TASTE OF SUMMER: LEMON VERBENA AND SWEET CICELY
For me, Summer means longer days, sunshine and a whole host of food festivals (sign up here for our newsletter for the latest British Herb Kitchen news, movements, recipes and more) but it also sees me shaking up my menus. June and July are the perfect months for lighter dishes and more delicate flavours.
And so today on the blog I’m sharing two of the herbs we love to cook and bake with in the warmer months here at British Herb Kitchen: Lemon Verbena and Sweet Cicely.
First up is our refreshing and versatile friend Lemon Verbena, first imported to Europe from South America in the 1700s. By the late 18th century, Lemon Verbena was an increasingly common sight (and scent) in English greenhouses, and its popularity was secured in the 1800s by Victorian ladies’ enthusiasm for fragrant bouquets. Today it’s still popular for its scent, used in Givenchy perfumes and gaining cultural notoriety when Scarlett O’Hara claimed it was her mother’s favourite fragrance in Gone with the Wind.
If you’re planning on growing some in a border or raised bed, be aware: given the warm climate of its native land, it doesn’t like the cold. The best advice is to dig it up in October, pot it and pop it indoors or in the greenhouse, or at least protect it with some fleece, to see out the winter.
Lemon Verbena is a zesty affair. According to Monty Don, its leaves smell like “pure, undiluted sherbert lemons”. It’s perfect for making a calming tea, a delicious sorbet or combining with chicken or fish. Or you could try baking our ever-popular Lemon Verbena shortbread – recipe here – and enjoying with a coffee in the garden.
Our other go-to herb for the summertime is the wonderfully aniseedy Sweet Cicely – a delicious, aromatic perennial which will take over a window box if you allow it. Its credentials are numerous, popularly believed to relieve flatulence while also increasing “lust and strength” according to Culpeper and Gerard. Reason enough to try our Sweet Cicely cupcakes, we say – you can find the recipe here.
If you plant some this Autumn (the seedlings need a cold spell to germinate), you’ll be rewarded next May with some of the earliest flowers in your herb bed. The leaf, seed, flower and root all lend themselves to baking, but you don’t have to stick with sweet treats; Sweet Cicely can be an ideal partner for acidic fruit in particular, but it also complements white fish or can be used in savoury breads. You can read more about Sweet Cicely here.