Summer magic

Cool, refreshing and so easy to whip up.
Cool, refreshing and so easy to whip up.

Iris Riddell explores the magical properties of a little known herb.

Ah, lemon verbena. In my humble opinion, this beautiful, fragrant herb is massively underrated.

You can’t buy it in the supermarket, but young plants are easily acquired from nurseries and are hardy wee shrubs once they have a toe hold.

For many years, a lemon verbena bush has hunched scrubby and wild in a corner of our old chicken run, battling for dominancy with the blackberry and grasses. I have fond childhood memories of picking handfuls of the stuff and crushing it between my fingers to release the sweet, zesty scent.

When I grew old enough to appreciate a good infusion, I discovered a crushed leaf or two is magical when added to a cup of hot water.

Then two years ago, I stumbled across a recipe in a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall cookbook for verbena lemonade, causing my affection for the herb to soar to great heights.

The homemade lemonade has all the usual stalwarts in place, ie. sugar and lemons. Lots of. The only difference is the verbena infusion which lends it – dare I say – a lovely herbaceous border.

It’s absolutely perfect on a hot summer’s day and 100% refreshment in a glass, but even the lemonade pales in comparison to the recipe I found in the same cookbook, nestled under the tagline ‘variation’.
The recipe is for a lemon verbena sorbet which defies explanation, and is so simple to make it almost feels like cheating – it is fresh, cleansing, and utterly moreish. It has quickly become a family favourite when there are guests to be impressed (or not… more for us!) and we have taken to serving it with a drizzle of Limoncello liqueur and cream. Heaven.

Preparation takes about 15 minutes and the hardest part is remembering to whip up a batch ahead of time so you always have some in stock.  By the way, we have a huge lemon verbena so if you need some leaves, just yell out.  Happy to share.

Verbena Lemonade
Handful of lemon verbena leaves
1 ½ tbsp sugar
1-2 lemons
1L boiling water

Crush the lemon verbena and place them in a warmed jug with the sugar. Pour over the boiling water and allow to cool. Strain the infusion and refrigerate. When ready to serve, squeeze in the lemon and mix. Mint leaves make a fine addition, too.

Lemon Verbena sorbet
SORBET MAGIC: Popped in glass dessert bowls it looks stunning. Don’t forget to drizzle with cream.

Verbena Sorbet
Handful of lemon verbena leaves
125g caster sugar
500ml water
Juice and zest of 2-3 lemons

Bring the water and sugar to a slow boil to dissolve the sugar, then boil hard for a few minutes. Remove from heat and add crushed verbena leaves, zest and lemon juice.

Allow to cool, then strain and pour into a plastic tray or largish tupperware container.  You want it fairly shallow, possibly just a centimeter deep.  Freeze.

To serve, scratch the ice into flakes using a fork and scoop into bowls. For best results, chill the bowls as well.

Make it even more delightful with a dollop of cream or Limoncello.

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One thought on “Summer magic

  • February 25, 2014 at 9:39 am

    That recipe has triggered off another good recipe which is for rhubarb bubbly, champagne, (whatever you like to call it)
    going to make some today, easy to prepare have to wait at least two weeks before consuming (although I drink it before then!) I gave it away as a trial at the last market, half tumbler for people to enjoy, some were really impressed that it was rhubarb! Good when you have a huge amount of rhubarb begging attention


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