Native of Sri Lanka and India, Lemon grass (Cymbopogon citratus), a tall tropical plant with a powerful lemon fragrance, is widely used as a cooking herb of Thailand, Vietnam and other Southeast Asian countries. Its bright lemony scent is used in drinks, curries and soups. It is delicious in tea with cloves. Lemon gass rich in vitamin A and is good for "those who wish to have bright eyes and a clear skin."
There are over 50 species in the genus. Lemon grass species are fast growing perennials that grow in dense clumps to 3 to 6 feet tall and 3 feet wide. They have long, light green leaves and inconspicuous flowers. The strap-like leaves are 1/2 to 1 inch wide, about 3 feet long, and have gracefully drooping tips. The leaves are bright yellow-green and release a lemon aroma when crushed.
Lemon grass is fast becoming a fashionable herb best known for putting the lemony zip in cuisine. But finding lemon grass can sometimes be challenging. If you are having a difficult time locating it at your local nursery or gardening center, then you can always check with Asian grocery stores. Thankfully, despite its exotic reputation, lemon grass is easy to grow and can be started from stalks purchased cheaply in the produce section of most large supermarkets or Asian food stores.
You can also propagate lemongrass from stalks purchased at a store. Choose a healthy fresh plant with plump stalks. Cut off several inches from the top of the stalks. Peel off any outside layers that are dry or withered, especially near the base of the stalks. Fill a glass jar with water and place the stalks. Keep them with the bottoms in the water for several weeks. Roots should begin emerging from the base in 1 to 2 weeks.
Once the roots are between 1 and 2 inches long, transplant them into a container. The roots and crown (the base of the stalk) should to be covered by soil. Make sure your container has plenty of drainage holes to allow the water to drain from the plant.
Just as its name implies, lemon grass easily brews up into a delightful, lemony-flavored tea. To make tea, just trim the plant, rather than cutting it to the base as it done in cooking. Lemon grass is surprisingly strong so it doesn't take a large amount to make a pot of tea. Lemon grass herb is believed to be a mild sedative. Drink a big cup of strong lemon grass tea and you will be ready for a nap.
Cooks in China, Indonesia and Malaya use the lemongrass leaves in the preparation of marinades for grilled meat and fish. On the other hand, French chefs use fresh lemongrass in some of their culinary. Lemongrass gets well with coconut, garlic chives, peppermint, ginger, shallots and chilli pepper.
Slices of fresh stalks are added to soups, salads and seafood dishes. You can also use the tender, inner leaves and sauté stir fry, or use in sauces. The tough top part of the stalk can be bundled and added to soups or stocks, removing before serving.
Lemon grass is also widely used as medicinal herb. Apart from the herb’s aromatic, ornamental and culinary uses, lemongrass also provides a number of therapeutic benefits. Lemongrass leaves and the essential oils extracted from them are used to cure grouchy conditions, nervous disorders such as insomnia and depression, colds and weariness.
Last year researchers made a discovery that the lemon aroma in herbs like lemon grass kills cancer cells in vitro, while leaving healthy cells unharmed. A drink with as little as one gram of lemon grass contains enough citral to signal the cancer cells to commit suicide.
It is also an effective and non-toxic insect repellent.
But be careful, cats go wacky for lemongrass so keep its out of kitty's reach or grow a pot just for her.