Thursday, July 8, 2010


Lots of people grow pampas grass and other ornamental grasses for landscaping, but I like lemongrass the best because it looks good, smells good, is easy to grow and is a wonderful culinary herb which I use extensively in my kitchen.

It is widely cultivated in the tropics and subtropics. There are two different species, i.e. West Indian Lemongrass Cymbopogon citratus, which is native to southern India and Ceylon, and East Indian Lemongrass C. flexuosus, also known as Cochin or Malabar grass, which is native to India. In India it is believed that growing a row of lemongrass plants will repel tigers.

West Indian Lemongrass C. citratus
Family: Poaceae (Gramineae) (Grass)
Tender perennial
Zones: 8 - 10
Height: 3’ to 5’
Width: 3’

East Indian Lemongrass C. flexuosus
Family: Poaceae (Gramineae) (Grass)
Tender perennial
Zones: 9 - 11
Height: 2’ to 3’
Width: 2’ to 3’

Both species are frost tender perennials that can withstand temperatures down to 10° to 20° with very heavy mulching. They can be grown in the ground or in containers. In the Deep South, it can be overwintered outside by cutting back the top and mulching the remaining crown heavily. I don’t cut mine back, but just leave them in the ground with at least 3” of mulch. Because the East Indian Lemongrass is smaller, it makes for a very good container plant. Lemongrass likes moist, well-drained soil and prefers full sun, but it can take some dapple sunlight. The blades are blue-green throughout the summer, with the leaves turning a rusty red in fall. They say flowering is rare, but I know that all of mine flower every fall. And the blades are sharp, so be careful to always rub upward and not downward. Propagation is by root or plant division.

Lemongrass is used not only as a culinary herb, but also as an aromatherapy herb, in perfumes and cosmetics, and as a medicinal herb, since it is considered a carminative and also used as an insect repellent. In addition, it has been used to reduce a fever by inducing sweating, alleviate cold symptoms and headaches, calm upset stomachs, and relieve spasms. It inhibits the growth of fungi and bacteria and is used externally to treat ringworm, lice, athlete’s foot, and scabies.

Lemongrass has a very unusual lemon flavor which tastes lemony, but not the least bit acidic. It makes for a wonderful tea, hot or iced, being high in Vitamin C and adds lemon flavoring to the dishes of many Asian cuisines. Harvest the stem right down to ground and chop like a scallion. It is easy to mince lemongrass in a food processor or minichopper.

The leaves can be put into marinades, broths and stocks. The part of the plant that is used most often is the lower, almost white section of the stem. Depending on the recipe, you can cut the white part into 2” to 3” stems, thinly slice crosswise, finely chop, pound or mince. Tie together a bunch of lemongrass stems and leaves with butcher's string, and drop it into a slow-cooking dish and remove just before serving. Whenever using the larger pieces, be sure to discard them before serving because they are fibrous, sharp and tough. It is also very good minced and added to rice, making a nice dish of lemongrass rice or fried rice. It can be used in stir fries, rice, sauces, curries, poultry, fish, seafood, soups, and tea. It can be frozen for later use. Cut some stalks down at ground level, and then soak in water and use as skewers on the grill cooking bite size pieces of chicken, shrimp and your favorite vegetables.

1 whole chicken
1 1/4 cups water
salt and pepper to taste
6-8 lemongrass leaves, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon corn flour

Place the chicken on a saucer in a saucepan. Add the water, sprinkle salt and pepper over and heap the lemongrass onto the breast. Cover and bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer for 2 hours, basting occasionally with the liquid. To eat hot, remove chicken and keep warm. Strain the liquid into a small saucepan and stir in a tablespoon corn flour blended to a smooth paste with a little milk. Stir until thickened and pour over the chicken. To eat the chicken cold, put it into a deep bowl and pour the strained liquid over it. Cool, and then chill overnight. The liquid will have jelled and there will be a layer of fat which should be removed.

10 stalks lemongrass
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 cup coconut milk (stir before measuring)

Peel the tough outer layers from the lemongrass and discard them. Cut the remainder into 1cm lengths. In a saucepan over high heat, combine lemongrass, sugar, salt and 2 ½ cups water. Stir until liquid comes to the boil. Reduce heat, simmer, stirring occasionally, until light golden, about 20 minutes. Pour through a fine strainer, pressing on the solids to extract moisture. Discard solids. Place the bowl in a larger bowl of ice water and stir syrup until cool, about 5 minutes. Stir in lemon juice. Whisk in the coconut milk. If mixture is lumpy, pour through a fine strainer. Pour into an ice cream maker and freeze. Or freeze in a suitable dish until just firm, 2-4 hours. Scoop into bowls, or scrape with a large form to form a slushy ice. Serve immediately.

2 stalks lemongrass
2 green or red chills, finely chopped
1 large tomato, coarsely diced
1 small red onion, finely diced
2 tablespoons chopped coriander
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sesame oil

Combine all ingredients and let sit at room temperature for about one hour, then refrigerate. Use within one day.

Photo by Linda Turner Collins
Lemongrass in bloom & Duchess de Brabant Rose


*Chic Provence* said...

Since I have Lemongrass growing vigorously in my garden, these are great recipes to try..Linda is this your garden and lemongrass? I was thrilled when we inherited our garden with it already growing, I never would have thought to plant it myself!



Herbie said...

Hey Kit!

Yes, it is lemongrass growing in my yard. Right now I have 3 big bunches of it growing. It's so easy to grow. I just posted another blog about lemongrass recipes. Check it out when you get a chance.

I hope you are or you did have a great trip to France!

Love ya,

MerryB said...

Thank you for posting your lemongrass blogs; I've enjoyed them. Since I'm a total newb, could you please answer these questions, or point me toward where I can answer them?

What is "heavy mulch"? 6" of leaves? 12" of leaves? bubble wrap? blankets?

In what temperature range does one apply the heavy mulch? under 40F?

Does lemongrass require a dormant season, like ginger and turmeric require?

My brand new, barely rooted and growing lemongrass thanks you. :-)