By Paris Wolfe, Writer, Herb Society of America
Just after my wedding in November 1989, my then-husband and I bought a 1,000-square-foot, yellow ranch in Concord, Ohio. The landscaping was raw. So, I enriched the soil, readying it to plant my favorite things. (No guilt about digging up someone else’s gardening mess.) Problem was, I was only 25 years old and had spent most of my recent years in college or working. What were my favorite plants? I had no idea.
My BFF’s mom, Pat Peters had her opinion on what was good for me – herbs. And, she graciously thinned her garden gifting me thyme, savory and more. Her most memorable contribution was lemon balm. It was easy to grow, lush and made good tea, especially when combined with mint. It never dried well, but some things are meant to be enjoyed in season.
That gift started a 25-plus year love affair with herbs, especially those with a lemony essence.
Three houses later and I’m still obsessed with lemon thyme. My favorite cultivar has variegated leaves and adds colorful depth to the garden. With my former plants getting woody and sparse, this year I planted five new clumps near the curved concrete walk leading to my front door. And, that’s probably not enough to dry for myself and friends.
A hardy perennial, this lemon thyme is decorative as sun-loving ground cover and flowers in the middle of the summer season. The tiny leaves maintain their oils when dried and add dimension to any recipe calling for plain, old thyme. My favorite recipe is a mayonnaise-based pasta salad with crab, grapes and carrots. Or maybe homemade chicken noodle soup.
Also on my lemon herb list is lemon grass, which I use in an Asian marinade for shrimp kebabs. And, surprisingly, my cat Rain enjoys as a gourmet alternative to cat grass. My other three felines, Midnight, Bonnie and Rocky have lesser palates and ignore the stuff. (Herb lady. Cat lady. What can I say?!)
The most aromatic is lemon verbena, again a great herb for tea, particularly iced tea.
It’s easy to maintain a lemon garden in Ohio, though some of the tender plants require replacement after our harsh winters. In the garden, I group these herbs together because the leaves are all different, complimenting each other. Of course, I segregate lemon balm as I would mint so it doesn’t take over.
Do you have a favorite lemon herb or lemon herb recipe? Feel free to share it in the comments below.