Lemongrass is a grassy perennial native to tropical and subtropical environments. It has many uses beyond being a garden plant. It’s used in food, as a flavor and medicinal aid, and as an additive to perfumes and deodorants.
Out of the approximately 55 lemongrass species, the two you’re most likely to come across in the kitchen are the East Indian (sometimes called Cochin or Malabar) and West Indian varieties.
Perhaps the most common use for lemongrass is as a tea. Lemongrass tea has a fresh, invigorating scent. You can make your own tea by crushing fresh lemongrass stalks into boiling water. According to Brazilian folklore, lemongrass can aid in digestion and work to counteract high blood pressure.
It is also often used to help calm the nerves. A 2009 Brazilian study using mice found that lemongrass oil can be effective in helping to combat anxiety, as a sedative, or as an anticonvulsive agent. Another study from 2012 indicates that the oil can help aid in the treatment of gastric ulcers. Lemongrass, like several aromatic, oily herbs, may also be effective in repelling head lice, but it’s not effective for getting rid of them. German studies have indicated that lemongrass oil could have preservative properties, too.
A note of caution: Too much lemongrass can irritate sensitive skin, and you definitely want to keep it away from your eyes.
With its zesty, citrus scent, lemongrass is often used in perfumes, body oils, deodorants, and other fresh-smelling products. It’s also added to some nonchemical insect repellants, resulting in a more aromatic product.
Lemongrass’s culinary reach is fast expanding beyond Asian cuisine. Rich in vitamin A, it’s often an ingredient in curries and soups. It also goes well with seafood, beef, and poultry.
Lemongrass is easy to grow at home: All it needs to flourish are direct sunlight, good soil, and lots of water. Be careful when you’re tending to planted lemongrass, as some varieties have a sharp edge.
You can also find lemongrass at many supermarkets and specialty Asian markets, usually sold in bundles. The lower part of the grass stalk is the most flavorful and aromatic. You can get a lighter lemongrass flavor from the grass tips.