Lemongrass: the humble herb that packs a powerful punch. This unassuming plant, with its long, slender leaves and subtle citrus scent, has been used for centuries in cuisines and medicines around the world. But lemongrass is more than just a spice or a tea ingredient - it's a versatile and multi-functional herb that can be used in a variety of ways.
From warding off mosquitoes to relieving stress, lemongrass oil has become a popular choice in the world of aromatherapy. And with its ability to add a tangy, lemony flavour to any dish, lemongrass is a must-have in any kitchen. So, whether you're a foodie, a health enthusiast, or simply curious about the benefits of lemongrass, read on to discover the wonders of this amazing herb.
Lemongrass Overview: Classification, Types, and Origin
Lemongrass is a perennial, tall, aromatic grass that grows in dense clumps. This flavorful herb can grow up to 1.5 metres tall and is characterised by long, slender leaves with sharp edges and a lemony fragrance. The leaves are green and strap-like, and the base leaf stem is thin and fibrous.
Botanical name: Cymbopogon citratus
Origin: Lemongrass is native to Southeast Asia, particularly Malaysia, but it is now cultivated in many tropical and subtropical regions worldwide.
Other names: West Indian lemongrass in English, sereh in Indonesian, serai in Malay, tanglad in Filipino, Takhịr̂ in Thai, cộng sả in Vietnamese, sloekakrei in Khmer, Xiāng máo or Níngméng cǎo in Chinese, ek prakaar ka paudha in Hindi, lēmanagrāsa in Bengali, Gavatī cahā in Marathi, and nim'magaḍḍi in Telugu.
Shop our flavour-rich West Indian lemongrass plant (Cymbopogon citratus)
There are many varieties of lemongrass, including several species that are native to Australia. Cymbopogon ambiguus is found throughout Australia in cooler areas and has been used by indigenous peoples for headaches, chest infections, muscle cramps, and skin sores. Another native species is Cymbopogon refractus, which has a delicate lemony flavour. It’s found in the Eucalypt forests in eastern Australia. The seed heads resemble barbed wire, hence the common name ‘barbed wire grass.’
Both of these native grasses are more tolerant of dryer conditions compared to the West Indian lemongrass that we grow in our South East Queensland nursery.
Another commonly used species is East Indian Lemongrass (Cymbopogon flexuosus), also known as Cochin or Malabar grass. It’s native to India & Sri Lanka and can grow a bit taller than the West Indian variety, up to a height of 2m. Although this species is used interchangeably with Cymbopogon citratus, C. citratus (West Indian) is preferred by chefs & cooks for its culinary flavour.
History of Lemongrass
Lemongrass has been utilised for centuries in culinary dishes and as a fragrance to mask body odour. For centuries, the people of Southeast Asia have taken lemongrass baths and incorporated its oils into hair, lotions, and deodorants.
Its cultivation dates back to the 17th century in the Philippines. Distillation of lemongrass oil had already begun and the oil was sold to European nobility, becoming a status symbol due to its cost and effectiveness in masking body odour.
India began large-scale cultivation a little over 100 years ago and is now the top exporter of lemongrass products in the world. In the early 1900s, a Sri Lankan researcher named J.F. Jovit began studying the plant. And by 1917, it had been introduced to the Western hemisphere via Haiti and the southern United States. By 1947, both of these nations began commercial cultivation.
Today, lemongrass is cultivated in tropical regions of the Americas and Asia, with major exporters including India, China, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, and Guatemala. Lemongrass has practical, medicinal, and culinary applications, making it culturally significant in many Asian countries.
How to Grow & Harvest
Lemongrass is a perennial that grows best in rich, moist, and well-draining soil. It prefers full sun but will tolerate partial shade in warm climates. The plants that are grown in part shade tend to have softer green leaves. In cool climates, grow your lemongrass in pots so you can move them around to protect them from frost, as they will not survive winter.
C. citratus rarely produces flowers or seeds so propagation is by division. Lemongrass can be lifted and divided in spring. Make sure to cut the leaves back to a couple of centimetres above the roots when dividing.
How to harvest lemongrass
Cut the stem 1-2 cm above the base and at an angle to prevent infection and increase water uptake. The harvestable region is the area between the cut and the point at which the leaves separate.
Tip: Save the leafy tips for making lemongrass tea, or adding them to an herbal kombucha tea.
Remove the two or three outer layers to reveal the pale yellow inner layer. Bash with the back of a knife or a pestle, then slice thinly. At this point, you can use the herb as is or you can pound it in a mortar & pestle or add it to a food processor to form a paste.
You can also use the stalk whole after bruising and remove it before serving; this works well for soups, curries and scented rice. Use the stalks as fragrant skewers for chicken or prawn dishes and add the pounded stems to stuffings, soups or minced chicken or prawns
How to Use Lemongrass
Ethnobotany is the study of how different cultures, communities, and regions use plants for various purposes, including medicinal, nutritional, spiritual, and practical applications.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, lemongrass (or Xiāng Máo) is considered warm and pungent. It’s used to warm the interior and expel cold. It has an affinity for the gallbladder, stomach and lungs.
In Jamu, an ancient herbal medicine practised in parts of Indonesia and Malaysia, lemongrass is used as a tea to lift depression. Dried lemongrass is also added to black tea and infused for 5 minutes, then strained, and splashed onto one’s face to refresh, clean, and tone the skin.
Ayurvedic herbalists consider lemongrass to be bitter and pungent in taste and invigorating in its effect, which is why it's one of our top-selling cooling teas. East Indian practitioners suggest lemongrass tea for colitis and for diarrhoea. To treat these conditions, add lemongrass and ginger to your coffee.
In Colombia, lemongrass roots are chewed and used as toothbrushes. They also use it for pest control. And in Brazil, lemongrass tea is consumed to reduce anxiety and lower blood pressure.
In aromatherapy, lemongrass essential oil is used to treat a number of conditions and improve overall health. Topically, it’s used to relieve lower back pain and pain associated with rheumatism and nerve conditions when paired with a carrier oil like jojoba oil. It’s also been known to fight fungal & bacterial growths.
Lemongrass’ flavour profile is floral and lemony, with a hint of ginger. It’s a popular ingredient in Southeast Asian cuisine, particularly in Thai, Vietnamese, Indonesian and Cambodian dishes, where it’s usually combined with other herbs and spices.
It’s a staple in popular dishes like Tom Yum Soup, Thai Green Curry, Beef Rendang, and Vietnamese & Cambodian Lemongrass Chicken.
Lemongrass combines well with other herbs such as basil, mint, and coriander. It is also commonly combined with ginger and garlic.
It adds flavour to curries, soups, stir-fries, marinades, and sauces. Put a layer of lemongrass leaves under the fish when steaming to release the flowery lemon fragrance. Add to pork or chicken mince along with other herbs for a tasty rissole. Try this yummy Spicy Chicken Salad on Betel Leaves, loosely based on the Thai dish - Miang kham. You can also make this dish vegan!
Lemongrass isn’t just limited to main dishes; desserts also benefit from its citrusy flavour. It’s commonly found in sorbet, ice cream, panna cotta, crème brûlée, cakes, muffins, scones, and bread.
And if you’re looking for a flavourful drink to go with your meal, try wedang sereh (lemongrass tea), a classic Javanese drink, or make lemongrass-infused lemonade, cocktails, and mojitos.00 You can even stir your drink with the fragrant stalk.
Here’s a refreshing drink to try on a warm day
- 1 cup lemongrass chopped
- 2 cups water
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 tbsp grated palm sugar
- ½ cup lemon juice
- Mint leaves and lemon slice to garnish
- Soda water
- Put lemongrass and 1 cup water into a saucepan and bring to a boil, take it off the heat, put a lid on the saucepan and set aside to cool.
- In another saucepan, add sugar, palm sugar, and the other cup of water and bring to a boil
- Simmer for 5 minutes, then cool and add to lemon grass tea. Refrigerate.
- Before serving, add lemon juice. Pour the desired amount into glasses and top with soda water. Garnish with mint and a slice of lemon.
- Citral is the primary component of lemongrass and is responsible for its distinct lemony scent. Citral has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and anti-cancer properties.
- Limonene is a terpene found in lemongrass that gives it its citrusy aroma. Limonene has been shown to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
- Geraniol is a monoterpene alcohol found in lemongrass that has been shown to have antibacterial, antifungal, and antioxidant properties.
- Myrcene is a terpene found in lemongrass that has been shown to have sedative and analgesic effects.
- Linalool is a terpene alcohol found in lemongrass that has been shown to have anti-inflammatory, anxiolytic, and analgesic effects.
Eugenol is a phenylpropene found in lemongrass, that has been shown to have anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and antimicrobial properties.
These active constituents contribute to the medicinal properties of lemongrass and may help to explain its traditional uses in various cultures around the world.
Use lemongrass to address the following medical issues.
Lemongrass has been traditionally used to improve digestion and may help with conditions such as bloating, gas, and stomach cramps. A lemongrass tea or tincture may be taken orally to help with these issues.
Pain and inflammation
Lemongrass has anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties and may help to relieve pain and reduce inflammation. A lemongrass tincture or infused oil may be applied topically to affected areas, or take Lemongrass tea or tincture orally to help with pain and inflammation.
Anxiety, stress and sleep
Lemongrass has sedative properties and may help to promote relaxation and reduce anxiety. A lemongrass tea or tincture may be taken to help relieve stress and anxiety and promote restful sleep. If you have a friend or partner nearby, get them to massage your body with lemongrass-infused oil. This will help soothe away all worries and bring total relaxation.
Lemongrass has traditionally been used to help with respiratory issues such as coughs, colds, fevers and bronchitis. A lemongrass tea or tincture may be taken orally to help with these issues. For blocked sinuses, try steam inhalation by making a strong infusion/tea of lemongrass, pour it into a bowl, make a tent over your head and breathe in the vapours.
A strong lemongrass tea or lemongrass-infused oil can be applied to fungal infections such as tinea (athlete's foot, ringworm and jock itch).
Lemongrass has been known to cause “mitochondrial depolarization and decreased rates of oxygen consumption in lymphoma and leukaemia cells, leading to cell death.” The herb extract also proved effective in reducing tumour growth in human lymphoma xenograft models. These in vitro results suggest that it may be a potential non-toxic alternative to treating cancer.
Lemongrass Tea - for both medicinal and recreational use
- Fresh or dried lemongrass
- Add 1 tbsp of chopped fresh lemongrass or 2 tsp dried lemongrass to a teapot or infusion mug.
- Pour over a cup of boiled water
- Cover and let it infuse for 10-15 minutes. Strain and drink.
- Make a larger amount and refrigerate for a refreshing drink.
- Ginger goes really nice with lemongrass and adds its digestive and nausea-calming properties. Simply add a couple of slices of fresh ginger or use 1/2 teaspoon of dried ginger when making your lemongrass tea.
Lemongrass Tincture - A long shelf life remedy
- 200g dried lemongrass
- 1 bottle of vodka or other clear alcohol of 45% strength
- 1.5 litre glass jar with a tight-fitting lid.
- Place the lemongrass in the clean jar.
- Pour the alcohol over the lemongrass, making sure that it covers the herb completely.
- Seal the jar tightly with a lid.
- Store the jar in a cool, dark place for at least 4 weeks, shaking it every day to mix the contents.
- After 4-6 weeks, strain the tincture through a cheesecloth or fine mesh strainer to remove the lemongrass pieces.
- Transfer the tincture to a dark glass bottle and label it with the date and contents.
To use the tincture, take a dropper full (20-30 drops) in a small amount of water or juice up to 3 times a day, or as directed by a healthcare practitioner.
Lemongrass Infused Oil - Not as potent as essential oil, but effective & easy to make at home.
- Dried lemongrass
- Olive oil or your favourite cooking oil
- Muslin cloth
- Put 200g of dried lemongrass into a 1 litre jar.
- Pour over olive oil (or your favourite oil) to completely cover the lemongrass.
- Put a lid on it and leave it in a spot where you can shake it every day
- Strain through muslin and pour into amber bottles
- Store in a cool dark place
This makes a great massage oil to soothe tired muscles, revitalise your body, and relieve stress.
Use this oil in the kitchen as well, to drizzle over cooked vegetables, fish or chicken and add to salad dressings.
Lemongrass has been used as a natural insect repellent for centuries. Its strong scent helps to repel mosquitoes, flies and other insects, and it is often used in candles, sprays, and lotions.
Cut lemongrass stalks into small pieces and crush them to release their oils. You can use a mortar and pestle or simply smash them with the flat side of a knife. Boil the crushed lemongrass in a pot of water for about 30 minutes to create a concentrated solution. Then, strain the solution and let it cool down to room temperature.
Pour into a spray bottle and add a few drops of essential oils like lavender, peppermint, or eucalyptus to enhance the scent and effectiveness of the repellent. Shake the bottle well before each use and spray the solution on your skin or clothing, avoiding your eyes and mouth. Reapply every 2-3 hours or as needed, especially if you're in a heavily infested area or sweating a lot.
Add chopped lemongrass to a bottle of white vinegar along with some lime or lemon peel. Let it sit for a couple of weeks, shake it occasionally
To use, strain some of the vinegar into a spray bottle filling the spray bottle to one-third. Add two-thirds water and shake. Use this to clean hard surfaces in the kitchen and bathroom as well as areas with mould (test patch furniture surfaces before use). The antimicrobial action of lemongrass will leave your surfaces clean and fresh.
In the Garden
A quick-growing grass, it can be used to stabilise bare steep ground in new gardens. It can be used as a centrepiece or as a tall border plant in the garden. Grow it near sitting areas to help repel pests.
The leaves make excellent mulch around fruit trees. Lemongrass grows well with most other herbs like turmeric, galangal, and fruit trees, all of which enjoy similar growing conditions. It also makes an attractive backdrop for geraniums and other flowering plants.
In Vietnam and Laos, it’s also grown around houses to keep away snakes.
Overall, lemongrass is considered safe for consumption and topical use in moderate amounts.
Allergies: Some people may be allergic to lemongrass and it may cause an allergic reaction such as skin rashes, swelling, and difficulty breathing.
Large quantities: Consuming large amounts of lemongrass may cause dizziness, dry mouth, and gastrointestinal discomfort, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea.
Lemongrass is more than just an herb or a fragrance. It's a reminder of the power and potential of nature to heal, nourish, and inspire us. Whether we use it in our cooking or our self-care routine, lemongrass encourages us to slow down, savor the moment, and appreciate the simple things in life. So, next time you encounter the aroma of lemongrass, take a deep breath and remember the many ways it can add zest to your life. Let this herb be a symbol of the beauty and resilience of the natural world and a source of inspiration for your own growth and well-being.