Lemon verbena tea is made from the leaves and flowers of Aloysia citrodora, a small perennial shrub native to Chili, Peru and Argentina which is also known by the common names of vervain, verbena, lemon beebrush and Louisa herb. As the various names imply, the plant possesses a strong lemon-like scent with a flavor comparable to licorice laced with mint. As such, this herb has a long history of use in perfumery, most notably in making the classic eau de cologne. In many regions of the world, lemon verbena is also used in the production of alcoholic beverages and to flavor fish and poultry, jellies, puddings and sorbets.
While lemon verbena has a long history of use in South America, the herb wasn’t known in Europe until the Spanish introduced it to England in the 1600s. Since then, the herb has been widely cultivated as a culinary spice and to produce the essential oil of verbena. The leaves and flowering tops are collected to infuse as a tea. In some parts of Europe, particularly in France, lemon verbena tea remains a popular beverage that is served both hot and cold.
Aside from imparting a distinguishing aroma and flavor, there are many health benefits associated with drinking lemon verbena tea. Traditional medicinal uses include reducing fever and cough. The herb is also believed to possess antispasmodic properties and is used to treat the symptoms of asthma and muscle spasms, including those related to irritations of the stomach and colon. Lemon verbena tea is also reputed to have mild sedative and anti-inflammatory effects and is used to relax the nervous system and relieve itching of the skin.
Among herbal remedies, lemon verbena represents one of the few medicinal botanicals not found in capsule form. This is likely because the volatile oils in the plant are generally considered more potent than others due to the presence of camphor. In addition, the European Union restricts the use of verbena essential oil as a fragrance ingredient. Direct application of the essential oil to the skin is known to increase photosensitivity, as well as cause contact dermatitis in some people.
Verbena oils include l-limonene, borneol, nerol, geraniol, dipentene, methyl heptenone and other agents. Lemon verbena tea, however, is made from the leaves and flowers of the plant, which has a lower concentration of these constituents. The tea is made by steeping ¼ teaspoon (1 ml) fresh material or 2 teaspoons (10 ml) dried leaf and flowers in a cup (225 ml) of boiling water for 5 minutes and then straining. Honey may be added to sweeten, if desired.