Because of its trademark citrusy flavor and aroma, lemon verbena oil has gained popularity since ancient times. Did you know that this was Virgil’s favorite oil? He mentioned it frequently in his works, describing it as “rich” and “holy.”1 Read on to learn more about lemon verbena oil and why the famous poet fell in love with it.
Lemon verbena oil is derived from lemon verbena (Aloysia citriodora Palau), a plant from the Verbenaceae family and is native to South America, specifically Chile, Peru and Argentina.2 The plant was introduced to Europe by the Spaniards in the 17th century, where it became well-known for its scented oil.3 By the 18th century, it was grown in the Mediterranean region and at the same time was brought to North America.4
People started cultivating lemon verbena primarily for culinary purposes. Its leaves, either fresh or dried, can add a lemony flavor to dishes. Because of its strong citrusy aroma, just half the amount of the usual lemon herbs used is enough.5
The lemon verbena plant has a thin stem with long pale green leaves and grows an average height of 5 or 6 feet, but can rise up to 16 feet. Its flowers are white, with a trace of purple.6 Lemon verbena oil, which comes from the leaves of the plant, has a fresh, lemony and sweet aroma, and has a yellowish-green color.7
Lemon verbena has a wide variety of uses, especially in culinary practices. Its leaves are used as a replacement for lemongrass in Asian recipes.8 It can also be added to any dish that needs lemon flavor, such as in chicken stuffing or fruit salads.
Iced tea becomes more flavorful when lemon verbena leaves are added. The leaves also give a lemony flavor to confectionery, fruit puddings, cakes and even to homemade ice cream.9
Lemon verbena oil is commonly used in perfumes and cosmetics for an additional citrusy scent, especially in Europe, where it is used to make “Eau de Verveine.”10 The dried leaves can add a pleasant aroma to potpourri or air freshener and in herbal bags.11
This essential oil’s chemical constituents are composed of myrcene, limonene, dipentene, citral, nerol, linalool, geraniol and borneol.12 Its citral property has the highest prevalence, constituting about 38 to 40 percent of the oil.13
Lemon verbena oil has been used in aromatherapy to help ease digestive problems and alleviate skin disorders such as acne, boils and cysts. The essential oil is said to have insecticidal and antibacterial properties.14 Some of the benefits of lemon verbena plant and its oil include:
- Helping ease anxiety — A study published in the American Journal of Nursing Science notes that lemon verbena is one of the essential oils that may potentially alleviate anxiety. Others include neroli, levandula and citrus reticulate.15
- Easing abdominal discomfort — Tea made from this essential oil is believed to help promote sleep, alleviate stomachaches and relieve muscle spasms and cramps.16
- May help with weight management — A 2018 study published in the journal Nutrients found that a mixture of lemon verbena and hibiscus flower extracts reduced obesity and its complications in mice that were fed a high-fat diet. The researchers noted that “this formula may be a candidate for the prevention and treatment of obesity and its complications.”17
- May protect against oxidative damage — A 2011 study found that taking lemon verbena extract supplement in moderation “decreases the signs of muscular damage in chronic running exercise without blocking the cellular adaptation to exercise.”18
Lemon verbena oil works great in aromatherapy and in cosmetics. Just mix it with a base oil to make the perfect massage oil. The essence of the herb can add a lemony scent in colognes, toilet water, perfumes and soaps as well.19
To extract lemon verbena oil, fresh leaves and stems of lemon verbena plant are harvested to undergo steam distillation. It produces really low yields, making it rather rare and expensive.20
Lemon verbena oil is commonly mixed with water to create tea, but it can also be applied topically, as long as it is diluted with a carrier oil like coconut or jojoba oil. It blends well with cardamom, elemi, ginger and vetiver oils.21 I also recommend adding the oil to your bath water to soothe tensed muscles.
I recommend consulting your physician prior to ingesting lemon verbena oil. Do not forget to mix the essential oil with a carrier oil before applying it topically.
Caution is urged when using lemon verbena oil as it can cause sensitization and phototoxicity. Avoid sun exposure after applying the herbal oil as it can irritate the skin.22
The plant’s leaves, if used in high doses and for a long period of time, can cause stomach irritations,23 so I recommend being careful when ingesting the oil. As a safety precaution, always conduct a skin patch test before using lemon verbena oil. If you are pregnant, breastfeeding or have a chronic disease, consult with a medical professional before using this essential oil.