A Plant of Many Names: Lippia Alba

Lippia alba is native to the tropical and subtropical southern United States, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America. It's a member of the prolific verbena family or vervain family, a family of mainly tropical flowering plants that are notable for clusters of small flowers that have a strong aromatic scent.

Lippia alba, a plant of many names: Bushy Matgrass, Bushy Lippia, Oaxaca Lemon Verbena, Juanilama, as it’s known in Costa Rica and Toronjil, is the common name in South America, which translates to lemon balm. Lemon balm is in the Lamiaceae or mint family. Lippia alba is in the Verbenaceae or verbena family.

Growing Tips

It is a multi-branched shrub, reaching a height of about 5-6 feet in height. Lippia alba prefers a position in full sun to partial shade in any moderately fertile, well-drained soil. It doesn’t seem too picky on soil types and is an adaptable plant.

It’s also perennial, easy to grow and easy to propagate. You can propagate by seed or softwood cuttings. I’ve personally never grown it from seed, but it’s very easy to propagate from cuttings. Carefully cut a small branch off and plant it in rich soil and water daily until the roots are established. You can also place a cutting in water with much success of rooting. When it starts growing and rooting, transplant it to a moderately sunny location. Lippia alba will survive in full sun, but it seems to thrive in partial shade. As a tropical, it has a high heat tolerance.

Essential Oils

Lippia alba is a shrub whose essential oils has important biological, pharmacological, and aromatic properties. The strong aromatics of the crushed leaves indicate strong essential oils. The essential oil composition is unique to each plant and the most abundant compounds found in lippia alba are linalool, limonene, and carvone.

Lippia alba terpenes, the fragrant oils, have therapeutic benefits. Many of the positive attributes to lippia alba can be connected to its essential oil components. Terpenes are promising for use in the pharmaceutical, aromatic and perfume industries. There are indications for such aromatics to be suitable for the agricultural chemical industry because of its proven antifungal, insecticidal, and repellent properties.

Essential oils are primarily produced by the plant leaves and the chemical composition of essential oils consists of a mixture of many organic compounds varying in concentrations that can range from very low quantities (or trace amounts) to major compounds.

Lippia alba contains a rich source of:

Linalool - valued in perfumes and flavors, found in lavender, known sedative.

Carvone - another major component identified in lippia alba. It has fungicidal and antimicrobial properties. This terpene is a useful carminative and a main component to the essential oils and aromatics of spearmint and dill.

Citral - found naturally in many citrus fruits and offers a sweet lemony flavor when added to foods and beverages. Citral is commonly found in apricot, lemon, lemongrass, orange and lime. Citral offers sedative, antiviral and antibacterial effects.

Limonene - commonly associated with fruity, citrus aromas, and is found in rosemary and fruit rinds, cosmetics and cleaning products. Limonene provides stress relief, as well as antifungal, antibacterial, antitumor effects and may help relieve heartburn. Limonene provides insecticide and repellent activities.