Lemon balm and lemon verbena are two lemon-scented culinary herbs that have been used all over the world for centuries. However, they are not among the most well-known or widely used herbs in the west. While you should have an easy time finding herbs like basil and thyme in your local grocery store, you may have to go to a specialty retailer for the lemon-scented herbs. If you are trying to choose between them, it is important that you understand and weigh each herb’s unique characteristics. In the lemon balm vs. lemon verbena SPICEography Showdown, we compare their most significant differences. Let’s begin.
How are lemon balm and lemon verbena different from each other?
The main difference between lemon balm and lemon verbena is the fact that they are unrelated plants from two very different parts of the world. Lemon verbena is from the Verbenaceae family and is a South American herb, while lemon balm is related to mint and is a European herb.
Both lemon balm and lemon verbena offer a lemon aroma and flavor notes, but they do so in different concentrations. Lemon balm provides a more subdued and less sweet lemon flavor. Its lemon note has a lot in common with the citronella notes of lemongrass. The lemony properties are against a subtle background of mint. Lemon verbena is known to provide a pungent lemony aromatic note that gives it the reputation of being the most lemony of the lemon-scented herbs. Lemon verbena’s lemon note is also accentuated by a floral undertone.
Can you use lemon balm in place of lemon verbena and vice versa?
Both lemon balm and lemon verbena share a similar appearance along with a similar flavor and fragrance, but they have different properties that you must take into account if you plan on using one in place of the other. For example, the milder lemon flavor of lemon balm means that you will have to use more of it if you use it as a lemon verbena substitute. Of course, this difference in flavor means that you will have to use less of the lemon verbena with the opposite substitution.
In addition, you will also have to consider the properties of each. Lemon verbena will not make a good lemon balm as a treatment for anxiety. Despite the differences above, these two herbs work almost equally well in most applications. Use them interchangeably in marinades and salad dressings as well as for garnishing cocktails.
When should you use lemon balm and when should you use lemon verbena?
Lemon balm is not quite as sweet as lemon verbena, which means that it is a little better suited for use in savory applications. Reserve it for cooking fish and poultry as well as in salad dressings and for seasoning vegetables. Lemon verbena’s stronger and sweeter lemon flavor means that it will work better in desserts and beverages. Use it to flavor custards, cakes, and other baked goods or to add a lemon note to teas and cocktails. Both are good for making teas, but lemon balm is better if you want a soothing and relaxing effect; lemon verbena can provide high levels of certain vitamins as well as a sweeter lemon flavor that is a closer approximation to the taste of the fruit.