Lemon Verbena Sugar & Syrup

During the summer I like to have lemon verbena growing in the herb garden just outside the kitchen door. While verbena’s a perennial, it doesn’t like freezing weather, and I’ve killed a couple by not protecting them. But verbena, originally from South America, seems to grow well here and provides leaves for several months. Those incredibly aromatic leaves are used in bouquets, but I prefer to eat them, usually blended with sugar and sprinkled over fruit or in a syrup for both desserts and cocktails.

The compounds that give verbena its unique flavor are heat sensitive, so any kind of hot water extraction is less than satisfying. I learned this cold water technique from Jerry Traunfeld when he was chef at the Herbfarm. It captures that unique lemon verbena flavor.

The first and probably hardest step is finding the lemon verbena. I’ve never seen any for sale fresh, so you either need to be growing it yourself or know somebody who’s got a plant. If you’re in Oregon, you may be able to buy fresh verbena from Viridian Farms. Once you get over the acquisition hurdle, the rest is easy.

Combine a handful (let’s call it 2 cups, packed) of fresh lemon verbena leaves with about the same amount of sugar in the food processor. Process until the leaves are nothing but green flecks in the sugar, scraping the bowl sides a couple of times to get the leaf completely processed.

Stop here if you want lemon verbena sugar. Store it in a jar in the refrigerator. I’m not sure how long it will last, but I’m guessing you’ll finish it long before any worry about spoilage (and sugar is a preservative).

For the syrup, blend the now greenish sugar into about the same amount of cold water (a couple of a cups). Stir well for a few minutes so the sugar is completely dissolved. Strain the syrup through a clean dish towel or several layers of cheesecloth; discard the solids. Store in the refrigerator.