Herbal Nectar: Lemon Verbena Honey

Last week I started up my yearly fire escape garden. After setting up the essentials — cherry tomato and basil plants — I bought a lemon verbena plant. When I caught the first  sweet, lemony, whiff of this favorite herb, I felt some of the winter’s heavy weight slip away; verbena is a pure warm weather smell.

I’m not satisfied with buying fresh bunches of verbena here and there; I need unfettered access to it during the summer. I like its perfume in iced tea, in baked goods, even in my bath water. When asked to come up with a recipe using  fresh berries for an upcoming cooking demo, I knew I wanted to call upon Herb Louisa, as verbena is known in Europe. Inspired by Italian cuisine, in which fresh ingredients are allowed to shine with minimal interference, I wanted to highlight the taste of the fruit, not alter it. I decided to toss the berries with honey and verbena and serve them atop a locally made yogurt. The only problem with that idea is that verbena is tough and fibrous, unlike mint, which wilts easily and is gentle on the digestion.

I decided to grind up the herb and then combine it with the honey. I dusted off my mortar and pestle — weighing in at 10 lbs, it doesn’t get used very often — and threw in a handful of verbena leaves. After about two minutes of serious “elbow grease,” I had a bright green paste. I stirred it into the honey and took a taste; first there was only sweetness, then a strong herbal zing. The small bits of leaves were undetectable on my tongue, so there would be no need to strain them out of the honey. Success!

Earlier that morning, after my workout in Brooklyn’s McCarren Park, I had spied a man plucking something from a tree and eating it. It was mulberry season, and I had forgotten! I ambled over and found several trees with deep purple fruits that were ripe and falling to the ground. As always, when I see the first mulberries of the season, I was transported to our yard in Philly where growing up, my Persian father would eat the berries from our graceful tree and tell us how they were a favorite snack during his childhood in Iran. I picked enough to fill my jacket pocket, although it took a while because I ate as many as I picked.

I tried out my new dish by first filling a wine glass two thirds full with yogurt, then drizzling on a little of the honey. Next came the mulberries, and then a bit more honey. A spoonful of the stuff tasted mostly of fresh fruit, but after a beat, a familiar perfumed flavor spread through my mouth. I finished off the glass, savoring every bite. Later that day, for a special lunch, I seared local scallops and perched them on fluffy mashed potatoes with a side of sauteed asparagus. On a whim, I spooned some of the herbed honey over the scallops with a dash of rice vinegar, and again, the verbena complemented the main ingredient perfectly. I have a feeling I’ll be discovering new dishes with verbena all summer long. Good thing I have an endless supply just out the kitchen window.

Lemon Verbena Honey with Berries and Yogurt

Makes 1/4 cup lemon verbena honey

1 small handful lemon verbena leaves

1/4 cup honey

Plain yogurt

Fresh berries

Rinse the verbena leaves and pat dry. Using a mortar and pestle, grind the leaves into a paste. Pour the honey into a bowl and stir in the ground verbena leaves.

To serve, place the yogurt in a small bowl or a wine glass and spoon some of the verbena honey on top. If the berries are large, slice them in half. Otherwise, leave whole. Pile the berries on the yogurt, and top with a little more honey.

6 thoughts on “Herbal Nectar: Lemon Verbena Honey

  1. I think dried verbena would work fine. Just be sure to grind them up very small, as you would the fresh verbena, so they really break down in the honey.

  2. Hi Cynthia,

    That’s a great question. Honey is a preservative, but I don’t know how long the fresh-herb infused honey would last. If you’d like to give this a gift, I would recommend putting the herbs in cheesecloth, heating them up with the honey, then discarding the cheesecloth. Alternately, you could use dried herbs instead of fresh. I’m sure that the first version would last indefinitely, and the second version would probably last up to a year.

  3. Hi Cynthia,

    That’s a great question. Honey is a preservative, but I don’t know how long the fresh-herb infused honey would last. If you’d like to give this a gift, I would recommend putting the herbs in cheesecloth, heating them up with the honey, then discarding the cheesecloth. Alternately, you could use dried herbs instead of fresh. I’m sure that the first version would last indefinitely, and the second version would probably last up to a year.

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