During a recent saunter around my local farmer’s market in Brooklyn, I saw a pot of fresh lemon verbena. I had begun to plant a new herb garden on our rooftop and thought this might be a fun addition, though admittedly, I had never used it before in cooking or anything else!
In a moment of creative inspiration, I thought I’d combine it with my strawberry stash in a crumble and see what happened. Well, it doesn’t always turn out this way, but the culinary stars aligned, and it was MAGIC. The earthy cinnamon and nutmeg in the crumble were offset perfectly with the light and refreshing notes of lemon and citrus from the verbena, and the sweet yet tart decadence of the cooked strawberries and rhubarb. It was subtle, and delicious.
The book Herbarium (gifted to me by a dear friend) says the following about lemon verbena, botanical name Aloysia/Lippia citrodora (for those of us who care :)).
“For everything from lemon ices to soothing tea and summer cocktails, lemon verbena – originally from Chile and Peru – is the next best thing to growing your own lemon tree.”
Who wouldn’t want to grow some after reading that?! Especially when science has to say the following about lemon verbena’s health benefits:
1. Anti-obesity effects (1)
2. Reduced inflammation and C-reactive protein levels in multiple sclerosis (2)
3. Anti-oxidant effects, particularly in red blood cells, due to beneficial compounds called phenylpropanoids (3)
4. Protective effects in inflammatory bowel disease (4)
(THIS IS GETTING GOOD YOU GUYS! Go lemon verbena!)
5. Improvement in joint pain and stiffness (5)
6. Reduced muscular damage during exercise (6)
After researching for, and writing this post, I’m definitely getting a couple more pots of this herb at my next market visit. Herbarium continues, “It’s best to grow lemon verbena in a pot so that it can be taken indoors in the winter – it doesn’t like frost. Regular trimming will keep your verbena bushy. Do not be taken aback if it drops its leaves; the shedding does not mean it is dead”.
On that lively note, here’s my new favourite recipe with this intoxicatingly beautiful herb.
LEMON VERBENA STRAWBERRY CRUMBLE
Toddlers, Kids, Adults
2 cups chopped strawberries (fresh or frozen)
1/2 cup chopped rhubarb (skip if unavailable. It looks like pink celery as shown in the picture here)
1 tbsp chopped lemon verbena (mint is a decent substitution)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup oat flour
6 tablespoons softened butter
3/4 cup coconut sugar
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cinnamon (preferably Ceylon)
Pinch pink salt
Preheat the oven to 350F/175.
Mix the berries, rhubarb, vanilla and lemon verbena in an oven-safe baking dish. Set aside.
Mix the oat flour and butter. A spoon works best as the mixture can get quite sticky. Mix in the coconut sugar, oats, spices and salt. Crumble over the berries and bake for 40 minutes or so, until the mixture is bubbling in the bottom and the top is crunchy and golden brown.
Serve as is or with vanilla ice-cream for the perfect summer treat.