All About Lemon Grass aka Lemongrass: Varied Uses


Lemon grass (Cymbopogon citratus), a native of India, is widely used in Thai and Vietnamese cooking.  Increasingly popular in the United States, most of the commercial crops for the United States are grown in California and Florida.  Lemon grass is also used for medicinal purposes.

Our discussion Lemongrass covers culinary uses, medicinal uses, gardening tips, and various commercial uses of this splendid herb.

This aromatic herb is used in Caribbean and many types of Asian cooking and has become very popular in the United States though it still remains mostly identified with Thai food.

Culinary Uses

This is a very pungent herb and is normally used in small amounts. The entire stalk of the grass can be used.  The grass blade can be sliced very fine and added to soups.   The bulb can be bruised and minced for use in a variety of recipes.

Most people know lemongrass for the flavor it adds.  The light lemon flavor of this grass blends well with garlic, chilies, and cilantro.   The herb is frequently used in curries as well as in seafood soups. It is also used to make tea.

Lemongrass offers lots of iron (30%  recommended daily requirements), no fat, no cholesterol, hardly any sodium, low carbohydrate, making it a sensible seasoning additive for many tasty dishes.

Substitutions
You can substitute fresh lemon zest, Sereh powder, as well as lemon balm or lemon verbena.

Equivalents

One small trimmed stalk = 1 Tablespoon dried
Powdered lemon grass is found under the name “Sereh powder” and a teaspoon is = 1 small stalk.
Zest of 1 lemon =  2 small lemon grass stalks

Lemon grass is available in many ethnic markets and most reliably found in Asian and Mexican local markets in the US.  Select fresh looking stalks that  don’t look dry or brittle.  Store fresh lemon grass in the refrigerator in a tightly sealed plastic bag for up to 3 weeks.  You can also freeze it for about 6 months without any flavor loss.

In addition to fresh, lemon grass may be purchased dried or powdered. The dried product has to be soaked in hot water and reconstituted before use.  The powdered variety is useful in teas and curries but it’s not a good substitute for the fresh product. For best results in recipes use the fresh herb.  With food, lemongrass is remarkably adaptable. It can be used fresh, dried or powdered; it complements pork, beef, fish, poultry and seafood.

Medicinal Uses


This grass is rich in a substance called citral, the active ingredient in lemon peel.   This substance is said to aid in digestion as well as relieve spasms, muscle cramps, rheumatism and headaches.

Lemongrass is equally versatile as a remedy for everyday ailments, and its soft, citrus flavor and aroma allow it to be part of  a pleasant medicinal or therapeutic experience.

Health Benefits:

– Aids digestion
– Eases anxiety, stress and cramps
– Acts as a natural antibacterial, anti-fungal and antiseptic
– Reduces fever and flatulence
– Repels mosquitoes
– Can be used as a facial astringent

Other Uses for Lemongrass


Lemon grass is used commercially as the lemon scent in many products including soaps, perfumes and candles. A related plant, (Cymbopogon nardus) is the ingredient in citronella candles sold to ward off mosquitoes and other insects.  It is used to scent soaps and candles, cleanser, and to infuse vodka with its lemony aromatic essence.

Once considered a sacred herb, Mayan Warriors believed that if they applied it as a balm to their bodies—accompanied by a special prayer, of course—it would prevent a sword from penetrating their skin. We appreciate lemongrass for the other dangers it wards off – like anxiety, headaches, fever and a bad night’s sleep, to name just a few.

In most instances, you’ll want to use the bruised stalk. To do this, take a stalk, cut off the tip (at the root end), cut a piece from the bottom approximately two inches long, peel off the dried outer layer and then crush it lightly with a mortar and pestle to release the oils.


Lemongrass Tea: Take two or three of these bruised stalks, chopped into half inch pieces and steeped in a pot of nearly boiling water, make a tea to aid digestion, ease menstrual cramps, reduce stress and promote a calm night’s sleep.

Take those same stalks and rub their oil over your skin and you have a natural mosquito repellent—lemongrass is a common ingredient in candles and incense used to repel bugs. They can also be used topically for anti-fungal and antiseptic purposes.

Yet another way to use the stalks is to tie them into a sachet and drop them into a bathtub for a soothing aromatherapy experience. Given the stress of modern life—and the risks such as heart attacks that come with it—we consider these aids to relaxation as beneficial as the Malay warriors surely found their use of lemongrass centuries ago.

Gardening With Lemon Grass

Gardeners appreciate Lemon Grass for its perennial nature,which means once you plant it, the grass comes back year after year.  Depending on the area you live in the plant will go dormant in the winter.  In harsh climates the plant will need to be potted and wintered indoors.

Although lemongrass thrives with full sun in a tropical climate, it is now produced in countries as far-flung as China and England.  Though Lemongrass is a perennial, in places that get frost, it will act like an annual and go dormant in the winter. Beware: while lemongrass is fun to harvest at home because it’s easy, it divides underground, spreads through its roots and grows like a weed, which is why we recommend cultivating it in a large pot.

Here’s a method for starting your potted lemongrass from cuttings rather than the long wait required for seeds to mature:

1. Purchase three to five mature stalks. They should be fresh, full at the bulb and moist. Try to select those with root buds still visible.

2. Cut a few inches off the top of each stalk. Peel the dry outer layers all the way to the bulb.

3. Put the stalks in a jar of room temperature water. Keep the jar in a window in the sun. Make sure to keep the water level up, so the stalks don’t dry out.

4. In approximately one to two weeks, you will see roots. When the roots are around an inch long, transfer the stalks to a pot, using a sandy soil. Cover stalks about an inch above the roots.

5. Keep the pot in a sunny place and keep the soil moist. Before long, your few stalks will become a large cluster that can be cut whenever you need. Keep the pot away from cats, since they love it and will demolish it.

References:

Gardening tips by Kymm Fayhhttp://www.gardensablaze.com/HerbLemonGrass.htm http://www.thefoodpaper.com/newsletters.html

Shepherd’s SeedsSells small potted lemon grass plant

Seedman – Sells lemon grass seeds
Morgan Thompson Seed – Sells lemon grass seeds, ships worldwide
Mountain Valley Growers – sells live plants

Suite 101Lemon grass medicinal use
Nuoc Mam – Read about this Vietnamese ingredient

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