Lemon is a pleasing scent for most herb lovers. It comes mainly from the leaves of different herbs, either as the main fragrance or as a delicate note that brightens the scent. Lemon-flavored herbs are popular for teas and cooking recipes. These herbs bring a bright, cheerful flavor to lighter foods like pasta, fish, and chicken and can make a not-so-tasty tea more palatable.
If you want to add that lovely lemon scent to your garden but don't want to grow a lemon tree, lemon eucalyptus tree, or flowers that smell like lemon (such as lemon-scented geranium or mock lemon), consider these five easy-growing lemon-smelling herbs.
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Lemon verbena is the most fragrant of lemon-scented herbs. It has been used in aromatherapy and perfumery for hundreds of years.
Lemon verbena has a citrus smell that works well for room cleaning and freshening. Mixed with a bit of beeswax, it helps to bring a wonderful scent and shine to wood. It is refreshing and uplifting, perfect for making herbal vinegar for a household cleaner or window spray. Its calming lemon flavor holds up very well when dried, so it also stands up nicely in a tea mixture. It appeals to picky children. Lemon verbena also makes a fantastic scent for goat milk soap.
A perennial woody lemon-smelling shrub in southern zones, lemon verbena can be pot grown and brought indoors for overwintering in more northern climates. Prune your plant like any woody shrub, removing dead wood and shaping it to promote branching.
- USDA Growing Zones: Zones 8 to 10
- Sun Exposure: Full sun (partial shade in hotter climates)
- Soil Needs: loose, well-drained soil rich in organic matter
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Also known as sweet Melissa, lemon balm is often referred to as the "happy" herb, promoting uplifted spirits and a sense of overall well-being. One of the most popular lemon-scented herbs, the lemon balm plant smells like lemon and mint and is a lemony herb in the mint family. It also grows as easily as mint. It has small white flowers, sometimes with a yellowish or pinkish tinge, attractive to bees.
Lemon balm will be more fragrant and flavorful when used fresh, but the leaves are easily dried and stored for use in teas and cooking during the colder months. The fragrance and flavor of lemon balm are similar to lemon verbena.
Mint plants spread fast and widely, so to keep the roots from spreading everywhere, put them in a pot and plant the pot in the ground. You can cut lemon balm numerous times during the season. Keep it trimmed to a reasonable size and divide if your pot becomes overcrowded.
- USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 7
- Sun Exposure: Partial shade
- Soil Needs: Fertile, moist soil
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Lemongrass is a tall, grass-like herb, making it a fun annual to grow in pots. It can then be harvested when you take the pot apart at the end of the season.
To use lemongrass over the winter, freeze and use it, as needed, just as you would fresh. It loses its flavor quickly when dried. However, it is possible to dry it, and if you use it fairly soon after drying, it should be fine. Lemongrass is very common in Asian cuisine, particularly Thai food, used in soups, and often paired with chicken.
Lemongrass gets its growing habits from its name; it grows in clumps, as do many grass family members. It is a warm-season plant so wait to plant until your garden plot has warmed up, and be sure to place your lemongrass plants in an area with full sun. Cut stems at ground level as needed during the growing season.
- USDA Growing Zones: 10 to 11
- Sun Exposure: Full sun
- Soil Needs: Rich, well-drained soil amended with fish emulsion
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One of the all-time favorite types of basil is lemon basil, an annual plant used primarily for cooking but also works well in potpourri.
This basil adds a bright note to any dish calling for basil and is fun to experiment with. The added touch of lemon to this potent herb blends well and can compete with and smooth out strong flavors. Lemon basil blends well with tomatoes and other ingredients in Mediterranean cuisine. Try using Lemon Basil in pesto for a bright, tangy note in this popular condiment.
Basils grow easily from seed, so plant them in a sunny spot as soon as the ground has warmed up, and the threat of frost is gone. Basil does not tolerate cold weather and dies back at the slightest hint of frost.
Your lemon basil plant will benefit from repeated harvesting of the leaves. Pinch back to promote branching, which means more delicious leaves and a bigger harvest. Also, pinch back flower buds. If you allow the plant to flower, you can still use the leaves, but they will likely have a bitter flavor. You can preserve basil leaves for winter use by drying or freezing them.
Continue to 5 of 5 below.
- USDA Growing Zones: 2 to 11
- Sun Exposure: Full sun
- Soil Needs: Rich soil
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True to its name, lemon thyme has all the resinous flavor of thyme, and it also has the genuine citrus scent of lemon in every leaf. Lemon thyme also has a pretty variegated leaf that adds interest to your borders and container herb gardens. It is one of those herbs that tastes as great as it looks; be sure to try it on grilled fish and asparagus. You can use it in almost any recipe that calls for regular thyme. Use lemon thyme to make the traditional thyme tea that helps soothe sore throats.
This herb will have the greatest potency used fresh, but a little goes a long way. It also retains good flavor and scent when dried, so be sure to remove stems and damaged leaves and put some up for winter use in soups, stews, and tea. Like all varieties of thyme, your lemon thyme will benefit from repeated harvests. A low-growing woody perennial lemon thyme should be cut back by at least two-thirds at the end of the growing season and can even be cut back to almost ground level.
- USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 8
- Sun Exposure: Full sun
- Soil Needs: Well-drained soil; drought tolerant
Lemony plants are a wonderful addition to any garden, indoors or out. There are, however, many more lovely herbs to consider for beauty, fragrance, and culinary uses. Consider these ideas to plan for next spring: