(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on May 17, 2008.)
A native of India, lemongrass is widely used in Thai and Vietnamese cooking. Therefore, when growing lemongrass, you'll want to replicate its native Indian climate by giving the plant full sun, sandy, well-draining soil and average water - do not over-water.
In areas of the country that do not experience freezes, lemongrass will act as a perennial and grow rather large - up to 9', in fact. However, if your winters can get harsh, better to pot up the plant and bring it in to the garage. This will stunt its growth somewhat, but it should survive. (Before storing, first see if it needs divided. Lemongrass is a clumping type of grass, which means you can eventually divide and get several plants out of it...or, of course, you can re-plant some and eat the rest!)
When harvesting your lemongrass, select a firm stalk with leaves that appear green and fresh. If leaves are browning, wilted or dried out, there won't be much flavor. The grass blade can be sliced very fine and added to soups for a lemony twist. Also, the bulb can be bruised and minced for use in a variety of recipes.
Prepare lemongrass by peeling off and discarding one or two layers of the woody exterior leaves. These leaf blades are tough and therefore better for teas, potpourri and flavoring, but not so good for outright eating. Instead, use the tender white inner hearts.
Medicinal herb teas can also be brewed from lemongrass. The tea has been used for everything from lowering cholesterol to soothing digestive problems. Externally, the oil can be used to treat athlete's foot or acne.
Many lemon-scented and lemon-flavored products actually get their lemony goodness from lemongrass rather than from real lemons. Some have reported it being a successful insect repellent.
If you have trouble finding lemongrass at your local nursery or gardening center, check with Asian grocery stores, farmers markets or organic groceries selling fresh herbs. Pick a plant that has fat, healthy-looking stalks and light-green bases with leaves wrapped tight so they do not curl or dry out.
After you get the lemongrass home, peel off the outside leaves, place the stalks in a jar of water and put it on a bright windowsill. The stalks should root in a couple of weeks and be ready for planting outdoors, so long as the soil has adequately warmed.
Lemongrass is especially yummy with fish or chicken. Or, try this fabulous herb oil as a salad dressing or bread dip:
Fresh Rosemary Twig
Fresh Lemon Grass
Fresh Thyme Twig
Clove of Garlic
Peppercorns, red and black
Combine all the above ingredients in a clear bottle. Let sit for at least a week. Shake vigorously before serving.