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. If you are trying to choose between them, it is important that you understand and weigh each herb’s unique characteristics. Let’s compare the two so you can make the best choice for your cooking.
Table of Contents
- How do lemon balm and lemon verbena differ?
- Can you use lemon balm in place of lemon verbena and vice versa?
- When should you use lemon balm and when should you use lemon verbena?
- Must-read related posts
How do lemon balm and lemon verbena differ?
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 part of the mint family 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 (and scent) 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 consider 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, so it is a little better suited for savory applications. Reserve it for cooking fish and poultry, 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.