Lemongrass

Lemongrass, past and present

Chinese: xiang mao cao
Thai: ta-khrai hom
Urdu: chukku kaapi
Marathi: gavati chaha (lit. ‘grass tea’)
Malayalam: inchippullu
Filipino: tanglad / balioko / barani
Spanish: paja de meca / zacate limon / hierba de limon / hierba Luisa
French: citronelle (other names exist, usually denoting place of origin) / jonc odorant
English: lemongrass / citronella / fever grass
Latin (scientific nomenclature): Cymbopogon citratus (other varieties exist, each with their own scientific nomenclature; C. citratus being the most commonly employed variant for medicinal purposes)

Background and History

Lemongrass is a plant that is native to India and a large part of Asia, where it is most commonly used as a culinary and medicinal herb. Despite being considered a native to several parts of the Asiatic continent, this hardy plant can grow nearly anywhere provided that the weather be at least warm and semi-tropical. It thrives in the tropical areas of the Old World, and Oceana and is typified by its long, slender, silky-coarse and often sharp, pointed leaves and red stalks. This hardy plant grows year-round and can be harvested by simply cutting off the leaves from the stem that is implanted near the ground (this is done to promote re-growth), or otherwise pulled out of the ground and used roots, stems, and leaves in-all . [1] Lemongrass is known for its distinct citrusy aroma, all the more redolent during balmy nights when it can be wafted into the surrounding area.

General and Esoteric Uses

The most common uses of lemongrass in the places where it thrives is as a culinary herb that is added into a wide variety of dishes, be it soups, stews, curries, and even marinades and roasts. Lemongrass is a very versatile herb in that it works with a vast array of foodstuffs, whether it is beef, fish, poultry, or game. The versatility also extends to its usage, as it can be used fresh (which is the most common method of usage), dried, or in powdered form. In Chinese and Philippine cuisine, it is a common additive to fish and chicken-based soups and stews, usually used fresh. For roasts and barbeques (such as roast chicken, pork, lamb, goat or duck), it can be used as a stuffing by itself or alongside other herbs and spices, or as a marinade when mixed with soy sauce, vinegar, and a wide assortment of herbs and spices . [2]

This culinary herb may also be used medicinally, and its uses as a culinary herb go hand in hand with its medicinal purposes. It is commonly employed as a remedy for chills or fever when used in tandem with ginger as an additive to chicken or fish soup (called ‘tinola‘ in Philippine cuisine). Its therapeutic benefits may also be gleaned sans its addition to foodstuffs, as it can also be made into tea by employing either dry, fresh, or powdered lemongrass and decocting (for the dry and fresh whole leaves) or infusing (for the powdered leaves) it in boiling or hot water . [3]

A mild to strong decoction of lemongrass is a useful tea to aid in digestion, as well as to help relieve the symptoms of colds and fevers. It may also be drunk prior to sleep to help relieve stress and anxiety. Lemongrass tea may be drunk as a quick remedy for upset stomachs, diarrhea, and dyspepsia. Some studies have even suggested that lemongrass can help to fight certain types of cancer, making it a highly potent herb to always have around the kitchen.

Lemongrass also possesses potent antibacterial, antifungal, and antimicrobial properties, making it an excellent rinse for wounds and other skin problems . [4] A strong decoction of lemongrass leaves mixed with ginger and rosemary makes for an excellent hair rinse to promote growth, as well as control excessive sebum production and combat dandruff. Care should be taken when employing lemongrass as a rinse for wounds and other skin infections though, as some people with very sensitive skin (or individuals with skin asthma) may experience itchiness, redness, or a burning or stinging sensation on the skin if it comes into contact with lemongrass . [5]

When infused with oil by itself, or with other medicinal herbs, lemongrass can be used to help relieve the symptoms of rheumatism and general muscular discomfort. This infusion may be done by macerating the dried leaves in a carrier oil (sunflower, safflower, coconut, almond, sesame, jojoba, olive, etc.). Lemongrass essential oils may also be used for faster results. This oil may also be used as an all-natural mosquito repellant when rubbed in small amounts to the skin . [6]

In aromatherapy, lemongrass, when employed as either an incense in its dried and powdered form, or as a diffuser aroma in its essential oil form, may be used to help relieve anxiety, depression, and fatigue. Lemongrass essential oil or incense may also be used to repel pesky insects such as flies and mosquitoes, however, take caution when using anything made of lemongrass near bees, as it is highly inviting to them, making it highly indispensable for horticulturists . [7]

In magickal practice, lemongrass is used in much the same way sweet grass is used by Native Americans. In Filipino shamanism, dried lemongrass leaves are burnt by shamans as an offering to forest spirits, or as an offering to gods. Dried lemongrass may also be used as a in incense that is wafted around the community to help ward off illness or hexes, and can double as a smudging herb to cleanse one’s person prior to initiating any ritualistic activity.

Care should be taken when consuming lemongrass in excess, for while it may be therapeutic, it can, as with most herbal remedies, interact with synthetic medicines and may cause detrimental side-effects. People with hypoglycemia and people who suffer frequent bouts of hypertension should use lemongrass sparingly, if not at all.

References & Further Reading

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cymbopogon
[2] http://www.stuartxchange.org/Tanglad.html
[3] http://lifestyle.inquirer.net/wellness/wellness/view/20100323-260252/Lemon-grass-helps-prevent-cancer-fungal-infection-and-mosquito-bite
[4] http://wakeuphils.wordpress.com/2009/03/01/health-benefits-of-lemon-grass/
[5] http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-719-LEMONGRASS.aspx?activeIngredientId=719&activeIngredientName=LEMONGRASS
[6] http://www.medicalhealthguide.com/herb/lemongrass.htm#b
[7] http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Beekeeping/Guide_to_Essential_Oils

Main article researched and created by Alexander Leonhardt, � herbs-info.com 2012

How to Grow Lemongrass

 

 

Days to germination: Not started by seed
Days to harvest: 100 days, when started by seedling
Light requirements: Full sun
Water requirements: Frequent watering
Soil: Well-drained and rich with organic material
Container: Yes, even indoors

Introduction

Lemongrass has a strong flavor of lemon citrus and it can be brewed in tea as well as used as a herb for seasoning. The most common dishes that use lemongrass are Asian cuisine.

A native of India, you will have to live in at least zone 9 if you want to grow lemongrass outdoors. Each plant can grow to between 3 and 6 feet high if you do grow it outside. It will be somewhat smaller if you have to keep it inside.

There are 2 kinds of lemongrass: East Indian and West Indian but there is little difference between them in terms of culinary use and growing. There really isn’t much variety to choose from.

It’s a very nondescript plant, looking much like a very tall patch of grass that doesn’t often produce flowers. At the base of each group of leaves there is a fat stalk, similar to a spring onion bulb. The overall plant is made up a big cluster of these individual stalks.

The bulb or bottom part of each stalk is used for most cooking purposes, but the rest of the leaves can be used as well. Teas are usually brewed with the leaves.

Not only is the tea very zesty in flavor, it can also help settle upset stomachs and ease a cough. The oils in lemongrass have a number of homeopathic health uses, though most home-growers do not extract the essential oils from their plants. It’s mostly used as a flavoring.

Starting from Seed

Home gardeners don’t typically start lemongrass plants from seed because it is so easy to start by just rooting stalks or cuttings.

Actually, you may even be able to start a new lemongrass plant from fresh stalks you purchase at the regular grocery store. As long as they are still firm and green, you should be able to get them to root. Snip off an inch or two from the end of the leaves, and put the base end in a glass of water. Leave somewhere sunny, and you should start to see roots sprouting from the bottom of the stalk in about a week or two.

Once your stalk has roots at least an inch long, you can either plant it in a container for indoor growing or take it right out into the garden.

Transplanting

Keep your lemongrass plants at least 3 feet apart, and allow for a height of 6 feet (though you can trim it lower than that).

When you dig the holes for the plants, mix in a some compost or well-aged manure to help enrich the soil. The soil shouldn’t be too thick though, the water still has to drain to keep your plants healthy.

You should plant your stalks outside after your last frost date, if you live in an area that gets winter frosts (such as zone 9).

Growing Instructions

Lemongrass will need a lot of nitrogen, so you should fertilize at least monthly with either a standard or high-nitrogen formula. Water your plant regularly and don’t let it completely dry out, especially when the weather is very hot.

Once your plant gets to 3 feet or so in height, you may want to keep the tops of the leaves cut down even more than what you are taking for an actual harvest. This can help keep the size of the plant down. Lemongrass doesn’t grow branches so no other pruning is necessary.

Containers

Lemongrass can be grown in large pots, either indoors or out. Depending on your climate, you should try to let it have a few summer months outdoors to get extra sun. Considering its size, most people keep their lemongrass inside only during the winter.

Your plants can get quite large, so plant it in a 5 gallon pot or larger. If it does start to outgrow the pot, you can always separate off more stalks just to keep the plant under control. It’s not usually a problem with exclusively indoor plants.

While inside, a lemongrass plant needs as much sun as you can offer with a minimum of 6 hours a day. It may thrive as an indoor-only plant but you won’t get as many stalks from it.

Fertilize your container plants once every 2 weeks with a standard mix, though you can skip this during the winter months. Water frequently, 2 or 3 times a week.

Pests and Diseases

The lemon-scented oils in lemongrass are frequently used to make natural insect repellent, so you really won’t have much to worry about when it comes to those kinds of pests.

Leaf blight will sometimes hit lemongrass. The leaves can start to wilt and you will find brown or rust colored spots on the ends of the leaves. Pick away the infected leaves, and spray the whole plant with a natural fungicide that can be used on edible plants.

Cats have also been known to have a fondness for lemongrass and may chew on your plants if given the chance.

Harvest and Storage

You can trim leaves from the plant any time once the plant is at least a foot tall. To harvest entire stalks, use a sharp knife to slice each one off at the soil level. Take the outer stalks first, and they should be at least 1/2 inch thick before you cut them. Try not to just break them off or you could damage the rest of the plant.

You may have to peel off the tougher outer leaves before use. Store the entire stalk with leaves in the fridge to keep it fresh for several days. Keep it in a plastic bag with a damp paper towel for the best results. Chopped pieces of the stalk can be frozen for later use.

If you want to store just the leaves, then they preserve best when dried rather than frozen.

Whether you use it to add flavor to meat or fish, or just to brew tea, remember that it can be quite strong. It doesn’t take much.

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