrance considerably less subtle, so beware. (Sometimes lemongrass oil is called verveine des Indes). Verbena oil from Lippia citriodora is restricted by IFRA because of its skin sensitizing property in some people.


In illness
Like lemongrass, lemon verbena has a high citral content, which makes it a very good antiseptic and bactericide. Verbena is also a very good stomachic, tonic and antispasmodic. I find it has a sedative effect on the nervous system too.

For a tonic tisane in the morning – much better for you than tea or coffee – infuse a large pinch of the dried leaves in 600 ml (1 pint) boiling water for 7 minutes maximum. Add a slice of lemon or some honey if you like, and you will feel much better, ready to face the day.
To cheer you up, whether you’re simply low, or a little depressed, you could diffuse the fragrance of the oil throughout your home.
(See also appetite, loss of and depression.)

In beauty
Because of its strongly antiseptic properties, I recommend verbena for cases of acne with badly inflamed boils. Mix together 25 ml (1 fl oz) grapeseed oil, 1 drop wheatgerm oil, and 9 drops verbena oil: apply every night on the face after cleansing. Apply verbena oil neat, a few times a day, on cysts and whiteheads.

To avoid infection, never share your oil or lend it to anyone.
(See also dermatitis.)

In cookery
Use the leaves in anything that requires a lemon flavour – chopped in stuffing’s for fish or chicken, in sausages, in salads, or in fruit jellies and sweets. Leaves can be used instead of lemongrass in many South-East Asian recipes.

Other uses
The verbena oil and plant play quite a considerable part in the food and drink industry for a flavour of lemon, and it has been used for centuries in the soap, perfumery and cosmetic industries. The dried leaves can also contribute their fragrance to pot-pourris and herb bags.

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