Asian food lovers know the distinctive scent and flavor of lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus). The plant adds lemony zing to a host of popular dishes. Lemongrass is a true grass but is more closely aligned with bamboo than turfgrass. The grass has approximately 55 species, most of which are native to warmer regions of the world. The good news is that lemongrass is readily available in many specialty stores and even some finer supermarkets. Historical lemongrass uses range from culinary to medicinal to cosmetic. Harness the power of this herb and see what it can do in your household.
Most of us will recognize lemongrass from some of our favorite restaurant menus, but it is also popping up in bath and body products, teas and even our pet’s natural pest repellent. This tender perennial is found in Africa, South America, Australia, Oceania, and Asia. It is especially cherished in India, China and Thailand where the grass features prominently in local cuisine.
There are more historical lemongrass uses than the gastronomic, as the plant was distilled for shipping as part of the perfume industry as early as the 17th century. Poor hygienic conditions of the period required people in polite society to anoint themselves with scented oils. Lemongrass was one of the more popular oils of the period among the well-heeled that could afford this exotic import.
Lemongrass history also indicates the oils were used to relief join pain, muscle soreness, dandruff control, and as an insect repellent.
Uses for Lemongrass
Lemongrass is found in many indigenous cuisines as a flavoring and is also made into tea and alcoholic beverages. Its use in food is both for flavor and for the plant’s health benefits. It is said to enhance digestion, and boost the immune system. The stems are rather woody, so lemongrass is often chopped finely, pureed or used dried in a powdered form.
It translates to a variety of foods including beef, chicken, seafood, vegetarian dishes and even desserts. When combined with ginger, the herb steeped in broth makes a nourishing and healing soup for anyone with chills and fever. Other common medicinal uses are antifungal, antibacterial, and antimicrobial. It is said to relieve stress and anxiety, upset stomach, and headaches.
There are also sacred uses for lemongrass. Leaves are burnt as offerings, to cleanse the body and soul before a ritual and simply as an incense.
Lemongrass is not only tasty and a rather eye-catching plant, but it has some truly potential health and sensory benefits which extend well beyond its culinary usefulness.