From the Garden: Five Lemon-Scented Herbs

My herb garden is flourishing again in the fresh spring sunshine, and I'm so happy to have it back. Fresh herbs are one of the most important ingredients in my cooking, and it's so lovely to have a little patch out back and on the porch where I can snip mint, basil, and oregano. Some of my favorite herbs in this little garden are lemon-scented — so fresh and citrusy! Here's a look at five lemon-scented herbs and how to grow them.

None of these herbs are direct substitutes for real lemon, but they certainly have their own similar citrus scents and freshness of flavor. They are all easy to grow and great for the garden.

Most of these, in fact, are only going to be found in your garden. That's one benefit of gardening: You can grow specific varieties of herbs (and other things too) that can't be found easily in the stores. Other than lemongrass, I've never seen any of these lemony herbs for sale. So pick one (or more!) and grow something lemony this summer! All of these grow just great in pots.

  1. Lemon verbena - We've talked about lemon verbena before, and this is still one of my all-time favorite herbs. It's a summer necessity in the garden. It has probably the brightest, tangiest lemon flavor of all these herbs. It has beautiful flowers in the spring, as seen above, and it makes a delicious tisane. Steep in hot water and add a splash of St. Germain liqueur if you're feeling fancy. You can also steep this herb in cream or milk for flavored pudding, panna cotta, or whipped cream.
  2. Lemongrass - Lemongrass may be the most well-known of all these herbs. It's used extensively in Asian cooking, especially Thai and Vietnamese. It has a fresh lemon scent, and a slightly grassy flavor. It grows marvelously in the garden when provided with steady warmth and water. (In Florida and tropical locations this can grow into a bush of enormous size!) In the northern garden, you can grow this as an annual herb.
  3. Lemon thyme - This is one of my favorite varieties of thyme. It's less intense than other varieties, and it has a strong lemon taste. It also has these lovely variegated green and yellow leaves, so I grow it for the color as much as for the taste. I use it in soups, stews, and even salads.
  4. Lemon balm - Lemon balm is in the mint family. It has rounded serrated leaves, and it grows in mounding clumps. Now, since lemon balm is a mint, you should know two things: 1) It will grow just about anywhere as long at it has a good amount of water. 2) For the love of Pete, don't put this stuff in your garden! Grow it in a pot, or a pot sunk in the ground, but don't put it in the soil. It will grow like a weed, and you'll never get rid of it. Having said that, if you do grow this (in moderation!) it makes a soothing tea when steeped in boiling water and a pretty garnish for desserts.
  5. Lemon basil - There are so many flavored varieties of basil (chocolate, cinnamon, licorice, lime...) and lemon is another favorite. This makes a wonderful pesto. It also is great over fish or other seafood dishes. Like all basils, lemon basil needs plenty of sun (mine gets about 8 hours of direct sun per day).

Do you have any of these in your garden? What's your favorite? Do you have any good recipes or uses for these (or other!) lemon-scented herbs?

Related: Eating From the Garden: Meyer Lemon Spring Salad with Baby Greens, Herbs, Almonds and Goat Cheese

(Images: Faith Durand and Flickr member quinn.anya licensed for use under Creative Commons)

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Faith is the executive editor of The Kitchn and the author of three cookbooks. They include Bakeless Sweets (Spring 2013) as well as The Kitchn's first cookbook, which will be published in Fall 2014. She lives in Columbus, Ohio with her husband Mike.

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