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Lemon verbena ice cream

Lest you think this is turning into a blog about obscure, leafy ingredients, you might be right. But when I sniffed the very fragrant leaves of lemon verbena, or verveine, growing out-of-control at my friend Trisha’s house near Nice, and she told me to take as much as I wanted home, I dove for the clippers. And almost as soon as I got home, to preserve the taste, I infused them and churned up a batch of lemon verbena ice cream.

French people drink infusions and tisanes after dinner, which in English, we simply refer to as “herb teas.” But in France, what they call “tea” has black tea in it. Infusions and tisanes are made with herbs or other greenery.

Yet Arabic mint tea is called “tea” by the masses, and while it usually has some green tea in it, I can’t figure out the differentiation between “tea” made with leaves and “infusion” made with leaves.


But it’s funny to see visitors from my mother-land try the explain to café waiters that they want “lemon verbena tea”, because French people have no idea what they’re talking about. (I shouldn’t laugh; it’s a position I’m all-too-familiar with.) So I’m not picking on anyone. I’m just doing my duty here as an unofficial ambassador, without the awesome perks our highly-paid ambassadors are privy to. A situation which is grossly-unfair, if you ask me.

And you are probably asking yourselves how someone can begin to write a recipe for ice cream and go from language quirks to cultural differences, then touch on overpaid political appointments, to hot, soothing beverages before finally touching back down on botanical variations in leaves in a couple of short paragraphs. It’s something that also confounds editors across the country. But lord love ’em, they still hire me. Rarely—but some a have a soft spot for me. And God bless ’em; the rest don’t know what they’re missing. Really.

(Note to self: I must someday learn to write recipes that begin with, “This refreshing dessert goes well with so many delightful things, like…”)

Lemon verbena ice cream is a refreshing dessert that goes with so many delightful things, like apricot sorbet as well as fresh or stewed berries, apricots and plums. I would also imagine it would be curiously delicious served with a scoop of Lemon Sherbet as well, both providing their own unique lemony compliment to each other. See? I can do it if I really try. I guess there’s hope for me yet.

lemon verbena ice cream

Lemon Verbena Ice Cream

Since I’m in the people-pleasing mode, although I squirreled away a bunch of lemon verbena from my friend’s shrub, you can probably find some if you ask friends, or at your local farmer’s market or well-stocked grocers. You could equal parts fresh mint instead.
  • 1 1/2 cups (10g) loosely-packed fresh lemon verbena leaves, rinsed & dried
  • 1 1/2 cups (375ml) whole milk
  • 1 1/2 cups (375ml) heavy cream
  • 3/4 cup (150g) sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • optional: a dried leaf of lemon verbena, to crumble in the just-churned ice cream, or a very-finely chopped fresh leaf
  • In a medium saucepan, warm the lemon verbena leaves with the milk, 1/2 cup (125ml) of the cream, the sugar, and a pinch of salt.
  • Once warm, remove from heat, cover, and let steep for one hour.
  • To make the ice cream custard, pour the remaining cream into a large bowl set in a larger bowl of ice water, and put a mesh strainer on top.
  • Use a strainer or slotted spoon to skim the lemon verbena from the cream & milk mixture and squeeze the leaves to extract as much liquid as possible back into the saucepan, then discard them. Rewarm the lemon verbena-infused cream & milk, then
  • In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs together in a small bowl and slowly pour in the warm infusion, whisking constantly.
  • Scrape the warmed egg yolks back into the saucepan and cook, stirring continuously with a heatproof spatula, until the custard leaves a trail on the spatula when you drag your finger across it. (If using a thermometer, it should read about 175ºF, or 79ºC.)
  • Immediately strain the custard into the bowl of cream. Stir until cool.
  • Chill thoroughly, then freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. When done, crumble a dried verbena leaf in the ice cream, or finely-chop a fresh leaf and stir that in.


Making ice cream without a machine

Candied bacon ice cream (recipe)

Tips for making softer homemade ice cream

Easy no-churn chocolate ice cream (recipe)

Salted Butter Caramel ice cream (recipe)



    • Mike

    The color on this ice cream looks great. I’ve never come across lemon verbena before…I’ll have to keep an eye out for it because this sounds really good.

    • Earline

    I have a lemon verbena tree (well, large shrub, perhaps) in my back yard. I’ve used it to flavor iced tea and to make a syrup (with lavender) for fruit compote. I’m very eager to try this ice cream!

    • Kira

    How do you get such perfectly round scoops? I got tired of bending spoons, so bought a Zeroll which had high ranks on Amazon, and I’m kinda disappointed with it. Do you have a favorite scoop??

    • Elise

    What a great way to get all that lemon flavor but without having to deal with the acidity of lemon. We have verbena growing, planted it after I had a wonderful verbena mint tea (oops, I mean tisane) at Chez Panisse. Made a lovely pound cake with some leaves a few months ago.

    • Jennie

    I’ve been using lemon verbena in ice cream ever since I saw the recipe for lemon verbena sherbert in Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison. Each summer, I make sure I have a lemon verbena plant so I can make the sherbert. Everyone loves it, even the skeptics! I’m looking forward to trying your ice cream version, David.

    • Norman

    This is terrific ice cream. I’ve made it before, and a sorbet of it, too. Union Square Cafe, in NY, serves it with a blueberry compote and it’s really good, but I just like the ice cream by itself. I just bought a whole plant of it so that I didn’t run out

    • mary

    This sounds really good, and I’m thinking about making it for a party I’m having on Saturday. But I’m wondering, do you know how far ahead I could make the custard? I’m wondering if I could “chill thoroughly” for a few days instead of hours so I can save myself some time later in the week.

    On a different note, I love the new look! But did some of your changes mess up your feed somehow? It could be google is just acting up on me, but my reader isn’t showing anything since “What Got Me Excited …” a few days ago, and I think it usually shows up faster than that. Just thought you might want to know in case there is a bug!


    • Celia

    I have a love affair with lemon verbena so you can imagine why my heart when aflutter when I read this recipe! In truth, I stalk your site daily, but this is the first time I’ve posted anything. Something as delicious as verbena ice cream requires action! I’m making some this weekend! Merci!

    • Gigi

    When I was a french exchange student many years ago the family I stayed with brewed fresh mint leaves with mint tea. Mint is my favorite thing and this tea was beyond mint I had ever tasted before!

    I still make my tea that way to this day. I didn’t know they did it with other herbs too. Interesting. Thanks David

    • David

    Kira: I used a spring-loaded scoop, but I buy the professional-quality ones (like this), since the cheap ones break so easily. The Zeroll scoops are good for rock-hard ice cream, but I prefer the other kind. (I usually let my ice cream soften just a bit before scooping.) You can find them in restaurant-supply and cookware stores.

    Mary: You can make the custard & chill it a few days (2-3) in advance, and it shouldn’t be a problem. Happy churning!

    • Laura

    It’s the first time that I visit your site…and I would like to leave you my compliments!
    Sorry for my English…I’m an Italian girl and I have a food blog too.
    The ice cream looks great and i suppose that the taste it’ s better!
    I’ ll come back here as soon as possible.
    If you want..come and visit my personal page!

    • Andrea

    Hi David,

    Can you substitute lemon balm for the verbena? I have a yard full of lemon balm.

    I read your blog everyday and it is my turn to make you jealous (as you do each day to your readers)… it’s sour cherry season here. Thanks for the recipes!

    • Mary

    Look the new look. Thanks to this recipe I am now defoliating my lemon verbena plant – although I think I’ll need to make a half batch (my plant is not as verdant as your friend’s is).

    FYI – just to echo the other Mary’s comment – my reader (Google) isn’t picking up any of your entries after the entry “What got me excited …” I even resubscribed to see if that helped.

    • David

    Andrea: I’m not sure what lemon balm is used for, but if it’s edible, you probably can.

    Mary & Mary: I’ve heard that from a few others, although I also heard that before the new site went up. I don’t use Google Reader, but can you tell me if it all came through before? Thanks!

    • Mary

    David: I always got all updates through my reader before. Your site is so inspiring I come back to it frequently for items I’ve bookmarked.

    Andrea (and David): Lemon Balm is actually in the mint family (though it’s not minty at all). I have used it in infused syrups and flavored sugars. I think it could be used in the place of the verbena (you can steep it the same way) – the verbena is more “perfumey” than the balm so it won’t be the same, but it will be good. :-)

    My web dude is on a much-deserved break but I’ll ask him when he comes back. Merci! -dl

    • Meg

    Great post, David – I’m sure the editors find your style a breath of fresh air, just as we do! You made me smile…and not for the first time!

    • Pirouette

    Thanks, David, for this delicious post. Makes me all the more eager to buy that ice cream maker I have on my lust list. :)

    • David

    Pirouette: At this point, I couldn’t live without mine!

    Meg: You rock. I am so coming to visit you in London : )

    Neal’s Yard—here we come!

    • Barbra

    At one of my old jobs we served a warm rhubarb charlotte (the kind where the mold is lined with brioche) with lemon verbena ice cream and it was deeeeelicious.

    Don’t go changing, David!

    • elra

    Thank you……….
    It’s triple digits here in CA, I am so making this ice cream!!!!!!!!!!!! I am lucky to have Lemon Verbena in my herb garden, you can come over to my house too and don’t forget to bring your clipper!

    • david

    Lemon Verbena Ice Cream sounds heavenly. Since we’re talking about ice cream, I have a question about the Chocolate Banana Ice Cream recipe you provided us at the Central Market classes in April. Skim milk!? Is that a typo? I tried it and the consistency was icy, and the bailey’s/rum flavors seemed to be overpowering. Is my palate not sophisticated enough? Do you have any feedback for me about this recipe? When we tried it in the class, I thought it was outstanding, but in attempting to replicate it at home, something went wrong. Thank you.

    • David

    Hi David: That super-easy Chocolate Ice Cream recipe is also at the link. Yes, I use low-fat milk but be sure you’re using pretty ripe bananas. That was the recipe I made in class so perhaps you should give it another go.

    • José Tomaz de Mello Breyner

    I would like to recomend what in my humble opinion are the best ice creams in the world :

    • lisa

    Yesterday I walked by Miss Verbena in her summer glory and said, “I need to do something with you.” I hesitate to prune until I have an immediate use for all those glorious leaves. Now I do.

    • Kim

    This is the second Lemon Verbena Ice Cream I have seen today. I don’t use lemon verbena and think I am missing out on something.

    Love your new site David and your food is always tempting.

    • S for Kitchen Confit

    I thinking just the other day that I wanted to try making a herb infused ice cream and of course here’s one with Lemon Verbena Ice Cream. I wonder what other herbs (beyond mint, obviously) would taste good in ice cream form…

    • krysalia (france)

    david said : “Yet Arabic mint tea is called “tea” by the masses, and while it usually has some green tea in it, I can’t figure out the differentiation between “tea” made with leaves and “infusion” made with leaves. (Krysalia…help!)”


    I would say that in France, we tend to call tea what has camelia sinensis in it, I mean, the real “tea” plant. No matter if it’s black, green, white, whatever, because these colors are the result of the processing of one same plant.
    Any name as “mint tea”, “vanilla tea”, “raspberry tea”, is a reference to a beverage witch contains both tea (camelia sinensis) and some added natural and/or artificial flavors, sometimes even real parts of fruits, or other plants.

    The french word infusion is often employed to speak about “hot beverage other than tea, meant without caffeine”. something with tasty plants strained in hot water, but that will let you sleep on the evening. Infusions can have flavors, too, and sometimes they don’t even have plants, only flavors (red fruit, banana, apple-cinnamon and way more chemical yummy tastes and colors anyone can enjoy in a hot beverage).

    About the infusions mostly made with plants, what you called “infusion made with leaves”, this is slightly the same thing than the tisanes : good aromatic plants or flowers or roots, other than camelia sinensis, strained in hot water and sometimes sweetened with honey. But the word tisane is special : it has some healing/old medicine meaning, instead of the infusion which is mostly for taste.

    To ask in a café for some Lemon verbena tea, in France you should actually ask une infusion de verveine, or “une verveine“.

    Mint tea on the contrary is du thé à la menthe, because the plants here are mint AND camelia sinensis, otherwise it would be called une infusion de menthe … But do not ask for “une menthe” in a café, or you’ll get some mint syrup diluted in a glass of water :D

    Does this makes sense ? (One could think that my poor English would be better after all these paragraphs I’ve written, sorry about the language mistakes I’m sure I’ve made)

    • krysalia

    oh, by the way, i have the same rss problem than other people said, i read your rss usually in bloglines. i try to suscribe again but that did not work.

    • Kimi

    This looks divine! I planted lemon verbena just this year and am ready to use it. Also, just purchased an ice cream machine, what a coincidence1

    • brilynn

    I love The Perfect Scoop! I’ve already made about half a dozen recipes from it, I’ll have to add this to my list to try!

    • Charlotte

    My new ice cream machine came yesterday and this post got me thinking about lemon flavors — so I made the Barbara Tropp lemon ice cream (with my fabulous milk and cream I buy from a local rancher who keeps a few Jersey cows), and then I folded into it some of the plum-ginger jam I made last week as a swirl. It’s SO delicious! The ice cream is nice and icy since it’s one of the non-egg ones, and the plum/ginger works beautifully with the lemon. And it all tastes so fresh and clean, with none of that gumminess that commercial ice creams too often have (again, might also have something to do with the quality of the milk and cream I get). Now I just have to go give a lot of it away or my morning hikes aren’t going to do me much good … Thanks for the great recipes David!

    • Mary

    RSS seems to be working now David. I just got the last five posts in my reader. I’m up to date now. Yay! :-)

    • Sylvie, Rappahannock Cook & Kitchen Gardener

    Ok – so what’s wrong with obscure leafy ingredients? as long as they are tasty or fragrant. Lemon verbena is a favorite of mine (I just wrote about it on the 7th – and provided some recipes too, if one can call guidelines “recipes”) and I adore the dry fragrant leaves. Makes a hell of a sleep pillow for those who don’t do night caps… and as sweet a reminder of summer as dry lavender. Lemon-verbena syrup works VERY nicely in margarita, too…

    Anyway, the more ice-cream and sorbet recipes at this time of the year, the merrier. Dessert without heating up the kitchen. Perfect! Keep them coming, David.

    • sue

    I have a whack of lemon balm in my garden, but alas, no lemon verbena. Would this work as a substitute? Love your blog, and am just salivating through “The Perfect Scoop”.

    • Karen

    I just noticed today that my lemon verbena plants had grown back after being ravaged for an uncooked lemon verbena sorbet I made for a birthday dinner two weeks ago. And I was thinking about making it again tomorrow and then I found your ice cream recipe and it looks fantastic so I think I’ll make that instead.

    For the people who were asking about Lemon Balm: I have that in my herb garden, too. As someone mentioned it is in the mint family (though doesn’t taste minty) and it has a wonderful lemony flavor that is somewhat different than lemon verbena. Lemon balm is more lemony and citrusy in its aroma and flavor than the verbena, which I think has more of an ineffable herbiness to it. It is perfectly fine to substitute one for the other in most recipes, though the flavors will be a bit different. Also there is a textural difference between the leaves. Lemon verbena is coarser/tougher than the lemon balm, which has a texture much like mint leaves. So I don’t think you’d crumble a dried lemon balm leaf into the finished ice cream, though you might chop up a fresh one.

    • Andrew

    Speaking of lemon verbena, for all those living in the antipodes, how about lemon myrtle ice cream (backhousia citriodora) or even lime verbena… although I must admit I’ve only come across the latter once in my life and the cutting didn’t take.

    Also, more weird aussie flavours, I love the flavour of wattle seed ice cream (hints of chocolate/coffee/hazelnut).

    • GG Mora

    Yesterday afternoon, a surplus of fresh buttermilk from butter-making got me in mind of buttermilk ice cream. Googling around, I found your recipe for Lemon-Buttermilk Sherbert; not exactly what I had in mind, but last night I made the lemon / sugar syrup and put it on the chill. Just now, walking through the garden, I absent-mindedly grabbed a few leaves of lemon verbena and crushed them in my hand for gratuitous sniffing. And I thought…hmmm…lemon verbena…buttermilk…lemon verbena…buttermilk. So I googled again and came up with (no surprise) another David Lebovitz recipe. But nothing specifically Lemon Verbena and Buttermilk. I guess I’ll just have to experiment. Any hints?

    • Jack Bart

    David, I have a question. I have a profusion of pears that are ripening. I want to make a puree of them and simple syrup to make a sorbet. But can I freeze this mix and enjoy pear sorbet in the winter? Could you advise on this? If you could reply here, it would be great.

    • David

    Hi Jack: Yes, you can freeze cooked pear puree (or a pear sorbet mixture and freeze it later on. Happy churning!

    • bloviatrix

    I adore lemon verbena. I actually have the base for lemon verbena buttermilk ice cream chilling in my fridge waiting to be churned. It will be served with a scoop of blueberry ice cream.

    For those of you in NYC looking for the herb – Stokes Farms at USGM has it.

    • Julie

    I just made your lemon-buttermilk sherbet from ‘Perfect Scoop’. But instead of all lemon, I made it half meyer lemon and half blood orange. I seriously think this is the best sherbet I’ve made yet!

    Your website continues to be such an enjoyable read; I love how opinionated you are and your recipes are damn good!


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