Lemongrass is an attractive tender perennial
Lemongrass, Cymbopogon citratus is a native grass to Southeast Asia where it has been used for centuries to flavor foods and heal the body. It grows into an impressive clump where the climate permits, often topping six feet tall and nearly as big around. Hardy to USDA Zone 8 here in the U.S. and often grown as an annual or in containers further north, many people plant it for its ability to repel biting insects and flavor food. It is an easy plant to grow, only asking for sunshine, water and decent soil. Lemongrass forms dense clumps that rival other decorative grasses and the lovely arching stems are quite attractive. It is also known as barbed wire grass, silky heads, citronella grass and fever grass. These are descriptors of its appearance or herbal uses. There are other plants using the common name lemongrass and all are members of the Cymbopogon family, however the citratus is less likely to be invasive and is easier to find in garden centers, on line and in supermarket produce aisles.
Use lemongrass in the kitchen
Grown for centuries in maritime Southeast Asia, lemongrass is an important seasoning in many dishes. The white, lower portions of the grass stalks are chopped, sliced and ground to use in many recipes. The fresh grass is preferable to dried, however the dried grass can be used if enough time is allowed in cooking for it to re-hydrate. Most often, the dried grass is used in a similar manner to bay leaves, the pieces flavor the dish, and are then discarded. When using the fresh grass, peel a couple of the outer layers from the white stalks and trim the roots and green parts away leaving about five inches of the white stalk. Bruise the stalks by lightly tapping them with the back of a knife handle and slice or mince as you would a scallion. Lemongrass flavor gets stronger the longer it is cooked, so is fine to add with other aromatic flavoring ingredients like celery, onion or garlic. Just remember to mince it fine instead of adding larger slices unless you want to eat around it or remove it before serving. For flavoring soups and drinks, the pieces can easily be added to a tea ball for quick extraction. Pieces of lemongrass are also wonderful flavoring for marinades, pickles and relishes. Scatter lemongrass over roasting meats and vegetables too. Store the cut stalks wrapped in the refrigerator in an airtight container. The scent and flavor travels quickly and lemongrass will flavor your butter (not a bad idea), cheese, fruits and vegetables and any leftovers that aren't tightly wrapped.
Lemongrass makes a fine potpourri and air freshener
Lemongrass has other uses too. It makes a fine addition to homemade potpourri. Most instructions call for cut and dried lemongrass and others call for dried and ground lemongrass. The ingredients often include actual lemon peel and rosemary. Add a few drops of lemon essential oil and some dried orris root to help bind it all together. Leave it sealed in an airtight container for three or four weeks for the scents to blend and strengthen. An easy fresh potpourri that you simmer on the stove can include lemongrass, rosemary, grapefruit peel, cloves, fresh ginger, chrysanthemum petals or cinnamon. Gather several of these ingredients and place in a small saucepan with water and simmer on your stove. Your house will smell wonderful and the potpourri also dispels strong cooking odors such as fish from your home. Lemongrass freezes well, so bag some up to use during the winter months if you live in a cold winter climate. The fresh lemony scent is quite pleasant and one that was used for hundreds of years to protect the home from evil spirits. Apparently the scent of lemongrass was disagreeable to whatever demons and bad things the family feared. Lemongrass was also used in a number of love charms. Whether the lady in question slept with it under her pillow, scented the house with it, or served it in tea to her intended, all actions were reported to ensure a happy marriage. Lemongrass tea was also used as a diuretic, appetite stimulant and to combat nausea. It contains a significant amount of Vitamin A and has anti microbial and antiseptic properties too. A lemongrass rinse was also used to prevent dandruff as well. Like its cousin, Cymbopogon nardus, lemongrass oils and plants were also used to repel insects and they make a nice addition to pool and patio area landscaping.
Grow lemongrass in your garden or in a container
At one time, lemongrass was only common in Asian markets, however it has moved into mainstream cooking and can be found in many supermarket produce departments. Most often, the stalks are already trimmed and ready to use. A number of mail order vendors offer plants and many garden centers have the plants each spring. However, it is actually easy to start your own from the supermarket stalks. Just place a couple stalks in a container of water and they will root in several weeks. You can then plant your lemongrass in a container or outdoors. Just remember that it loves lots of water, but not boggy conditions. You do not have to grow lemongrass to take advantage of its scent, commercial teas, lotions, soaps and other items are available with lemongrass added. However, given how easy this plant is to grow, why not try some for yourself?