Lemon verbena (Aloysia tryphilla; also called Lippia citriodora) is a flowering herb originally from South America with, as the name suggests, a citrus flavor. The leaves and flowers release their fragrance when bruised. Milder than other “lemony” herbs, the leaves blend easily into desserts, salad dressings, soups, jams, and drinks. But that’s not where its benefits stop. Similar to lemon balm, it has traditionally been used as a digestive and a sleep aid.
Its major components are volatile oils like citral, cineol, nerol, limonene, and geraniole; monoterpenoids like verbenalin and hastatoside; and flavonoids like luteolin 7-O-diglucuronide, luteolin 7-O-glucuronide, apigenin 7-O-diglucuronide, apigenin 7-O-glucuronide; glycosides like verbascoside, isoverbascoside, β-OH verbascoside; and some mucilage.
Why It’s So Great
1. Helps You Recover Faster After Exercise
Lemon verbena is good news for sore muscles. Intense exercise damages muscles (not always a bad thing because that’s how muscles become stronger) and generates cell-damaging molecules called free radicals. Your body has antioxidants necessary to combat these. In fact, acute exercise strengthens the antioxidant defense in your body. Lemon verbena could blend right in and lend a hand, especially in increasing glutathione peroxidase, a necessary antioxidant enzyme. As a result, muscles are less prone to damage by free radicals and recover faster.
2. Helps with Sleep
Lemon verbena has been traditionally used to make sleeping easy, thanks chiefly to hastatosides and verbenalin. They help by activating the GABA system. GABA is a brain chemical that switches off the transmission of nerve signals – it’s a good thing when you are trying to sleep; otherwise your mind would be busy with thoughts and reactions. Lemon verbena chemicals increase the production and the release of GABA. They also sit on GABAA receptors, flipping off the switch on the transmission of nerve signals.
3. May Help with Digestion
Folk medicine recommends lemon verbena for digestion but there’s no scientific evidence to back this claim. That said, mucilage in the leaves may contribute toward making your bowels regular. It could also help protect the mucous membrane in your stomach against corrosive stomach acids. The citral in it, though much less than in lemongrass, could potentially help the liver reduce its toxin load and improve the digestion of fats. It’s also known as an antispasmodic, which means it can soothe cramping and bloating in the digestive tract, but the exact mechanism is yet to be found.
If you have access to fresh lemon verbena leaves – you could plant one in a pot – you can make a simple lemon verbena tea by boiling 3–4 leaves in a cup of water. You may add a bit of honey after it has cooled down or drink it without any sweetener. You could add the leaves as flavoring agent in any dish of your choice as well.
There’s no upper limit on how much you can consume in a day. There are no reported side effects, but if you have a citrus allergy, it may be best to avoid lemon verbena.