Cymbopogon (lemongrass) is a genus of about 55 species of grasses, (of which the type species is Cymbopogon citratus a natural and soft tea Anxiolytic) native to warm temperate and tropical regions of the Old World and Oceania. It is a tall perennial grass. Common names include lemon grass, lemongrass, barbed wire grass, silky heads, citronella grass,cha de Dartigalongue, fever grass, tanglad, hierba Luisa or gavati chaha amongst many others.
Lemongrass is native to India and tropical Asia. It is widely used as a herb in Asian cuisine. It has a subtle citrus flavour and can be dried and powdered, or used fresh. Lemongrass is commonly used in teas, soups, and curries. It is also suitable for poultry, fish, beef, and seafood. It is often used as a tea in African countries such as Togo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Latin American countries such as Mexico. Lemongrass oil is used as a pesticide and a preservative. Research shows that lemongrass oil has anti-fungal properties. Despite its ability to repel insects, its oil is commonly utilized as a “lure” to attract honey bees. “Lemongrass works conveniently as well as the pheromone created by the honeybee’s nasonov gland, also known as attractant pheromones. Because of this lemon grass oil can be used as a lure when trapping swarms or attempting to draw the attention of hived bees.”
Citronella grass (Cymbopogon nardus and Cymbopogon winterianus) grows to about 2 metres (about 6.5 feet) and has red base stems. These species are used for the production of citronella oil, which is used in soaps, as an insect repellent in insect sprays and candles, and also in aromatherapy, which is famous in Bintan Island, Indonesia. Therefore it’s assumed that its origin is from Indonesia. The principal chemical constituents of citronella, geraniol and citronellol, are antiseptics, hence their use in household disinfectants and soaps. Besides oil production, citronella grass is also used for culinary purposes, in tea and as a flavouring.
Lemon Grass Oil
Lemon Grass Oil, used as a pesticide and preservative, is put on the ancient palm-leaf manuscripts found in India as a preservative. It is used at the Oriental Research Institute Mysore, the French Institute of Pondicherry, the Association for the Preservation of the Saint Thomas Christian Heritage in Kerala and many other manuscript collections in India. The lemon grass oil also injects natural fluidity into the brittle palm leaves and the hydrophobic nature of the oil keeps the manuscripts dry so that the text is not lost to decay due to humidity.
East-Indian Lemon Grass
East-Indian Lemon Grass (Cymbopogon flexuosus), also called Cochin Grass or Malabar Grass (Malayalam: ഇഞ്ചിപ്പുല്ല് (inchippullu), is native to Cambodia, India, Sri Lanka, Burma, and Thailand while the West-Indian lemon grass (Cymbopogon citratus) is native to maritime Southeast Asia. It is known as serai in Malaysia, serai or sereh in Indonesia, and tanglad in the Philippines. While both can be used interchangeably, C. citratus is more suited for cooking. In India C. citratus is used both as a medical herb and in perfumes. Cymbopogon citratus is consumed as a tea for anxiety in Brazilian folk medicine, but a study in humans found no effect. The tea caused a recurrence of contact dermatitis in one case. Lemon grass is also known as Gavati Chaha (गवती चहा) in the Marathi language (Gavat=grass; Chaha=tea), and is used as an addition to tea, and in preparations like ‘kadha,’ which is a traditional herbal ‘soup’ used against coughs, colds, etc. It has medicinal properties and is used extensively in Ayurvedic medicine. It is supposed to help with relieving cough and nasal congestion. In Kerala, lemon grass is steeped as an herbal tea called “Chukku Kaapi”, literally “dried ginger coffee”.
Common ingredient in Thai cooking
A common ingredient in Thai cooking, lemongrass provides a zesty lemon flavour and aroma to many Thai dishes. Lemon juice (or lime) may be substituted for lemongrass in a pinch, but citrus fruits will not be able to fully replicate its particular qualities. Lemongrass is also thought to have numerous health benefits , especially when used in combination with other Thai spices such as garlic, fresh chillies, and coriander. Tom Yum is thought to be capable of combating colds, flu, and even some cancers. (To Make Tom Yum Soup yourself at home, see our Tom Yum Soup recipe.)
When purchasing lemongrass, look for firm stalks (not soft or rubbery, which means it’s too old). Lower stalk should be pale yellow (almost white) in colour, while upper stalks are green (do not purchase if outer leaves are crusty or brown). Usually fresh lemongrass is sold in groupings of 3-4 stalks, secured with an elastic band. Stalks are approximately 30cm long (or more). Look for fresh lemongrass at your local grocery store or Asian market.
Substitutes for Lemongrass
- Frozen lemongrass is a good substitute for fresh
- Dried lemongrass (soaked in hot water) is only a fair substitute.
- Use powdered version (called sereh powder), but only if absolutely necessary
- Lemon zest (zest from 1 lemon = 2 stalks lemon grass)
- lemon verbena
- lemon balm
- lemon leaves