Saturday, November 1, 2008

Lemon Verbena

I have fond memories of lemon verbena (Aloysia triphylla) from my first gardening internship at Filoli Gardens in Woodside, California. When I was there, a 4 foot shrub stood outside the northwest corner of the tea house. Brushing past it would release a fantastic calming scent similiar to lemongrass, but not as biting. The thin, light-green leaves in whorls of three (hence the species name) make up the airy branches. In late summer tiny sprays of white flowers graced their ends.

I'm lucky I saved some issues of Kitchen Gardener after a post-college paper purge. This little gem of a magazine by Tauton's when out of print in 2000. Boy was I bummed when an issue of Fine Gardening showed up in my mailbox instead.

One issue I still have features lemon verbena complete with recipes. I made the lemon verbena pound cake for a friend's birthday party and it was a hit. It's all about the fancy bundt pan I have--it can make a mix-cake from a box look elegant!

A bird's eye view of the cake.

You can take any pound cake recipe and add a couple tablespoons of lemon juice and zest to give it a lemon flavor. Before you pour the batter into the buttered bundt pan, take fresh lemon verbena leaves and arrange them in a pattern in the pan. The butter will help them stick to the sides.

Once the cake is baked, cooled, and transferred to a plate, you can make a sauce with more fresh lemon verbena leaves, sugar, butter, a touch of flour, and lemon juice. Strain out the leaves before pouring over the cake. Voila! A beautiful and refreshing dessert that will chase your winter blues away.

With the finishing touches--birthday candles!

Late fall is a good time to make this cake because it coincides with you bringing in your lemon verbena plant and taking a few cuttings. Unless you live in a more mild climate, you don't want your plant to take a hit by that first frost of the season.