While I was messing around with my landlord's hugely fruitful lemon tree, I crushed a few lemon leaves to see what kind of scent came forth. Turns out citrus leaves, like citrus flowers and fruit, have a lovely, clean, perfumey scent. I am having a mug full of light lemon leaf tea as I write this! Mmmmmm....
Where to Find Citrus Leaves
If you live in a state or country below the freezing belt, chances are you can find more free citrus fruit trees than anyone knows how to use. Any fruit or leaves hanging over into a public area is considered lawful to take. Or ask your neighbor for a small harvest. Many publicly landscaped areas feature citrus trees you can pick from. Lastly, anyone can grow a dwarf citrus tree in a pot indoors. Even if you don't bear fruit, you can use the leaves whenever you like!
A SAMPLING OF LEMON AND CITRUS LEAF USES -
Lemon Leaf Tea
Taking older, greener leaves from a citrus tree (I am using lemon but imagine any citrus tree will do), briefly wash off the dust, insects or dirt. Grab about five leaves per large mug.
Crush and rip enough leaves to fill a mug and add hot boiling water. Drink through the leaves or strain them out (it tastes the same either way, and having leaves in your tea might add to or take from the ambiance you are trying to set).
Let steep for two or five minutes and drink. The tea has a delicate fragrance and flavor.
Options - I have seen an internet recipe calling for hot milk added to the tea infusion, and imagine that added honey might be tasty as well. If you wish to add a twist of lemon itself to the tea, the taste will be a bit more outright citrusy. The tea leaves lend themselves to mixing with other tea leaves to create custom blends.
Lemon and Citrus Leaf Cooking
Lemon leaves are commonly used in Thai dishes, and can be added to soups and salads. Wrap the leaves around meats like ground beat and veal, use a toothpick to secure, brush with olive oil and bake until the meat is cooked.
According to other internet sources, the Italians wrap cheese with citrus leaves, South Africans use them around kabobs, Greeks cook them in pork recipes and can be added to fish stews. You can use lemon leaves in any recipe that calls for lemon grass. Fresh leaves are considered less bitter.
Sachets, Pillows and Potpourri
Since citrus leaves have such a nice, light scent when crushed, you can be creative in adding them to many of your usual scented craft projects.
An essential oil (petitgrain oil) can be made from the leaves as well. The scent is considered a mood-lifter.
The branches of leaves are deep green, strong and shiny, and can be used in wreaths, garlands, bouquets and other floral arrangements.
Like we imagine our ancestors did, it's a nice gesture to fully use our food trees. For people living in climates warm enough (or those with dwarf citrus fruit tree indoors), making use of citrus leaves themselves adds interest to our diet - and a free source of nutrition for your family.
Note - Be careful not to eat any citrus leaves that have been treated with pesticides. Ask first or do without!
More Citrus Resources for the Frugal Household -