Five lemon-scented herbs to grow yourself

Nick Moyle and Rich Hood

The zesty freshness of lemon can brighten up any number of dishes and drinks. So, here are our favourite herbs to help your dishes on their way to greatness

For those who like to grow their own ingredients the lemon tree isn’t among the easiest plants to manage. Fortunately, the same chemical that flavours the lemon, limonene, is also present in numerous herbs, making it much easier to bring a citrussy spark to your kitchen creations.

Here are five of our favourites…

 

Lemon balm

lemon balm

This member of the mint family has a similar rambling character, along with a canny ability to self seed, so it can soon take over a patch of land. However, it’s worthy of a place on your plot (confine it to a pot if you want more control) because its soft lemon fragrance is an olfactory pleasure that is well known for its calming abilities, particularly if used in a home grown tea. If used for cooking then its leaves can be quite tough so are more suited to cooked dishes (fish in particular) than salads.

 

Lemon verbena

lemon verbana

This herb has an even more pungent sherbety lemon flavour than balm and is better behaved, yet somehow it’s a much less popular plant among gardeners. It’s not a fan of cold weather so, after its winter hibernation, can be a little slower to re-emerge than other perennial herbs. It makes another excellent tea and can be a star ingredient in desserts. Use instead of lemon zest in cakes and tarts, sprinkle it as a garnish for fruit salads, or make a sweet and sticky syrup to pour over puddings or pep up a cocktail.

 

Lemon basil

lemon basil

Want the zesty freshness of lemon with some of the herby Mediterranean zing of basil? Then this hybrid of American Basil and Sweet Basil is the plant for you. It’s easy to grow from seed and will survive the whole summer if kept somewhere warm, like a greenhouse or windowsill, and is regularly picked. It’s popular in Thailand and Malaysia, working wonders in vibrant stir fries, and can be infused into olive oil for drizzling over Mediterranean inspired dishes.

 

Lemon thyme

lemon thyme

This low-lying perennial shrub likes plenty of sun and a well-drained soil. There are two popular varieties—golden and variegated—but although the latter has interesting looks its lemon essence is much less prominent. In the kitchen it gives a tangy lemon twist to common thyme and is best scattered fresh on chicken, fish or vegetables towards the end of their cooking time or generously mixed into soups, stews and stuffings.

 

Lemon mint

lemon mint

Some folk refer to lemon balm as lemon mint, while the name is also given to a lemon-scented monarda. But you can also get a genuine mint with lemony flavours (you can get a mint in just about any flavour, from pineapple to chocolate). Grow it like a regular mint but keep it away from other varieties as they can lose their individual flavour characteristics if they’re too close together. The heightened zesty refreshment factor this herb brings makes it a great garnish for cold drinks, so try dropping a sprig into your next G&T.


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