Lemon grass is a tropical perennial herb. The stems are used for teas, herbal medicines and for flavouring in foods, in particular Asian cuisine. The plant has a thick clumping habit and a sweet lemon scent. It can be used as an ornamental grass in landscaping (usually growing to around 1m) and as an insect repellant.
The stems (culms) of the lemon grass have been used for hundreds of years as a herbal medicine. They are also used in cooking and the oils are used in perfumes. When taken as a tea, lemon grass can help to relieve stomach pains, diarrhoea, vomiting, fevers and other pains. When used externally, it can help to cure fungal problems. This is all thanks to it’s anxiolytic, hypnotic, anticonvulsant, antioxidant, cyto-protective and anti-inflammatory properties.
Growing lemon grass is easy. It is hardy and generally isn’t prone to pests. It can be planted in large pots or in the ground in fertile, well draining soil (they don’t like heavy soils) in a full sun or part shade location. If planting numerous plants, space them about 40cm apart. Add lots of organic material to the soil and fertilise regularly in the warmer months. They benefit from regular watering and don’t like their roots drying out. As the plant grows, it forms a tight clump that can be difficult to dig into (try separating the outer root clumps in early spring).
How to prepare lemon grass:
The citrus-flavoured bulbous stem bases are delicious. The leaves can also be used and are popular for soup stock, in tea or in marinades.
Harvest the stem bases when they’re over 1cm thick (and the plant reaches about 35cm in height). Cut them at ground level or hand pull the entire stalk (the swollen base will resemble a green onion). The bottom of the stalk is the best. Cut off the grassy top part (some of the leaf edges can be sharp) and remember, you can use the leaves. Remove the outer fibrous layer of the stalk and expose the inner white, reedy looking bit. Crush the stem base if you want. This makes the heart of the stalk easier to slice.
How to store lemon grass:
Lemon grass is easy to store. Either mince it, puree it or slice it into thin pieces and pop it into plastic clip seal bags for freezing. Or dry the leaves by bundling them and hanging them upside down in a dark, dry place. Once dried, store the leaves in air-tight jars and they should retain their flavour for up to 6-12 months. When you’re finished using the leaves in tea, you can scatter them around your patio to help deter insects.