Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) is a perennial herb with a distinct, lemony aroma and flavor. It’s a staple of both Vietnamese and Thai cuisine. Though the plant is native to India, it’s grown all over the world today. Lemongrass is a rich source of nutrients that offer many therapeutic benefits.
Lemongrass Quick Facts
Scientific Names There are over fifty different species of lemongrass including Cymbopogon citratus (ornamental lemongrass), Cymbopogon nardus (Citronella), Cymbopogon flexuosus (Cochin or Malabar grass), and others.
Origin India and other Asian countries.
Health Benefits Provides antioxidants, supports the immune system, deters insects and other harmful organisms.
Common Uses Cooking, tea, perfume, cosmetics, medicine, and aromatherapy.
Benefits of Lemongrass
Lemongrass is a source of beneficial phytochemicals and specialized nutrients that support the body’s response to harmful organisms, boost the immune system and promote overall wellness. Although the balance of nutrients may vary slightly from one variety to the next, in general, lemongrass provides antioxidants like isoorientin, orientin, caffeic acid, and chlorogenic acid; all of which help halt the damaging action of free radicals. Caffeic acid, in particular, may neutralize free radical action up to 85%.
1. Supports the Body’s Response to Harmful Organisms
Some of the phytochemicals found in lemongrass are resistant to harmful organisms. Two of which, geraniol and nerol, are effective against a broad spectrum of harmful organisms. Another citral targets candida, specifically.
Lemongrass may also be effective against entire colonies of organisms known as biofilms. A biofilm is a thin, slimy, continuous collection of organisms that adheres to a surface with the help of proteins and sugar. Dental plaque on teeth is a common example of a biofilm.
2. Promotes Normal Immune System Response
Lemongrass encourages a normal, balanced immune system response—not one that’s over reactive and ends up doing more harm than good. In that way, lemongrass may protect healthy cells and help soothe irritated tissue. Lemongrass contains two antioxidants, geraniol, and nerol, that belong to a class of phytochemicals called monoterpenes. These phytochemicals influence the immune response. Citral also affects immune response by discouraging the body from producing cytokines—proteins that cause inflammation. Geraniol and citral also work in tandem to discourage the proliferation of malfunctioning cells and encourage the body to detoxify itself of them.
3. Stomach Protection
Your stomach features a protective lining called the mucosal layer that prevents acidic, gastric juices from damaging the interior of the stomach. It’s not uncommon, however, for alcohol or over-the-counter pain relievers like aspirin to upset this protective layer. According to Brazilian folk medicine, lemongrass essential oil may help protect the mucosal layer of the stomach.
4. Encourages Normal Cardiovascular Health
Lemongrass offers a multi-tier approach for supporting cardiovascular health. First, as a source of antioxidants, lemongrass may disrupt the oxidation of fat in the arteries. Second, the citral in lemongrass helps to relax overstressed blood vessels. And, lastly, although more research is necessary to quantify the effects in humans, the results of some animal studies suggest that lemongrass promotes normal cholesterol levels.
5. Deters Insects
Topical or environmental application of lemongrass essential oil has long been used as a mosquito deterrent. You’re probably familiar with the outdoor citronella candles designed to keep mosquitoes at bay. The citronella in those candles is usually sourced from the Cymbopogon winterianus or Cymbopogon nardus varieties of lemongrass. In fact, the mosquito-deterring effects of lemongrass oil are comparable to many chemical repellants such as DEET.
6. Encourages Restful Sleep
Night owls rejoice! If you struggle falling or staying asleep, lemongrass can help. Studies have found that lemongrass may increase sleep duration, encourage dream remembrance, and promote restful sleep.
Tips for Growing Lemongrass
Lemongrass does best in regions 8-11, but you can still grow it indoors if you live in a colder region. Take a stalk of lemongrass and peel off the dry outer layers and discard. Place the skinned stalks upright in a tall glass or jar. Add about 1-2 inches of water to the jar to cover the base of the stalks. Place in a window or another sunny area to encourage root growth. Change the water frequently—about once a day—over the next month. Delicate roots should sprout from the end of the stalks. Once they reach 2 inches, they’re ready to plant.
To plant, dig a hole either in a container or the ground. Gently fill the space around the lemongrass stalk with soil, being careful not to break the roots. Make sure to keep the soil around the plant well hydrated, but not soaked. In 3-4 months, when the plant is well established, you can start harvesting. Cut fresh stalks as needed for tea or recipes. Keep your lemongrass well pruned to encourage consistent harvests. To store, peel off the tough, dry sheath around the harvested stalks, cut to size, and store in a plastic bag in the freezer until needed.
Lemongrass is available fresh, dried, powdered, or as an essential oil. Your intentions will dictate the best form to select. Fresh lemongrass is best for cooking, extracts are commonly found in supplements, and the essential oil has many aromatherapy applications.
Lemongrass Tea Recipe
Lemongrass tea is an easy and excellent way to add lemongrass to your diet. To make a tea with fresh lemongrass stalk, roughly chop three whole stalks, pour 6 cups of almost-boiling water over the fresh lemongrass, and steep for at least 5 minutes. Add raw honey to taste if you prefer a sweet flavor. You can also use dry stalks if you smash them with a tenderizer first and steep for longer—about 10 minutes.