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Cymbopogon is a group of grass species, mostly native to tropical and sub-tropical climates including Africa, China, India, South America and Australasia. Many species grow rapidly in their natural habitats. They also are commercially cultivated. Grass species belonging to the cymbopogon genus have a wide variety of uses, including as culinary additions, essential oils and thatching materials.
Cymbopogon excavatus is commonly known as turpentine grass. This species is native to Africa and grows in hardy tussocks. Excavatus is generally unpalatable because of its oils, which infuse the grass with a strong, unpleasant turpentine taste. Grazing animals will only eat this type of grass when no other food is available. Excavatus is often used a thatching material or as a basket lining to deter rodents.
C. nardus is another inedible species. It is harvested for the essential oil it contains. This species thrives in many areas and is often considered an invasive species in the wild. C. nardus can pose an economical threat to ranchers with grazing animals such as cattle. In abundance the inedible grass can make grazing land useless, because the animals will not eat it and will starve if not offered alternate grazing.
Cymbopogon citratus is one of the lemongrass varieties used as a spice or flavoring. It is also used to extract citral or citronella to use as an insect repellent. Citronella can be used as a topical insect repellent but is also used as a repellent in candle or incense form.
Many cymbopogon varieties are thought to contain a variety of health benefits. For many thousands of years, herbalists have used lemongrass as a pain reliever and as a tea to relieve stomach cramps and digestive ailments including vomiting and diarrhea. Lemongrass also has antibacterial properties, can be used as a relaxant for nervous disorders or to reduce fever and can help to provide a clear, unblemished skin tone.
Scientists at Ben Gurion University in Israel have conducted research into the use of lemongrasses in the fight against cancer. A study concluded that 1 gram of lemongrass stewed in hot water and consumed as a tea could prompt cancerous cells to die while leaving normal cells unharmed. Some doctors recommend that cancer patients drink lemongrass tea as well as continuing their standard treatment regime. More conclusive research is required on the effects of lemongrass on cancer cells.