Lemon Verbena Sorbet Recipe

Lemon Verbena Sorbet

Fresh lemon verbena is a recent newcomer to my herb repertoire. I was familiar with plain dried verbena, a popular constituent of French tisanes, but only this spring did I come across long stalks of verveine citronnelle, bushy with feather-shaped leaves, faintly sticky and powerfully fragrant. Stroke one with your thumb and it will knock you over with a floral and citrusy scent that does bear resemblance to lemongrass, as the French name points out (citronnelle = lemongrass).

I have been steeping the leaves in hot water for a soothing after-dinner drink, cold-steeping them overnight to make an ice tea of sorts, and infusing them in browned butter — much like you would sage — to dress potato gnocchi. But I had yet to take the flavor much further.

And then one evening, we invited a friend over for dinner at the last minute. We were going to share the excellent leftover lamb we’d brought home from J’Go* the night before, and I planned to sauté some potatoes and dress a few greens to go with it.

For dessert, I felt sure I had everything needed to whip up a quick batch of lemon kefir ice cream, but it turned out I had drunk the last of the kefir, so I decided to make lemon sorbet instead, with some lemon verbena thrown in.

I thought of drawing out the flavor of the leaves by infusing them in hot water and using this infusion as the liquid element of the sorbet, but I doubted there would be enought time to chill the mixture properly before churning. It also seemed more appealing to try and capture the vibrancy of the fresh leaves, some of which gets lost when the leaves are dried or steeped, so I opted for the lavender sugar approach, whizzing the lemon verbena leaves with the sugar into a moist, lemon verbena sugar, which I would then use to sweeten and flavor the sorbet.

Because I worried the little flecks of ground leaf might get in the way of the texture, I strained the mixture before churning. The resulting sorbet was of an elusive shade, teetering between yellow and green, and it was the most refreshing thing ever to grace my ice cream machine.

My friend Estérelle says she makes panna cotta flavored with lemon verbena, which sounds lovely. I think it would also make a good rub for a lamb shoulder, or a syrup to drizzle over strawberry-filled crêpes; if you have your own clever uses for lemon verbena, I’d love to hear them.

* Yes, you read that right! We had dinner at a Paris restaurant and we took the leftover meat home! Maxence asked, and they gave us a doggy bag! A doggy bag! In Paris! We were floored, and enjoyed our reheated gigot even more.

Lemon Verbena Sorbet

- 15 grams (about 2 cups) fresh lemon verbena leaves, rinsed and gently patted dry
- 180 grams (1 cup minus 2 tablespoons) unrefined cane sugar (the soft kind, not granulated)
- one large organic lemon, scrubbed
- 1 tablespoon limoncello (optional, but a bit of alcohol helps keep sorbet smooth)

Makes about 750 ml (3 cups); the recipe may be halved.

In the bowl of a blender or food processor, combine the lemon verbena leaves and the sugar. Using a vegetable peeler, shave three strips of zest from the lemon, and add them in. Process until finely ground.

Transfer to a mixing bowl, add the juice of the lemon, the limoncello if using, and 600 ml (2 1/2 cups) cold water. Whisk to combine, cover, and let this mixture steep in the fridge for 2 to 3 hours.

Strain through a fine sieve to remove the little flecks of leaf (teeny bits may remain, but that’s okay), and churn in the ice cream maker. Serve with hazelnut cookies, very ginger cookies, or some of those heart-shaped gingerbread cookies you bought the other day because who says there is a season for gingerbread cookies?

The texture is best when the sorbet is freshly churned. If you have leftovers, apply a piece of plastic wrap closely to the surface to prevent crystallization. Let the sorbet soften for 20-30 minutes in the fridge before serving.

If you don’t have an ice cream maker, you can make this as a granita. Prepare the mixture in the morning. Strain it 2 hours later, pour it into a freezer-safe container (preferably glass or metal), and place in the freezer. An hour later, remove the container from the freezer, scrape and draw the sides in with a fork (the mixture will set from the sides in), stir vigorously, and return to the freezer. Repeat every hour. The granita will be ready by dinnertime.

Cooking/baking time: no-cook recipe

  • http://alithinks.com Alison

    I had to read the part about your taking food home from a restaurant twice. Unbelievable!

  • http://arugulove.wordpress.com arugulove

    I made a sorbet with lemon verbena last year, but I infused the simple syrup with it. I love the idea of mixing the lemon verbena right into the sugar, the flavor is probably more pronounced that way.

    Also, I find the addition of a splash of alcohol in sorbet not only helps with texture, but keeps it from turning into a massive block of ice in the freezer.

  • http://www.darbyoshea.blogspot.com Emily

    This sounds so delicious! Must find a lemon verbena plant. I’ve got a curious little pineapple sage plant that might make delicious sorbet – must try it immediately.

  • http://theendivechronicles.com/ Erin

    I currently have an obsession with lemon verbena. What am I saying; “currently” ? I have been using it for everything from cooking to milling soap for years, but have never made it into anything desserty. Your sorbet looks wonderful, I will definitely be giving it a try.

  • http://www.littlemissgoldenblog.wordpress.com Emily

    I just posted about a lemon verbena sorbet yesterday, but I added Rose Geranium leaves. A delectable combination! I like the idea for using the lemon zest as well. I’ll try that next time!

  • dave

    I discovered a very similar recipe (minus the booze) in Jerry Traunfeld’s great Herb Farm Cookbook a few years ago. It’s been one of my summertime standards ever since. So quick to make and so refreshing and intoxicating. We never have leftovers.

    It’s also very good served as a sort of slushy cocktail. Just put a couple of scoops in tumbler and add a shot of whatever please you — vodka, plymouth or hendricks gin. if that’s a little too boozy, add a small shot of good tonic water or soda. or try cava. serve with a spoon. garnish with a sprig of mint or a nice twist of lemon zest or whatever compliments your chosen alcohol. mmmmm. summertime itself.

  • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

    Arugulove – Indeed, I almost always add a bit of alcohol to my sorbets and ice creams, it makes them “age” a lot better.

    Erin – Mmm, I’ve yet to mill my own soap, but a lemon verbena soap sounds fantastic!

    Emily – The zest adds a subtle note of bitterness that helps balance the overall flavor, I think.

    Dave – Thank you for the slush idea, and for letting me know about this book. It does look great and I am missing an herb-centric book in my cookbook collection, so I’m very tempted to order it. Do you have his other book, The Herbal Kitchen, and if so, would you recommend one over the other?

  • http://www.snapperandthegriffin.blogspot.com Griffin

    Have yet to come across Lemon Verbena, but I do love the name Estérelle! Hmm, Clotilde et Estérelle, sounds like a novel!

    Thanks for the recipe minus ice cream maker – I don’t have one. But presumably if I keep stirring it every so often (while resisting the urge to taste from the spoon) it will come to a sorbet?

  • Sam

    I would use the “Lemon Verbena” and add it to limoncello, (of course without freezing it to make it in the sorbet.)Also, you could “marinate” the Verbena in many things; lamb (take out a bit of the sugar), nuts, chocolates, doughs. You could make a whole lemon enhanced meal!

    I will have to try this on one hot summer night…

  • Elise

    Wonderful! I’d been hoping to find something to do with my lemon verbana (other than steep for the occasional ‘tea’). Thanks!

  • http://accidentalparisian.blogspot.com Accidental Parisian

    I’m sure the sorbet is great, but I can’t get past the doggy bag. Wow.

  • http://www.passportfoodie.com Taylor Young

    A doggy bag in Paris. That is a rare occurrence, indeed.

    Very nice use of lemon verbena by the way. Sounds delicious!

  • http://www.bramptondeli.blogspot.com Tamara

    It must be the week for it. I have just posted a recipe on my Blog for Lemon Balm Cordial.
    Thank you for this recipe, I’ll give it a go, I have loads of it in the garden now.

  • http://melanger.wordpress.com Julia @ Mélanger

    Ohhhh, this looks so refreshing. I have never used lemon verbena before. Not even sure where to get my hands on it here. But love the sound of this sorbet!

  • http://livingat970.blogspot.com/ Mary Ann

    Wonderful! I was determined to have my own Lemon Verbena plant this summer. Now that I have it I’ve been looking for recipes that go beyond steeping in hot water. I am delighted by this recipe. I’ll be trying it very soon.

  • http://beckyandthebeanstock.com becky and the beanstock

    I have always found that lemon verbena tastes like Pledge, and have never acquired a liking for it. But if you do it’s quite easy to grow (I discovered its furniture polish flavor when I grew it in my garden) — it grows like mint (may be related?) and will take over the yard. Since I do like lemon quite a lot, I tend instead to use lemon mint or lemongrass for the flavoring. I will likely try this recipe with one of those in lieu.

    • jeanne

      lemon balm is what smells like lemon pledge and grows wild in the garden,but lemon verbena has a delightful lemon scent.
      Just tried the sorbet and it is wonderful. I added about a quarter of a preserved lemon,diced fine,simply because I had some on hand. I thought it was a nice addition.

      • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

        That’s a lovely idea, Jeanne, thank you for sharing!

  • Maria

    I am always amazed. You are one of the most adventuresome cooks that walks on earth. Reading your blog always makes me smile. Thank you.

  • http://delightfullysweet.wordpress.com/ Danielle

    Always amazing. I can’t wait to try this out!

  • http://www.pink-apron.com Kelly

    Lovely post. I’ve never cooked with lemon verbana and now i’m feeling like I should get my hands on some.

  • http://www.touchofeurope.net Touch of Europe Mimi

    I’ve used excess lemon verbena to flavor oil – it was a great oil on grilled meats and on fish.

    I’ve also used it to give an additional boost to linen waters, or for bath oils and bath salts – like Vanilla, you can just put some in the container and it will permeate (not strongly) after a while.

  • Nick

    I made a very tasty lemon verbena liqueur last year. Steep some leaves, along with a lemon peel, in vodka in a sealed container for around 2 weeks. Add sugar to taste and dissolve. Strain into a bottle; keeps just fine on the shelf. Delicious!

  • dave

    Hi Clotilde. I don’t have The Herbal Kitchen. But I don’t think you’d be disappointed with The Herbfarm Cookbook. It’s really solid and will get you thinking about uses and combinations of flavors that will pleasantly surprise you. One of the flagship recipes in the book (and presumably in his restaurant) is the Herbfarm Salad — a beautiful combination of a dozen or more greens & herbs with a lovely vinaigrette. Simple enough, I know, but genius in its exuberance. And while he does present it as a complete “recipe” he encourages you to take the basic concept and reinvent using whatever is best in your market. I like that kind of food writing.

    I have given the book as a gift many times, including to Lily, the amazing herb vendor at the Sunday farmers market here in Hollywood who herself is always suggesting great simple recipes for her produce.

    Speaking of simple recipes with herbs, a caterer on a photo shoot in Texas earlier this year served a really beautiful salad of fresh chunked pineapple tossed with plenty of fresh tarragon leaves and cracked pink peppercorns. Magical. I’ve never cared much one way or the other about pineapple, but the simple addition of tarragon and pepper makes me swoon.

  • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

    All – Thank you for the lovely lemon verbena ideas!

    David – And thank you again for the recommendation. The Herbfarm book is definitely being added to the top of my wish list.

  • http://www.kitchencaravan.com/blog Sophia from Kitchen Caravan

    What a great recipe. Fresh lemon verbena is not easy to come by but I’ll definitely keep my eyes peeled while at the farmers’ market in NYC.

  • Mark

    About the Herb Farm vs Herbal Kitchen. The basic difference is the Farm has recipes from the restaurant, which are sometimes a bit involved, while the Kitchen is aimed at the home cook. Thus, the Kitchen includes more informal, everyday recipes. Both books have their place. I opted for the Kitchen and really like it, not just for the recipes, but for the suggested flavor combinations. As a result, other recipes in my repetoire often get an herbal boost.

  • Rachel

    I just planted lemon verbena this spring,too. Last year I baught a bar of soap sented with lemon verbena and was hooked. I love “tea” with it. It makes has such a smooth flavor. I was just wondering if you had any tips for growing the wonderful herb? My plants are looking kind of sgragly. They are out in the garden, in full sun and get watered daily. For the winter (I live near Cleveland, Ohio) I was going to dig up the plants and put them in potters to bring inside. How do you grow yours?
    Merci pour l’ideas! (long live high school french class)
    You have inspired me to buy my own bread starter. I’m excited to try the bread out.

  • Constancia

    I grow lemon verbena in a pot that I can move indoors in the winter, since it is too cold where I live to leave it outside. It drops most of its leaves inside, but then revives and even flourishes when the weather is warm enough for it to be put out in the sun again. In addition to using the leaves for making sorbet, I make a white wine sugar syrup and steep some LV leaves in it. This is nice as a vehicle for a summer fruit salad, or mixed with soda water as a refresing summer cooler. I’ve also seen a recipe for biscotti with LV leaves whizzed fine in the food processor, but haven’t tried it.

  • http://ptbcooking.blogspot.com/ energystar

    This recipe sounds like it would be a great addition to my hot weather favorites. Lemon verbena is one of my favorite herbs. I grew it in Texas, but havent tried it since I moved to Florida.

  • http://read-n-eat.com/ Lorrie@Read&Eat

    Lemon verbena and potato gnocchi sounds like a bit of culinary heaven. Any way you can get your friend to share that panna cotta recipe?

  • Samuel

    I have no experience with growing the herb, but a new line of flavored Cottage Cheeses (Rachel’s) included a Lemon Verbena Berry flavor that was my favorite. I’d be interested to see how it pairs with berries in some sort of light dessert.

  • http://www.icebergtoarugula.com Julie Tharalson

    I love your site as much as I love lemon verbena! Thanks for another use for it. This herb is a mainstay in my garden and it grows abundantly here in Northern California. I too like to steep the fresh leaves and drink it iced with a bit of sugar. Sometimes I add some fresh marjoram to hike up the “floral” factor. Yum!!

  • http://www.moabconfluence.org/blog Beth Wolff

    Wow, you sure know food… and how to write about it. You are invited to our fabulous food writing conference October 20-25, 2009, in spectacular Moab, Utah! Learn more about Eating the West at http://www.moabconfluence.org.

  • Robert

    I recall growing Lemon Verbena in my teens — all to make sachets as gifts. In ‘Gone With The Wind,’ Scarlett O’Hara had lined her drawers at Tara lemon verbena sachet and that was good enough for me. The sachet worked well, but my garden yielded little, the position and lighting wasn’t terribly good.

  • Jo

    We have lemon verbena in our garden at home in Australia and I have made sorbets etc… It might be nice to include it in the syrup when poaching pears as well. Do you also use the herb Sweet Geranium? It’s absolutely delicious and also lemony in flavour. It goes very well in syrups and so on and is very good with summer berries.

  • Mary Ellen

    I have lemon verbena in my garden.I have used it with mild-flavored fish fillets. I just place the fish in a baking dish, sprinkle with salt and pepper, toss the lemon verbena leaves on top, and bake until done. Very simple, and the flavor of the leaves is infused nicely into the fish.

  • http://mtolivier.blogspot.com michelle

    I fell in love with lemon verbena while living in Paris about 12 years ago. Best. smell. ever.

    And then I had the best dessert of my life in a Parisian restaurant: pain perdu made with brioche, topped with lemon verbena ice cream, surrounded by crème anglaise. Heaven.

  • ana luisa quiñones

    Hi!
    My name is Ana Luisa Quiñones, I live in Santiago de Chile.
    I often read your blog.
    I have read about lemon verbena in your blog, I want to say you that, its name in spanich is “Cedrón or Hierba Luisa”, that hierb is common in Southamerica, especially in Chile.
    I love Cedrón!
    I have wanted sent you my favory ice cream recipe….

    Ice Cream Cedrón (homemade)
    2 cups milk
    2 cups cream
    200 gr sugar
    6 egg yolks
    1/4 cup of cedron leaves
    Boil the milk, cream, 1/2 cup of sugar, remove from heat and add the cedron for the mix, infusion and let cold, and finally strain and warm again.
    Mix the egg yolks with sugar softly, and pour the mixture of milk and cedron on egg yolks, cook the mixture until to england custard, let cold and the end , put the mixture in to ice cream machine. (sorry for my english)
    Regard from Chile!
    ANA LUISA QUIÑONES

  • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

    Ana Luisa – It looks great, thanks for sharing!

  • http://carlosmunozparra.blogspot.com carlos munoz parra

    I can give you a tetimony about how delicius is this “cedron” ice cream. I never try before a sweety taste like this one. Creamy, refresching, a soft lemon taste with little aftertaste of aromatic fresh herbs that make you almost take the stars!
    I just want to give my congratulations to Ana Luisa because she makes this georgous recipe.
    Regards from the south side of the world….Carlos.

  • http://www.herbcyclopedia.com/index.php?option=com_zoo&task=item&item_id=111&Itemid=171 HERBCYCLOPEDIA

    Nice recipe Clotilde, did you know that the antioxidant capacity values of Lemon verbena infusion are comparable to those commercial antioxidant drink based on green tea?

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

      I didn’t know that, how interesting. Thanks!

  • Philip

    Coming a little late to this party- I like to make simple syrup with lemon verbena. It’s good to sweeten iced tea or to make a non-alcoholic spritzer. My favorite use is in baking- moistening genoise for a trifle or layer cake, especially when raspberries, peaches or a lemon pastry cream are involved.

  • http://www.35aweek.com $35 a Week

    Sounds amazing! I assume lemon verbena leaves can be frozen like kaffir lime leaves—they’d be great to keep on hand to make this any time.

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

      I’m sure you could! They’re certainly sturdier than soft leaves such as basil or cilantro, so I think they would do well in the freezer.

  • AJ

    I just wanted to say that I made this! It was very refreshing :)
    I didn’t actually know what lemon verbena was until I received it in my weekly CSA box, so I didn’t quite know what I was getting myself in to. I used 1 tbsp vanilla extract (homemade, so I know it was just beans + vodka) instead of the limoncello because I heard that alcohol can really improve icecream/sorbet consistency, and that did it’s job without being overly vanilla.
    It’s also a very pretty color. I wouldn’t hesitate to serve this to others. Thank you!

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