Lemongrass, also known as lemongrass, is native to India. It is known above all as a remedy against mosquitoes but this plant also has many therapeutic properties. In fact, it has an anti-inflammatory action and can be used to treat the typical ailments of the winter season such as fever, cold, flu , as it is antibacterial and antiviral. In addition, lemongrass oil is used, in cases of mental fatigue, difficulty falling asleep, stress and even muscle and joint pain, for its sedative power.
But, it is also effective in case of abdominal pain and swelling or in case of dyspepsia (bad digestion) as it has antispasmodic action. Lemongrass is rich in active ingredients: citral and myrcene make it an excellent remedy against fungi and bacteria, while geraniol and citronellol give it the well-known quality of mosquito repellent .
In addition, it is also used in the kitchen for marinades, to flavor meat and fish, in salads and even in desserts. In England, it is known by the name of Lemongrass or lemon grass.
Lemongrass: what it is
The scientific name is Cymbopogon , it is a heliophilous plant therefore it loves warm and sunny regions. There are several species but the best known are:
- Nardus , also called Ceylon citronella , is used to extract essential oil with a lemon scent. It is not used in the kitchen because it has an unpleasant taste
- Winterianus , or Citronella di Java , is used all over the world because it is rich in oils and aromatic essences
- Flexuosus, has a strong lemon scent and survives with temperatures between 8 and 40 degrees
- Citratus , its leaves smell of lemon and is also used in cooking.
It is an aromatic, evergreen and bushy plant of the Poaceae or Graminacee family, its aerial part has erect stems that resemble bamboo canes. Its leaves, ribbon-like and bright green in color, have a paper consistency, are petiole-free and have sharp edges similar to knife blades. They have a bright green color and fall in the apical part.
The plant has a pleasant citrus aroma , especially lemon, which increases if the leaves are rubbed between the fingers. The Citronella flexuosus reaches up to 1.5 m in height and produces seeds, the citratus species reaches 1 m in height and does not produce seeds.
Lemongrass: active ingredients
The active substances that lemongrass contains are monoterpenes, hydrocarbons present in essential oils and in an infinity of other plants, which give it its characteristic perfume similar to that of lemon .
Here are the main components of the lemongrass essential oil :
- Citral (obtained by the union of 2 substances, the geranial and the neral)
- Methyl eugenol.
Lemongrass also contains flavonoids, a subgroup of polyphenols, excellent antioxidants that fall under the ” Other nutrients and other substances with nutritional or physiological effect ” . Flavonoids:
- they intervene on the micro blood and lymphatic circulation and favor the protection of the small venous vessels
- keep the liver healthy and protect the skin from the harmful action of ultraviolet rays
- strengthen the immune system
- have an important role in visceral fat loss and in maintaining good physical shape
- they prevent cardiovascular, inflammatory and neoplastic diseases.
Vitamins and minerals
Lemongrass is rich in B vitamins as well as in vitamins A, E and C. But, minerals are not lacking, in particular they are present:
- zinc and iron.
Lemongrass: therapeutic properties
Antiseptic or antibacterial
essential oil of citronella exerts an antiseptic for the presence of monoterpene nerol and geranialo. In particular, studies have shown that essential oil has an antibacterial action against microorganisms such as Gram-positive and Gram-negative .
In addition, essential oil always has an interesting antibacterial activity against the strains of Bacillus subtilis and Escherichia coli. Finally, it performs an important antibacterial action not only in the intestine and stomach but also in the respiratory system.
Lemongrass: analgesic and sedative
Some researches highlight the sedative and analgesic action of essential oil but only if it is consumed in considerable quantities. Instead, taking decoctions prepared with leaves does not generate therapeutic effects.
In addition, the essential oil, thanks to its sedative action, promotes mental relaxation by acting positively on mood and concentration and is beneficial for the nervous system. It also acts against joint pain such as low back pain, low back pain and also against menstrual pain.
Lemongrass is also used for the treatment of flu and to reduce fever thanks to the presence of citral and limonene.
The antispasmodic activity of lemongrass oil is effective against abdominal pain and swelling and in case of dyspepsia (digestion difficulty).
The decoction of the lemongrass stem can help reduce the number of evacuations in case of diarrhea, in a dose-dependent mode (the effect is enhanced if you increase the dose).
The oil is active against dermatophytes such as Trichophyton mentagrophytes, T. rubrum, Epidermophyton floccosum and Microsporum gypseum, and is among the most active agents against human dermatophytes.
Some studies have reported that the oil is active against keratinophilic fungi, such as ringworm fungi and food storage fungi. Furthermore, experimental evidence suggests that the oil, thanks to its natural antimicrobial effects, would also be effective for the treatment of oral or vaginal candidiasis.
Lemongrass: antioxidant property
Thanks to the presence of chlorogenic acid , isorientin (flavone), swertiajaponin, the herbal tea of this plant has shown a beneficial effect against free radicals, thus exhibiting a strong action to improve the functionality of the blood system, in particular of the arteries.
The lemongrass infusion has a hypocholesterolemic potential, i.e. it significantly lowers cholesterol levels . This reduction was found to be dose dependent.
The lemongrass infusion helps diuresis, therefore it is a valid diuretic and an aid to eliminate excess fluids .
Lemongrass turns out to be a safe plant when its consumption is limited to the doses that are usually used for food, as well as when it is used in the form of a supplement .
However, it is contraindicated:
- during breastfeeding
- in children under 3 years
- for those who have any allergies to one of its constituents.
However, all treatments, including those based on natural products, must be carried out on the indication and under the supervision of a qualified professional such as the doctor, pharmacist or herbalist, with the necessary skills.
Lemongrass: how to use
Lemongrass can be used both for internal and external use. The leaves are chopped, if distilled the essential oil is obtained, if dried they can be used to prepare infusions or decoctions.
Drink 1 cup of lemongrass infusion in the case of:
- nervous tension
- difficulty sleeping
- digestive problems
This infusion can be drunk in the late afternoon or in the evening in case of nervousness, nervous tension, stress, difficulty in falling asleep. Instead, if you suffer from digestive problems, drink a cup after meals.
Instead, drink 3 cups during the day in case of:
- flu states
- respiratory tract infections.
In addition, the decoction can be used for:
- mental fatigue: moisten a gauze with the decoction and massage the forehead
- tired, heavy legs, plantar hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating of the feet). Take a foot bath by adding lemongrass decoction or a few drops of essential oil to a bowl
- cold sores, to speed up healing
External use of lemongrass
Massage the painful part with a few drops of essential oil diluted in hazelnut oil or hypericum macerate for:
- joint and muscle pain
Topical use of lemongrass
Lemongrass is used as an ingredient in creams and lotions for when you spend a lot of time outdoors, mainly in spring and summer, because it is an excellent insect repellent, especially against mosquitoes.
Lemongrass infusions and decoctions, how to prepare them at home
How to prepare the infusion
Boil 200 ml of water with 2 g of fresh leaves. Leave to infuse for at least 5 minutes, then strain through a colander into a cup. Care must be taken to filter the infusion well because the leaves of the plant contain filaments harmful to the digestive system.
The lemongrass decoction
Add 10 g of lemongrass in 1 liter of cold water and bring to the boil for about 10-15 minutes, on a low heat with a lid. Once the decoction is ready, leave to cool for about 15 minutes and strain through a cup into a cup. Care must be taken to filter the infusion well.
Lemongrass: buying guide
You can buy it in stores of Asian, ethnic products or from a trusted herbalist
An organic quality label on the packaging or the belonging of the point of sale of trust to a trade association are the only control systems available to the consumer .
The advice is to buy small quantities of herbs, for example 1 hecto at a time, to be able to alternate them frequently. In fact, it’s best not to let them age at home. These are simple but important tips to ensure the curative effectiveness of the products purchased.
How to store lemongrass
The plant, after the harvest, is dried in the shade but this method makes it lose a good part of its aroma. Instead, the fresh stems can be kept for a few days immersed in a glass of water, or placed in the fridge in the vegetable container. An alternative is to freeze it . The most tender parts of the stems are washed and dried well, cut into thin slices or washers and placed in bags in the freezer.
Instead, if you buy it in paper or plastic bags, keep them in one wooden box or in a hermetically sealed dark glass jar; they should not be stored near a heat source, but in a dry and cool place .
After 6 months, the unused herb should be discarded because the product has lost most of its properties. In addition, periodic inspection of the cans is also recommended to check that there are no alterations due to the presence of insects, which can nest in the product.
If you notice changes in color or taste, the herb should be replaced because it loses much of its beneficial properties.
Alternative uses: DIY mosquito repellent and candles
Insect and cat repellent
The plant is used as an anti mosquito repellent , as a body lotion or candles that keep insects away on summer evenings.
But, not everyone knows that, once dried and stored in the drawers, lemongrass also keeps moths away .
This plant is also known as a plant that repels cats. In fact, to avoid the smell of cat spray, just put some cotton balls soaked in lemongrass essential oil on the balcony or in the house.
Natural anti mosquito spray
- lemongrass leaves
- food alcohol
Soak 2 fists of rhizomes and 2 fists of finely shredded lemongrass leaves in 1 liter of alcohol for 1 week keeping the container in the dark.
After 1 week, filter and stretch with water. It is ready to be rubbed on the skin.
- Normal candles
- lemongrass essence for wax
- wooden batten
- ceramic bowls, aluminum glasses or containers.
Melt the candle wax in an old saucepan over low heat;
pour in the melted wax drops of lemongrass essence for wax;
mix with the wooden stick to obtain a homogeneous mixture.
Strain the mixture into bowls or glasses and pack the candles by placing one or more wicks.
Use in beauty
Lemongrass oil can be used as a deodorant thanks to its antiseptic properties against the bacteria that cause bad odors. Furthermore, if you pour a few drops into the shampoo , it has a purifying action on the scalp to treat seborrhea and oily hair.
Lemongrass: uses in the kitchen
In the kitchen, lemongrass must be used carefully because small doses are enough to feel the flavor. It is mainly used in Asian, Indian and Thai cuisine for soups and soups, but it is also excellent in vegetable vinaigrette and is also used on meat and fish. In fact, it gives foods a citrus and balsamic taste. In general, the base of the tufts is used, white and tender.
In Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia it is combined with meat, soups, fish and to enhance the flavor of white meats. It is equally excellent if it is cut into very thin slices in raw salads or to give freshness to marinades. It can be used with coriander, garlic, coconut milk, and soy milk or sauce, depending on the food to be marinated. The marinade must last at least an hour, preferably all night to obtain a better final result . Instead, in North Africa, it is combined with mint and jasmine flowers to flavor the tea. While, in the East, it is combined with coconut milk.
But, it is also an excellent ingredient for desserts: it goes well with fruit salads and, together with vanilla, excellent creams can be prepared .
The aromatic plants with which it matches best are :
- dried garlic
- chili pepper.
How to clean and cut the stem
Lemongrass has a long stem that resembles a leek. After washing with running water to remove soil and dirt , remove the first leaf that covers the stem , and separate the stem from the bulb and stem. The stem can be preserved.
Cut the stem lengthwise and use it to flavor the dishes but remove it when serving. Instead, the bulb can be used as garlic is used, that is, it can be minced or crushed.
To use it in the kitchen, the stem must be sliced into small, not thick pieces . It can be added raw or cooked to the dishes and is the ingredient of the sweet and sour soups of Thai cuisine.
If it is purchased dried or in powder form, it must be immersed in water before being used in cooking .
Recipes with lemongrass
1- Lemongrass tea
Half a cup of coarsely chopped lemongrass stalks for each cup of water.
Infuse the lemongrass in boiling water and boil it on high heat for 5 minutes, lower the heat and simmer for another 5 minutes.
Filter and serve hot or cold.
2 – Thai soup with chicken
Ingredients for 4 people
- sesame oil 2 tsp
- chili pepper 1
- lemongrass stalks 1
- chicken broth 750 ml
- coconut milk 250 ml
- lime leaves 2
- chicken breasts 2
- lime 1
- teaspoon of sugar 1
- Salt to taste
- pepper as needed
- coriander to taste
Pour 2 teaspoons of sesame oil into the wok. Add the chilli pepper and 2 stalks of lemongrass into slices, and cook for a couple of minutes on medium heat. Add the chicken broth, coconut milk and 2 lime leaves. Cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes.
Next, add the chopped chicken breasts and cook until the chicken is ready.
Add the lime juice, sugar, salt and pepper and serve with coriander leaves.
Lemongrass is native to southern Asia but was known in Europe already in ancient times, its name which derives from the Greek and refers to its feathery inflorescences, attests to it. Even then a very aromatic essential oil was used, used in cosmetics and for its healing effects. In the Middle Ages, it was mixed with olive oil, cinnamon and myrrh for sacred celebrations.
Lemongrass, in the West, arrived thanks to Alexander the Great who had discovered it during the military campaigns in India, with the name of fever herb because it was used to eradicate malarial fever.
Lemongrass is native to southern Asia but is also found in the Mediterranean basin, Africa, Asia and in almost all Italian regions, with the exception of those with a cold climate, such as the Po Valley and the more northern regions.
How to grow lemongrass in pots or in the garden
Plant and sun exposure
It prefers sunny places , semi-shaded and sheltered from the wind , instead it fears cold temperatures. It grows well at a temperature between 10 and 33 degrees . It is grown as an annual plant or, alternatively, it is planted in a pot so that it can be repaired in the winter months.
During the autumn season, the advice is to cut the clump of leaves near the ground so that it remains compact for the following year.
It can also be sown in the common garden soil but prefers moist soils, rich in organic substances, drained and with a slightly basic pH, between 5.0 and 8.4 . The soil should be exposed to the sun for at least 8 hours a day.
Soil and exposure are two essential factors for seeing the plant thrive. But, another decisive element is to add to the soil of the compost.
The importance of compost
The compost , from the Latin “compositum” that is composed of multiple materials, fertilizer is the oldest in the world.
In fact, a long time ago, when most people lived in the countryside, every vegetable garden or land had a hole where kitchen waste, leaves, dry branches and animal excrement were thrown to be transformed into fertilizer.
Therefore, organic waste becomes compost due to the action of decomposing organisms (fungi, bacteria, earthworms ..) present in the soil or in the waste, which thanks to the oxygen present in the air carry out this transformation.
Recycling green and organic waste is an excellent solution to obtain a natural humus that makes the soil more fertile thanks to the high presence of phosphorus, nitrogen and potassium.
How to make a DIY compost
Getting a compost is easy and cheap, they can become compost:
- remains of fruit and vegetables
- chopped egg shells
- tea and coffee grounds
- dried leaves and flowers
- dry branches
- mowing the lawn.
But, in order not to attract insects and bacteria, the advice is to keep the compost in the open air and in a humid area. In addition, stir it every time new material is added in order to circulate air and irrigate it in the summer.
In gardens or on land, the ideal place is in the shade , sheltered from the wind and direct sun, if possible under a tree or in contact with the ground itself. Then, it must be stirred to air it and covered with straw or dry grass to avoid clouds of midges.
Instead, on the balcony it is useful to use a composter made of steel, plastic or aluminum . You must take care to place it in a place not so exposed to the sun or water, check it often and mix to increase the air.
Only soft parts of waste should enter the domestic composter, the hard ones, unlike what happens in the field or in the garden, struggle to be decomposed. In addition, they must be equipped with a carbon filter for odors.
Subsequently, after 4-6 months, you can obtain a semi-raw compost useful for fertilizing trees, vegetables and shrubs. Instead, after 8-12 months you can have a ripe black compost to be used for fertilizing seed plants and pot plants.
Some tips for growing lemongrass
Lemongrass is a plant that can be grown in pots and in open ground.
But, where the winters are harsh it is advisable to opt for pot cultivation.
Cultivation in pots
Cultivation in pots is quite simple and shelters the plant in the cold months. The plant must be exposed to the sun or in a half-shaded place.
So, to obtain strong and luxuriant plants, the advice is to buy a medium-sized container, 20-25 liters, to move it easily during the winter.
The vegetative period runs from March to October and requires regular watering and nitrogen fertilization every 40 days. In addition, the bulbs must be planted in late summer to obtain a robust plant the following year. Instead, if you buy the seedlings, you have to plant them between April and August.
Finally, repotting must be done when the roots come out of the drainage holes of the pot. You can put the pot in the house or on the balcony: it will be an excellent mosquito repellent .
Cultivation in the ground
Lemongrass can also be grown in the open ground. The ideal time is spring when there is no longer any danger of night frosts and the climate is warmer. As for the cultivation in pots, you can choose between bulb, which must be planted in late summer, or seedlings purchased from nurseries , which are planted between April and August.
Well-worked and deep holes are made, roughly double the size of the earthen bread around the roots of the seedling. But, if you want to put more plants, you have to provide a distance of about 1 meter from each other.
For a good drainage, it would be advisable to put a layer of gravel , coarse sand or crushed stone on the bottom of the hole . After planting the seedling, firmly compact the soil around the collar.
The right fertilizer
Lemongrass should be fertilized every 3-4 months with slow release granular fertilizer suitable for green plants and therefore rich in nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.
To obtain a greater production of essential oils, the soil must be enriched with mature manure or with ground lupins.
Then, in the spring, you can carry out treatments with sulfur horn (prepared with finely chopped natural sulfur powder and mixed with spring water until it becomes a mush, fits into a cow horn and goes into the ground), or silica horn.
The right watering
Lemongrass, preferring moist soils, must be watered regularly from March to October but stagnation of water must be avoided. Irrigation must be more frequent in hot or dry periods.
But, if it is grown in pots , it must be watered every 2-3 weeks taking care to wet the soil deeply and waiting for the soil to dry up before resuming irrigation.
Lemongrass reproduces both by seed and by division of tufts.
- Reproduction by seed : this type of multiplication does not guarantee excellent results. The seeds must be buried in the seedbed (the seedbed is a container protected by transparent glass or Plexiglas panels that reproduces the environment and climate suitable for growing seeds) or in a duly covered box to take advantage of the sun’s heat, between March and July using a specific substrate which must always be damp until the shoots are visible. In the following spring, you can plant in the garden, in the ground or in a pot.
- Reproduction by tufts : this propagation gives excellent results and allows to obtain many seedlings with the same genetic characteristics of the mother plant . It is an operation that takes place in autumn when the plant is in vegetative rest. We must choose the healthiest tufts with well-developed and luxuriant roots that separate from the mother plant. The tufts obtained are planted in a mixture of peat and sand until new leaves appear
All this time, the container must be kept in a sheltered place and at a temperature not lower than 10 ° C. However, to speed up the rooting times, the citronella tufts can also be put in water.
To encourage the birth of new tufts, in autumn, the leaves are cut at a height of about 30 cm from the ground.
The tufts must be collected without damaging the plant, for this reason it is better to wait 3 or 4 years from planting.
Furthermore, during the harvest, care must be taken not to ruin the roots in order not to compromise the birth of new shoots. So, the ideal period is from May to October, a period in which the concentration of essential oils is at its maximum .
The leaves must be cut at ground level and, before extracting them for the distillation of the lemongrass essence, it is advisable to let them dry. Then, 3 weeks before withdrawing them , the harvest must be stopped to ensure that the plant has sufficient reserves to overcome the winter season.
Lemongrass is a robust plant and is rarely attacked by pests but suffers from root rot caused by stagnation of water.
Therefore, it is always recommended to use coarse sand or gravel both in the soil and on the bottom of the pots to obtain good drainage.
Any treatments for parasites should be carried out in the summer but only if necessary. Furthermore, if rust or powdery mildew develops due to too much humidity, the advice is not to treat the plant with chemicals otherwise it would not be more edible, instead you have to move the pot or tufts in more ventilated and less humid areas.
Otherwise, natural nettle, pyrethrum and garlic pesticides can be used .