French Lemon Verbena

In 2014 Tim asked me to look for the perfect farmers to match our demanding criteria in sourcing tea: they must own their land, be under 15 acres,  and produce delicious plants without artificial fertilisers and pesticides. It took me nearly two years to find four small growers, who added two unexpected criteria to our list since they also use no mechanical tools and their farm is located away from any kind of pollution. We chose three tisanes to start our journey into herbal teas: French Camomile, French Lemon Verbena and French Peppermint.

Our series continues with Lemon Verbena…

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It is appropriate to talk about the refreshing, comforting and reviving aromas of Lemon Verbena in the slightly sad and grey first month of winter when daylight is becoming shorter and shorter. It will also bring a bit of heat to November since it is originally a plant from Latin America brought to Europe by the Spanish and the Portuguese in the seventeenth century and named Aloysia Citriodora, after Carlos IV of Spain’s wife Maria Luisa and its lemon evoking scent respectively. Lemon Verbena, or Vervaine as the French call it, is recommended for insomnia, stress, depression, hypertension, rheumatism, bad vision, intestinal inflammations and any kind of pessimism. It very much enjoys warmth and humid climates and is usually replanted every three years. Most of the time in France, in order to avoid frost, it is grown in greenhouses. I was happily surprised when I realised that, by coincidence, both the Lemon Verbenas we had chosen for Postcard Teas out of all the samples we tried were the two grown outdoors and from old trees kept over the years: three years in Corrèze (Flavie Lenne) and eight years in Brittany (Isabelle Chaillou and Loïc Le Pollès). Both of our growers also share the same passion for horses and only work the land with them, eschewing any other machinery. Were we identifying the similarities unconsciously when tasting both tisanes in the first place?

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Isabelle Chaillou and Loïc Le Pollès (Brittany) are from the older generation of our makers. Having had office jobs in cities before, they decided to change their lives completely  and go back to nature to grow herbs on their land in Guiclan, a small village between Roscoff and Morlaix. There, as in Cornwall, you can feel the sea, mild climate and rain everyday, or almost. When I visited them in August it was in the middle of the heatwave all over the country which had registered about 35 degrees in Paris that morning, so I was quite pleased to enjoy a bit of fresh air coming out of the train in Britanny. In the early afternoon it was 18 degrees with patches of rain so we sheltered to pluck the leaves off the verbena in the barn in which Isa and Loïc play loud jazz music on rainy afternoons. They are passionate and have their own speciality: Loïc is proud of his farming tools and his horse aptly named ‘Bretagne’, and Isabelle is definitely the herbalist, knowing everything about all the plants and their properties. They have built themselves an impressive dryer which is helped by the solar heat, to counter the famous humidity challenge of the region. The best memory of my visit was certainly the extremely concentrated infusion of the fresh leaves (the head of the plants become black the day you pluck so you have to drink them right away!): definitely the best infusion of Lemon Verbena I ever had. I have noticed that in general, the herbal growers make very strong infusions of their tisanes and when I mentioned this to Jonathan he immediately thought of the concentrated parameters farmers use to brew their tea in Chaozhou.

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 Flavie Lenne (Corrèze), who also grows some of our camomile (see my post about Camomile), treats her Lemon Verbena with the same care, each leaf being very precious. Her Lemon Verbena plants look very steady and strong and she found the nicest, and the most ingenuous way to get rid of the weeds in between the lines: a rolling cage and two rabbits eating the grass inside!  In addition, due to her intention to render the purest single herb taste, Flavie is starting to make very fine local essential oils. She started this year with her brand new alembics to produce oils and stunning hydrosols of Lavender, Thyme and others. She makes a hydrosol of Lemon Verbena that tastes delicious and feels very good for you. Finally, combining her love for nature with her love for horse riding, she takes care of few horses that then help her to work the land.

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