The lemongrass or fever grass or Cymbopogon has a scent, resembling that of lemon citrus. It can be brewed in tea for medicinal purposes or used as spice for culinary purposes. The most common dishes that use lemongrass are Asian ones.
Since it is a native of India, you will have to live in at least zone 9 if you want to grow lemongrass in the open. Each plant can grow to between 3 and 6 feet (91cm-182cm) high if you choose to grow it outdoors. On the other hand, it will be a bit smaller if you keep it inside.
There are 2 species of lemongrass:
1. The East Indian and
2. The West Indian one
There is little difference between the two of them in terms of culinary use and growing. So, there really isn’t a great variety to choose from.
It is a very plain plant: it looks much like a very tall patch of grass that is not prone to flowering. At the root of each group of leaves there is a fat stalk, similar to a spring onion bulb. The overall plant is made up of a big cluster of these individual stalks.
It is the ‘bulb’ or bottom part of each stalk that is used for most cooking purposes, but the rest of the leaves can be used too. Teas are usually made with the lemongrass leaves.
The tea is very zesty in flavor, and it can also help settle upset stomachs and ease a cough.
The oils present in the lemongrass have a number of homeopathic health administrations, though most home-growers do not extract the essential oils from their plants. It is mostly used as a flavoring ingredient.
How To Grow Lemongrass From Seed
As a rule, home gardeners don’t typically start lemongrass plants from seed because it is so easy to start it by simple rooting of stalks or cuttings. In fact, you may even be able to start a new lemongrass plant from fresh stalks you can purchase at the nearest green market.
As long as the stalks are still firm and green, you should be able to get them to root. Just snip off an inch or two from the end of the leaves, and put the base end in a glass of water.
Leave the glass somewhere sunny, and you should start to see roots sprouting from the bottom of the stalk in about 7-14 days.
Once the stalk has roots at least an inch in length, you can either plant it in a container for indoor growing or take it right out into the garden or yard.
Transplanting your rooted lemongrass
Keep your lemongrass plants at least 3 feet apart (91cm), and allow for a height of 6 feet (182cm) although you can trim it lower than that.
And when you dig the holes for the plants, mix in some compost or well-aged manure to help enrich the soil. Remember not to make the soil too thick though as the water still has to drain to keep your plants healthy.
You should plant your stalks outside after your last frost date if you live in an area that gets winter frosts (like zone 9 in the U.S.).
As with many other plants, the lemongrass will need a lot of nitrogen to grow, so you should fertilize your plant each month with either a standard or high-nitrogen formula.
Water your plant regularly and don’t let it completely dry out, especially when the weather is scorching hot!
When your plant grows to 3 feet or so in height, you may need to keep the tops of the leaves cut down even more than what you are taking for an actual harvest. This can help keep the size of the plant down. The lemongrass does not branch, so no other pruning is necessary.
Growing lemongrass in containers
The lemongrass plant can be grown in large pots, either indoors or out. Depending on your microclimate, you should try to let it have a few summer months outdoors to get extra sun exposure.Considering its tall size, most people keep their lemongrass inside only during the winter months.
Since your plants can get quite large, plant it in a 5 gallon (19 liters) pot or even larger.If it starts to outgrow the pot, you can always separate off more stalks just to keep the plant in check.This is not troublesome with exclusively indoor plants.
While inside, a lemongrass plant needs as much sun as you can offer with a minimum of 6 hours a day.It may thrive as an indoor-only plant, but you don’t get as many stalks from it.
You should fertilize your container plants once in 2 weeks with a standard mix, though you can skip this altogether during the winter months.
It needs proper watering that is 2 or 3 times a week.
- Days to germination: Not started by seed
- Days to harvest: 100 days, when started by seedling
- Light requirements: Full sun
- Water requirements: Frequent watering
- Soil: Well-drained and rich with organic material
- Container: It can be grown in a container, even indoors
Lemongrass fights pests and diseases
The lemon-scented oils in lemongrass are frequently used to make natural insect repellent, so you really won’t have much to worry about when it comes to those kinds of pests.
The plant disease called leaf blight will sometimes ‘hit’ lemongrass. The leaves can start to wilt and you will find brown or rust-colored spots at the ends of the leaves. If you spot this, pick away the infected leaves, and spray the whole plant with a natural fungicide that can be used on edible plants.
Cats have also been known to have a ‘fondness’ for lemongrass, so they may munch on your plants if given the chance!
Lemongrass harvest and storage
You can trim leaves from the lemongrass any time when the plant reaches a foot (28cm) in height. In order to harvest entire stalks, use a sharp knife to slice each one off at the soil level.
Take the outer stalks first, and they should be at least ½ inch (1, 2 cm) thick before you knife them. Try not to just break them off since you could damage the rest of the plant.
You may have to peel off the tougher outer leaves before use. Then store the entire stalk with leaves in the fridge to keep it fresh for a couple of days. Keep it in a plastic bag with a damp paper towel for the best results.
Also, chopped pieces of the stalk can be deep-frozen for later use. If you want to store just the leaves, then they preserve best when dried rather than frozen.
Whether you use the lemongrass to add spicy flavor to meat or fish dishes, or just to steep some tea, remember that it can be quite strong. So, it doesn’t take much to feel it!
The lemongrass is an aromatic healer
Besides its culinary usage, this plant also offers a wide array of medicinal benefits and is in huge demand due to its antibacterial, anti-fungal and antimicrobial properties. It is an aromatic ‘storehouse’ of essential nutrients providing a wide array of health benefits.
It is a source of essential vitamins like vitamin A, B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin) B5 (pantothenic acid), B6 (pyridoxine), folate and vitamin C. It also provides essential minerals like potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, manganese, copper, zinc and iron, which are required for the healthy functioning. It offers no harmful cholesterol or fats.
Moreover, the lemongrass contains antioxidants, flavonoids and phenolic compounds such as luteolin, glycosides, quercetin, kaempferol, elimicin, catecol, chlorogenic acid, and caffeic acid, all of which help in providing an impressive range of medicinal aids.
Among other health benefits, it helps in the cleansing of blood and strengthens the spleen to discard the tarnished red blood cells. It supports the function of the thymus glands which helps to produce white blood cells.
The lemongrass also helps in stimulating regeneration of cells. The folate and potassium content in the stem and leaves of the lemongrass aids in DNA synthesis and promotes cell division.
The lemongrass consists of the beneficial ingredients of essential oils such as nerol, citronellol, myrcene, dipentene, geraniol and methyl heptenone which possess anti-fungal, insecticidal and antiseptic properties.
Because of this, the lemongrass oil is extensively used in aromatherapy, due to its therapeutic effects, which help in revitalizing and refreshing the body.
The cooling effect of the plant’s oil is beneficial for the body during hot weather and promotes the revival of both the mind and soul.
The lemongrass oil possesses natural astringent and toning qualities which help in stimulating blood circulation and tones up the dermal tissues. It also helps in tightening, uplifting and firming lethargic or sagging skin.
Our advice: Plant some lemongrass this season since it is both good for your overall healthy and kind to your waistline!