Louiza – Berber Whiskey
This summer, while shopping at the Trout Lake Farmer’s market, I came across a rare find–a sack full of fresh Lemon Verbena for only $4! I have tried growing lemon verbena on two occasions now, but both times they haven’t made it through the winter–or that’s what I thought. The woman who sold me this delectable herb told me that it does fine if you have a garage to overwinter it, which I don’t at the moment. She also told me that it dies down in the winter but will grow again in the spring–so unfortunately it seems I thought my plants were dead when they were just hibernating.
Lemon Verbena is very good for digestion and for relaxation. The first time I came across this herb was in the High Atlas mountains of Morocco. I was doing a study abroad program there while in college, studying the food preparation rituals as well as the language and culture of Morocco. Part of our program included a week in a Berber village in the mountains. We first took a truck into the mountains, from there we were split up into pairs and taken to a different villages.
We had to walk for several hours to get to our village. When we got there, we were immediately treated to a sweet and aromatic cup of Berber Whiskey– lemon verbena, sugar and hot water. In Morocco they call lemon verbena ‘louiza’ and it has a slightly different flavor than the standard mint tea that is more commonly served in the rest of the country. For many years I didn’t know the English name of this herb. But the last time I bought a large sack of it was in the market in Rabat, so I was very delighted to find it here in Vancouver!
There is something very special about this herb, it is delicate, aromatic, with a light lemon flavor and goes very well with honey.
This herb can be used in many ways, it has been used in perfumes, soaps, it will infuse well in oil or vinegar. I like to use it to make infused yogurt which I then strain to make into a divine lemon verbena cheesecake. If infused in apple cider vinegar for two weeks it makes a lovely skin tonic to soften and freshen the skin. It also makes a great bath as it is very relaxing. A massage with lemon verbena oil will put you right to sleep.
I usually put about a handful of the dried herb into a teapot, it doesn’t really even need honey, but with a touch of honey it is more delicious than many complicated desserts. Drinking it always brings back memories of the amazing week we spent in that very remote village, surrounded by Berbers. We couldn’t speak each other’s language, but my friend and I spent a lot of time in the kitchen with the women. We were rather shocked as these women spent a lot of time talking about sex with us (with hand gestures) in the most bold manner! They laughed and laughed when they saw our shocked expressions when we figured out what they were talking about! They also laughed as they taught me how to use their clay ovens to make tasty bread (I will tell you more about their ovens later–I wish I had photos).
I think we must have been in a pretty well-off village, as they had their own hammam (communal steam bath house). One afternoon, we took a couple of eggs over to the owner of the bath in exchange for the firewood it took to get the bath steaming. It was really a cute bath house, not very big, made entirely from stones. We sat and sweat in there for a couple hours, cleansing out our pores and feeling amazed that all this experience cost us was a couple eggs.
On another day we climbed one of the high hills over looking the village and enjoyed the amazing views. On the way home we harvested some local wild herbs we had eaten the night before in a delicious salad (I don’t know what they were). It was a really amazing experience. I sure hope to go back to the High Atlas Mountains again someday.