LEMONGRASS (Cymbopogon citratus andflexuosus – Gramineae)

Lemongrass is a fragrant tropical grass closely related to palmarosa and citronella (and once known, like them, under the generic name of Andropogon). It is native to tropical Asia, and is cultivated in India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Africa, Madagascar, the Seychelles, South and tropical North America. Lemongrass oil is produced by two types of lemongrass. Cymbopogon citratus, the plant which is the culinary flavouring, is not dissimilar to citronella (see page 82) in general appearance, but can be distinguished by the distinct lemony odour of the leaves and by its less robust growth, from 30-50 cm (12-20 in). It is also variously known as melissa grass, fever grass, citronella grass and geranium grass. C. flexuosus is a taller grass bearing large, loose, greyish panicles, and is known also as Malabar or Cochin grass. Lemongrass is propagated by root division, planted during the rainy season, and is ready for cutting about six to eight months afterwards.


Description: The two distinct types of lemongrass are important in therapy. C. citratus is known in France as ‘Lemongrass Indes oriental ‘; C. flexuosus is known as verveine des Indes. The oil from both is yellow-brown with a light tinge of red, and has a very pronounced lemon odour and flavour.

The principal constituents: Both Cymbopogon citratus and C. flexuosus contain a high proportion of citral (from 70-85 per cent). C. flexuosus also contains citronellol, dipentene, famesol, geraniol, limonene, linalool, methylheptenol, myrcene, n-decylic aldehyde and nero I. C. citratus differs slightly, containing caprylics, citronellol, dipentene, famesol, furfurol, gera¬niol, isopulegol, isovalerianic aldehyde, l-linalool, methylheptenone, myrcene, n-decyclic aldehyde, nero I, terpineol and valeric esters.

Dangers: Because lemongrass oil is fairly inexpensive, it is often used, with geranium and citronella, to imitate rose (which contains geraniol and citronellol as well) and verbena.


In illness
Lemongrass has long been used therapeutically, especially in Ayurvedic medicine in India. There it is given as an antidote to infectious virus or high fever, especially in the treatment of cholera. It is considered to be stomachic, carminative and digestive, and is given in cases of enteritis, colitis, flatulence and slow digestion due to stress.

Because of its high proportion of citral, the oil is remarkably antiseptic, and it is useful for some skin problems and for athlete’s foot (see below). It is also wonderful used to deodorize a room in which people have been or are ill, and to protect against air-borne infection. Put 250 ml (8 fl oz) warm water and 5 ml (1 tsp) lemongrass oil in a vaporizer bottle, shake well and spray the room several times a day. The oil can be used neat in kitchen, bathroom and bedroom cupboards, to keep parasites away (they don’t like the smell).

Athlete’s foot remedy
A good footbath for athlete’s foot or excessive perspiration can be made by adding a few drops of lemongrass oil to a bowl of warm water. After bathing the feet use the following oil

  • 200 ml (7 fl oz) almond oil
  • 5 drops wheatgerm oil
  • 10 drops lemongrass oil

Mix together and rub between the toes. Use morning and night.
(See also dental abscess and migraine.)

In cookery
Lemongrass features largely in south-east Asian cookery, especially in that of Thailand, and has become more popular in the West in the last few years. It is available fresh as bulbous base and stem, with overlapping leaves. The bulbs and stems should be crushed before use, and then removed from the dish. It is not eaten. Lemongrass is also available dried, when it should be soaked for 2 hours before use. Powdered lemon grass is found in ethnic shops as sereh.

Lemongrass adds a unique lemony pungency to many fish soups, rice and dhal dishes and curries: if it is unavailable, substitute lemon peel, the outer part of which also contains citral.

Other uses
Lemongrass is mildly insect repellent (though much less so than its relative citronella), and is used in commercial preparations. The oil is also extracted for use in the soap and perfume industries

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