Lemon Verbena Vs. Lemongrass: SPICEography Showdown

There are quite a few herbs that can provide a lemon scent along with an herbal note. Among the most common of these herbs are lemon verbena and lemongrass. Both have the word lemon in their name and are great options for many of the same applications, but they do have some important differences. If you are unfamiliar with these herbs and want to use one or the other, read on to learn more about them in our lemon verbena vs. lemongrass SPICEography Showdown.

How do lemon verbena and lemongrass differ?

Lemon verbena is a shrub that can grow up to five feet tall and that has oval leaves. It also has a strong fragrance that is redolent of its citrus fruit namesake. Lemon verbena comes from South America and was exported from that continent to Europe and to North America. The leaves are tender and can be used in both savory and sweet preparations. Another important property of lemon verbena has to do with its aroma. Not only is the lemon aspect of lemon verbena pungent, it has a distinctive floral note as well.

Lemongrass differs in that it is a grass as the name suggests. Instead of a leafy shrub, you get long stalks that grow in clumps. Lemongrass has the texture of corn husks in that it is fibrous and does not break down easily. When using it you have two options—you can cut it into large pieces that you use like bay leaves; meaning, you add them to your dish and remove them before serving. The second option is to use only the inner leaves, which are more tender. These you can chop finely and add without removing them later. Lemongrass does have an herbal note, but not the floral note that you will get from lemon verbena.

Is lemon verbena a good substitute for lemongrass and vice versa?

Lemon verbena and lemongrass make excellent substitutes for each other and can be used interchangeably in almost all applications that require one of them. Both herbs provide a strong citrus note to foods, but lemon verbena has a brighter and more pungent lemon note. In addition, the nutritional profiles of the two herbs are different.

If using lemon verbena in place of lemongrass, you may want to start with half the amount that the recipe requires for lemongrass and adjust to taste. When using lemongrass in place of lemon verbena, you should start out with about twice as much lemongrass. Remember that unless you are using the tender inner part of the stalk, you will need to remove the lemongrass before serving the dish.

When should you use lemon verbena and when should you use lemongrass?

The traditional way to enjoy the flavor of lemon verbena is in a tea, but the herb can be used to flavor poultry and seafood by including it in a marinade. It is used in some salad dressings as well as in soups. Among the sweet preparations that include it are sorbets, jams and puddings.

Lemongrass is best known for its use in Thai and other South Asian cuisines. While it does not have to be limited to dishes from those food cultures, they are unquestionably where it shines. Use it in stir-fried dishes as well as in Thai chicken curries; it is an essential ingredient in Laotian larb and in Malaysia’s rempah spice paste.