Oaxaca lemon verbena

by Green Deane

in Antioxidants, Beverage, Medicinal, Plants, Trees/Shrubs

Lippia alba: Oaxaca lemon verbena

It all started with a little tour of his back yard.

He’s an aging Greek professor and doesn’t like lawn, so his back yard is a tangle of edible plants…. incredibly strong basil from Greece, pineapples started from tops, an olive tree with one very proud olive.

Lippia alba

“Here” he said, breaking some branches off a bush as round as it was tall, ‘the leaves make a great lemon tea.” He paused and emphasized it: “A really good tea.” I didn’t know it at the moment but that little exchange typified the schism in the plant world between those who use a plant and those who wonder what it is.

Years later I have five bushes of “it.”  The question, of course, was and is, “what is “it” since my friend’s association with botany does not extend beyond consumption. It was clearly in the same greater collective as the American Beautyberry and the Lantana in my yard, which are both in the verbena family. The leaf shape, growth habit, and exotic oils was consistent with that family, but that’s a huge family.

“Where did you get it?” I asked him on another visit. From his neighbor he said. “Which one” I asked. “The Cuban,” he said.  That was some help. It was doubtful this plant was from Sweden or the like. “Where did he get?” I asked.  The answer was not encouraging: A shrug of the shoulders.  Maybe Sweden wasn’t ruled out.

My first near success was to find on the internet a picture of a Lippia alba var. globiflora.  That looked promising. I found it while looking for “Cuba and verbena.” At least I had the family, genus and species right. The variation is still debatable.

Lippia alba (LIP-pee-uh AL-buh) is one of those plants that was found when it wasn’t really lost, and then was lost but not by those who use it then found again by those who don’t use it. That’s kind of how my friend and I related to this plant. This past year he’s been pleasantly drinking tea made from the leaves. What the plant is, is not relevant to him or his plant. If I never figure out exactly what the bush is makes no difference to him. He likes the tea. That’s the same situation when researchers work on a plant and then leave for a century only to come back and rediscover the same plant the locals kept right on using.

The botanical name contains some intrigue as well. Alba means white. Lippia honors Italian naturalist Dr. Agostino Lippi, 1678 -1704 (some call him a French traveller.) But more than that it is a genus of plants that has aromatic oils and Lippia can also be the feminine form of Lipos, the Greek word for fat. It is perhaps a double entendre or a convenient naming.

If one does an internet search on Lippia alba one learns that it has been the subject of a lot of research, reported in 2007. It clearly has been discovered. Its oils are antibiotic, antioxidants, and sedative, not inducing sleep but increasing the length of sleep.  It also helps prevent ulcers…. I was beginning to understand why my friend was so relaxed all the time.  And indeed, I may never figure out which Lippia alba it is, if it is one. All I really know is it makes a nice tea…Perhaps that is all I need to know.  Perhaps that is all we ever really need to know. Humanity got along fine without botanists, or nutritionists.

Now, pardon me, but I have to put some tea water on to heat….

Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION: Very aromatic shrub, three to six feet, branches slender, tends to sprawl, leaves heavily veined, hairy with strong lemon smell, leaves slightly hairy, oval to oblong, serrate, small flowers purple to violet, pink or white in leaf axils. Lower branches can put down roots.

TIME OF YEAR: Leaves year round

ENVIRONMENT: Grows in most soil and can tolerate some shade, naturalized in Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico, Native to Mexico to Paraguay, Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina as well as Colombia.

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Leaves as tea, fresh or dried. The bush has a multitude of herbal/medicinal uses. It is a sedative, menstrual aid, and anti-hypertensive, among many things.


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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

peter frau December 5, 2016 at 11:58

in Puerto Rico Lippia Alba is known as Poleo- which is Spanish for penny royal. I have two varieties, one of which is citric smelling. I can only assume that there must be something in this plant that caused the early settlers here to name it after penny royal. Until proven otherwise, one should assume that this plant is as abortive as is penny royal. be careful.


Reza December 22, 2015 at 16:20

i need some cutting or seed of lippia alba. can you help me?


Laura November 10, 2015 at 01:09

I’d love to buy a clipping or some seeds if possible! Thanks so much 🙂


Alan Diaz September 30, 2015 at 06:39

Hello there!
My name is Alan and I will love to have a clipping, could you send a clipping of Lippia alba: Oaxaca lemon verbena via mail, I live in Michigan, looking forward to hear from you as your earliest convenience!
Kindest regards.
Alan D.


Anthony September 29, 2015 at 09:19

This is a great article, the plant sounds amazing. How can I go about getting a small clipping to start in my garden? I would greatly appreciate any help or advice.


Harry Hasek November 13, 2014 at 17:30

hey, i was wondering if you have pin pointed the exact variety of Lippia alba by now,? please let me know.


Pikin Sranan bio-farm October 23, 2013 at 10:30

I`m a bio-farmer in Suriname South-America. I produce tea from Lippia Alba and others. We call it Marva or Pijé Pijé Paw.
This is not for commercial reason but to let you know that it`s a very good product. To me the Best Green Tea !!


Shelley Clark September 18, 2013 at 20:47

Hi! I would love to purchase a clipping or a plant of the Lippa Alba. I have been searching for since I got really used to drinking in the Caribbean. Which they lump in a category and call everything Bush Tea. I bought a plant from a place that said it was lippa alba but is something else in the same family. Smells like licorice instead of lemon. Looks the same though . I have not tried to drink it. I also have the lippa dulcensis. They all grow great in south texas. I hope you can help me out or point me in the right direction to be able to obtain plant.

Thanks,Shelley Clark


Green Deane September 19, 2013 at 16:03

Thanks for writing… my smells more like juicy fruit gum than lemons.


Nathalie Defrenne June 19, 2013 at 18:21


I am living in Costa Rica on a farm and we recently got some of “it” from a local neighbor. They call “it” Juanilama. I am curious how to plant, how much water/sun it needs (we are approaching the rainy season). Also if there are any/many pests that like it too? Do you prune it? So many questions, but we are so excited to have it and just planted a few stalks.



Helen June 19, 2013 at 08:43

Hi, I love Eat The Weeds but for some reason keep having to sign up if I want to get it. I live in the Tampa Bay area and would like to also have a clipping of the lemon verbena. Thanks in advance!


roberta June 14, 2013 at 20:12

I live in Virginia.


roberta June 13, 2013 at 21:20

Hi! Can you please tell me if you know where I can buy alba lippia tea? My daughter suffers from terrible migraines and was recently told about the benefit of this tea.

Thank You!


Green Deane June 14, 2013 at 07:55

Where do you live? I could send a clipping. They sprout easily. As for buying the tea, I would try hispanic markets.


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