Lemongrass is no stranger to anyone who loves Asian cuisine. If you’re a big fan, why not try to grow your own? Two species of lemongrass within the Cymbopogon genus are cultivated as a flavoring, tea, or medicinal or culinary herb. Plants form a clump of tall grass with a fat stalk at the base of each cluster of leaves. The bottom bulb is the section most commonly used in savory dishes, while the green leaves are mostly used for brewing teas.
East Indian lemongrass, or Malabar grass, is a great option for gardeners since it’s resistant to rust that plagues the West Indian variety and is a rigorous grower. The stalks of this varietal have purple bases and are thinner and taller than their West Indian cousin. If living in USDA Zones 8 and below, plant this herb in a pot that can be moved indoors in cooler weather.
Seed Depth: Press into surface.
Space Between Plants: 24–36″
Space Between Rows: 24–36″
Germination Soil Temperature: 70–90°F
Days for Germination: 15–20
Sow Indoors: Just before average last frost date.
Sow Outdoors: Just after average last frost date.
Vegetative: Can be propagated by submerging stalks with roots in water until the roots have grown out. Afterwards, transplant in soil. Can also be propagated by dividing the root ball of an established plant in spring or summer.
Grows best in tropical or subtropical climates. Lemongrass will grow as a perennial in USDA Zones 8 and above or as an annual in cooler climates. Frosts will cause the above-ground portion of the plant to die back, but roots can survive even if temperatures drop as low as 15°F when well mulched throughout the winter.
Natural: Full sun. Tolerates partial shade.
Artificial: Grows best under HID lamps.
Soil: Prefers well-drained loamy soil rich in nitrogen but is fairly adaptable and will tolerate most soil types. A pH of 4.5 to 8.4 is acceptable, but keeping soil pH between 6.0 and 7.0 will be best.
Water: Requires high levels of water. Soil should be moist but not muddy. If living in a dry region, misting with water will help keep plants healthy. Because their roots are shallow, plants prefer frequent light waterings more than occasional deep soaks.
Nutrients: Requires moderate levels of nutrients. Nitrogen is very important for lemongrass. Fertilizing every two weeks to every month, depending on your soil health, will keep plants healthy.
Foliar: Leaves may be sprayed with fish emulsion or tea compost. Anything rich in nitrogen will benefit the plant.
Pruning: Plants can grow quite large, so trim stalks back if they start to take over your garden or outgrow their pots.
Companions: Grows well with lavender, sage, mint, and nitrogen-fixing plants such as alfalfa or beans.
Harvest: Stalks may be taken from the plant once it has reached approximately a foot in height and stalks are 1/2″ thick. Stalks should be harvested with a knife to avoid damaging the plant when pulling them off. Leaves my be picked by hand.
Storage: Leaves and stalks can either be stored in a container in the refrigerator or frozen. Leaves may be dried and kept in a cool, dry place. Stalks may also be kept upright in a glass of water if planning to replant.
Fun Fact: While still most commonly cultivated for use as a culinary herb, lemongrass is also a popular ingredient in many perfumes and scented sprays. The oil of this plant is also a great pest deterrent and is frequently added to natural bug sprays.
Preserve: You can freeze lemongrass for easy additions to Asian dishes. First, cut off the outer leaves and top of the stalk. Mince or puree the bottom 3″ of the stalk until it is liquid. Pour the liquid into small ice cube trays and place in an airtight bag and freeze. You can add one or two cubes to dishes and soups depending on the recipe. Leaves can be dried for later use in making herbal teas.
Prepare: After removing the tough outer leaves and layers, stems are chopped and eaten raw or used in recipes for sauces or stews. Leaves are also commonly used for flavoring and as a tea, either fresh or dried.
Nutritional: Contains significant amounts of vitamin A.
Medicinal: Some studies have shown lemongrass to possess anti-inflammatory and antifungal properties. It’s also been cited as an effective pain reliever and fever reducer. Lemongrass oils have been used as an insect repellent and to clear acne.
Warnings: It has been speculated by some sources that lemongrass is not safe for women to consume while pregnant. Please consult your physician for more info. Lemongrass leaves also have sharp edges which can cause minor skin cuts, resembling a paper cut. Be sure to plant them away from walkways and play areas for kids!
For a little taste of Asia, try this Traditional Tofu Curry with Broccoli.