What is Lippia Alba?
Lippia Alba, Oaxaca lemon verbena, or “Juanilama” as it’s known in Costa Rica has been medicinally used for thousands of years by indigenous peoples in Central/South America. It’s known for its digestive soothing effects as well as somatic, sedative, antidepressant, and analgesic properties. We’re currently cultivating 2 types on the property: “Juanilama con el sabor de menta” and “Juanilama con el sabor de limon”. (In English, one mint flavored and one lemon flavored.) It grows like bush, not getting much more than 1.5 meters tall and makes a series of unorganized crisscrossing off shoots.
Lippia Alba is found throughout Mexico and Central and South America. It a member of the prolific verbena family. Following suit with many of its sister plants, it high in essential oils. I believe these essential oils are the reason it’s applied externally as an arthritis remedy in an alcohol concoction.
Why Grow Lippia Alba (Juanilama)?
In short, it makes awesome tea. We’ve stopped buying green tea at the house and use Juanilama most of the time. A variety of teas and things to drink other than water is good for morale and medicine. A nice cold glass of iced Juanilama tea with a little lemon on a hot summer day is way better for you than a sugary soda. It’s also perennial, easy to grow and easy to propagate. While medicinal effects are anecdotal and sometime tough to verify, I’ve personally found it great for when I’ve had bronchial issues or issues sleeping. (I had a late friend who was fighting cancer and I shared a bag of my dried Juanilama with her at a local farmers market. She swore that when she drank the tea before bed, she never slept better.)
The tea can be prepared by boiling fresh or dried leaves and is a common folk prescription in Costa Rica to relieve gastrointestinal cramps and spasms, colitis, and to sedate the GI tract. For cases of whooping cough, colds, bronchitis, and asthma fresh leaves can be used in decoction. Topically it can be used to treat bruises and contusions and is also commonly used to treat rheumatism especially when made into an alcohol tincture.
Lippia Alba Studies
Science has taken notice to this unique herb and I’ve sourced a few studies at the bottom. Many of the positive results attributed to Juanilama can be connected to is two of its essential oil components, citral and limonene. Currently, the pharmaceutical industry have been searching for substances in natural products which can improve the treatment of many diseases. Pharmacologically, antifungal, antibacterial, antitumor, acaricide, insecticide and repellent activities, have been attributed to limonene.
The herb tea of the two varieties of Lippia alba is largely consumed in the Northeastern region of Brazil, mainly as a spasmolytic(anti muscle spasm) and a sedative. Once study tested Lippia Alba and it’s essential oil “citral” on the tracheal muscles of rats and showed great pharmacological potential for use in respiratory diseases.
One study demonstrated the possible benefits of essential oil from Lippia alba on the cardiovascular system by producing vasorelaxation that appeared to have a calcium-blocking property similar to other drugs used in the treatment of hypertension, such as nifedipine and verapamil. While the study was done in rats, this plant seems to present a potential clinical use for hypertension treatment; however, further studies are necessary to evaluate its safety and therapeutic margin before human drug development.
Growing Lippia Alba
I’ve never grown from seed, but it’s very easy to clone from cuttings. Cut one 30cm branch off and stick it in some soft soil in a pot or bag and water it every few days. When it starts growing, transplant it into a location with a little shade. It doesn’t seem too picky on soil types. We’ve even had success planting it in harsh clay soil. Juanilama will survive in full sun, but it seems to do better with partial shade. It will also root in water and thrives in aquaponics systems.
Sources and Links
Dr. Duke’s Phytochemical Data Base (essential oil content)