What is Lemongrass?

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

There are many related species of the herb lemongrass, all of which are in the grass family, Poaceae. East Indian and West Indian lemongrass are popular names for Cymbopogon flexuous and Cymbopogon citratus, respectively. The herb is an evergreen, native to Southeast Asia, India, Myanmar, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Australia. So-called West Indian lemongrass may have originated in Malaysia.

Lemongrass should be grown in wet soil and full sun.
Lemongrass should be grown in wet soil and full sun.

Description. The narrow foliage of lemongrass ranges from blue-green to gold, and the flowers are white, cream, or green. C. flexuous grows to a height of 8 feet (2.4 m), while C. citratus ranges from about 3 to 5 feet (0.9–1.5 m).

Lemongrass is sometimes used as an alternative to chemical insect repellants.
Lemongrass is sometimes used as an alternative to chemical insect repellants.

Gardening. Lemongrass prefers moist soil and full sun. It can be propagated by dividing the root clump. The leaves can be dried or frozen. Dried leaves need re-hydration before use. Information differs on whether the bulbous stem end, the leaves, or both should be used and how, so consult a recipe for the use you have in mind to see what it recommends.

Food and Other Uses. Lemongrass is very mild, rating only a one on the hotness scale. It is most closely associated with savory dishes and with Thai, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Indonesian, and Indian cooking. The herb is used in curry, stir fry, soups, and marinades. For example, it can be sauteed, mixed with soy sauce and spices, and used as a marinade. It is also popular with seafood. Lemongrass is often used in combination with coconut milk.

Lemongrass tisane is made by pouring boiling water over the leaves. Sweet dishes are less common, but include sorbets, ice cream, and spiced fruit dishes. It is more frequently available as a spice or a spice blend component since 2000, but it is far from a customary grocery item. Although citronella is a better known lemon-scented insect repellent, lemongrass has recently been used more frequently in non-DEET formulations. The plant is also used as an ornamental grass.

So-called West Indian lemongrass may have originated in Malaysia.
So-called West Indian lemongrass may have originated in Malaysia.
Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Mary Elizabeth is passionate about reading, writing, and research, and has a penchant for correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to contributing articles to wiseGEEK about art, literature, and music, Mary Elizabeth is a teacher, composer, and author. She has a B.A. from the University of Chicago’s writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont, and she has written books, study guides, and teacher materials on language and literature, as well as music composition content for Sibelius Software.

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Discussion Comments

jabuka

If the recipe calls for lemon grass and you do not have it on hand, use lemon zest instead to get close results.

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