Among the herbs and spices I use, lemongrass ranks number one on my list of favorites. I love the citrusy aroma and lemon flavor it gives to food. You will find it sprinkled all over my recipes. Lemongrass can transform a dish with its textures and flavors without adding much calories or fat, not to mention the health benefits associated with it. Used extensively in Asian, especially Southeast Asian cooking, lemongrass adds a unique element to any dish. It may be added to soup, salad, curries, beef, fish, poultry and seafood. Other versatile usage for this herb includes teas, beverages, herbal medicines and essential oils. Stay tuned for my recipes with lemongrass.
What is Lemongrass?
Cymbopogon citratus, commonly known as lemongrass is a perennial plant with thin, long leaves which belongs to the grass family of Poaceae. This plant is indigenous to India and tropical regions of Asia including Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, Philippines and Malaysia. It can be found growing naturally in tropical grasslands. Due to its versatile use, lemongrass is also extensively cultivated throughout tropical Asia. There are over fifty species of lemongrass but not all are suitable for consumption or medical use. Since it’s more suitable for cooking, cymopogon citratus is the topic for this blog here. Among other names, lemongrass is also known as fever grass, Ceylon citronella grass, East Indian lemongrass, West Indian lemongrass, British Indian lemongrass, citronella, Guatemala lemongrass, Indian Melissa, Indian Verbena and Madagascar Lemongrass.
Where to Find Lemongrass
You can find fresh lemongrass in most Asian grocery stores, health food stores or online. I sometimes find it in the seasoning aisle or fresh produce aisle of supermarkets. It is often sold in bundles of 3 or 4 stalks. I would much prefer it fresh but if you can’t find lemongrass with the fresh produce, check the freezer section of any Asian grocery store. Of course, you can also grow it in your own garden. Lemongrass can be grown either in patches of soil or as potted plant indoor or outdoor. In warm weather, this plant thrives well simply in a sunny spot, rich soil, and plenty of water. It doesn’t, however, flourish well in extremely cold climates.
How to Use Lemongrass in Cooking
When purchasing lemongrass, be sure to look for stalks that still look fresh with a lemony-green color on the bulb and turning gradually to a truer green at the end of the stalk. Avoid purchasing stalks that look dry, brown and crusty as they loose their aromas and nutrients when old. Use a serrated knife to cut off about half an inch at the top of the bulb as this part is too hard and uneatable. In soup, you can use most of the stalks, including the green portion. However, since the stalk can be tough to taste, only the inside layer and about 4 -5 inches of the bulb should be used in cooking other dishes. In soup, be sure to pound the stalk first to release the oils and fragrant and discard the stalk after cooking. When used in dishes other than soup, I find the best and quickest way to grind lemon grass into a fine chop is to use the Magic Bullet. Coarsely chop the stalk of the lemongrass into half a centimeter thick first and only put about 1 stalk in the Magic Bullet grinder at a time.
Health Benefits of Lemongrass
Lemongrass has earned a reputation for having innumerable therapeutic and health benefits. It contains a powerhouse of essential oils. The main oil of lemongrass is lemonal or citral, which accounts for its lemony fragrant and gives food a delicious aroma and flavor. Other oils in lemongrass include Myrcene, Citronellal, Geranyl Acetate, Nerol, Geraniol, Neral and Limonene. These oils have properties to repel insects which make them great active ingredients in citronella candles. Some of these essential oils have antimicrobial, antiseptic and anti-fungal properties and is therefore effective in reducing inflammation and for destroying or inhibiting microorganisms. Its antibacterial property is valuable for treating skin infections. Including lemongrass in dishes also facilitates nutrient assimilation and boosts the functioning of the digestive system. It also helps eliminate toxins from the body by preventing the formation of excessive gas and increasing urination. In Vietnam and other Southeast Asian countries, lemongrass is used in ‘steam bath’ to reduce fever and help recover from illnesses such as flu and the common cold. Due to its galactagogue properties, lemongrass is also used to stimulate lactation in women. In many countries, including the United States, lemongrass is used to flavor tea and is made into essential oils for aromatherapeutic practices.
According to Organicfacts.net which draws studies from various sources, health benefits or lemongrass include:
- Maintains healthy cholesterol level
- Strengthens immune system
- Help control obesity
- Effective in treating cancer
- Reduces fever
- Removes harmful toxic waste
- Cures stomach disorders
- Relieves pains caused by rheumatism
- Effective antiseptic agent