Lemonade with Lemon Balm and Lemon Verbena

It’s the first day of summer, June 21, and here in New York the full array of herbs are available fresh at the farmer’s market. I’m so excited to have fresh herbs around again, I wanted to use them in today’s recipe. I love lemon, and two of my favorite herbs are lemon balm and lemon verbena. Both are highly aromatic with a strong citrus flavor that is perfect for flavoring beverages. I love both so I didn’t want to choose just one.

When I cater parties I like to put an original twist on things, so in summer when people want lemonade, I like to make it more interesting by blending in fresh herbs. Two that work beautifully are lemon balm and lemon verbena. Verbena is pretty tough and its flavor can stand up to heat, as its leaves are thick and the stem is kind of woody. People put use it in desserts like cheesecake and steep them in hot water for tea. Lemon balm is more delicate and if cooked can lose its flavor. Because there’s no heat in this recipe you get its full flavor.

I got the idea for this recipe when I visited the Middle East a couple of years ago. Of course the weather was very hot and dry, and someone served me lemonade with basil and mint. I loved it and have been putting herbs in tea and lemonade ever since. You can play around with using different fresh herbs, like thyme, lavender, all kinds of mint, even marjoram. This particular herbal combination makes for a relaxing tonic, as both herbs are known for their calming properties. One of lemon balm’s traditional uses is to treat sleeping problems. Maybe on a warm night you can substitute this lemonade for a glass of white wine at the end of the day.

Time: 10 minutes

6 fresh lemon balm leaves, washed
4 fresh lemon verbena leaves, washed
4 lemons, juiced, + 1 lemon sliced into thin circles or wedges
4 cups water
sugar, maple syrup, or honey to taste
pinch of salt

Place all ingredients except the sliced lemon into a blender. Start with a modest amount of sweetener. Blend everything for 5 seconds until the herbs are pulverized. Shut off the blender and taste the mixture. Adjust the sweetness to taste.
Chill for an hour until completely cold, or serve immediately over ice. Garnish with a slice of lemon. Lemonade is best drunk within two days.

Yield: 4 servings

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