All About Lemongrass

It's been a long time since I've posted a decent plant profile, and I could think of no plant more interesting to feature than lemongrass. It has a fragrant citrus aroma, has been used in the kitchen for centuries, and it also happens to be a superb addition to the garden! It's so incredibly rewarding to harvest my own lemongrass for tea and pad Thai, and the harvest is all the more exciting because my lemongrass plant thrived under virtually no care at all.

Lemongrass isn't only beautiful, it's useful too!
History and Uses

Lemongrass has been a hot commodity since ancient times, but for its versatile essential oil rather than its culinary talents. Get a load of this: the same oil that yields that excellent lemony flavor is also an effective insect repellent! I'm sure you're familiar with citronella candles, and citronella grass happens to be very closely related to the hero of our story, lemongrass.

The oil is also antiseptic and anti fungal, and can be used to treat athlete's foot, acne and can even improve circulation. Lemongrass tea treats symptoms as varied as headaches, diarrhea, nausea, fever, stomachaches and flu. It's even known as "fever grass" in Jamaica and Trinidad! These claims are backed by the Smithsonian Institution's handbook on herbs, but even if you weren't convinced, a bit of lemongrass in your tea has never been documented to hurt anyone. The hot beverage, on the other hand might scald you.

No substitute for the real thing.
In the Kitchen

The leaves make an excellent tea and can be used in Southeast Asian soups in much the same way that you would use a bay leaf. Simply tie a few of the blades together in a knot, taking care not to cut yourself on the serrated edges, and crush them using your fingers or a rolling pin. Let the leaf bundle (That's what I'm calling it...) steep in water for a soothing tea or include it in a soup or curry and remove it before serving.

To use chopped lemongrass in curries and other savory dishes, remove the outer layers of the bulb-like stalk until you reach the lighter colored tender portion. Finely chop this part of the stem and add to any Thai dish that needs a citrusy tang to balance out the other flavors. Cambodian, Laotian, Vietnamese and Indian dishes with chicken or seafood are especially receptive to the freshly aromatic flavor of lemongrass, but if you experiment a little I'm sure you'll find a place for it in whatever else you have cooking up in your imagination.

If finding lemongrass is an issue, you're not alone. Everything I've read has recommended simply strolling over to the nearest grocery store for a fresh stalk, conveniently in the produce aisle. I have found fresh lemongrass only once in my lifetime, and that was a special offering at a Whole Foods in South Florida. You might find the dried and chopped lemongrass at Asian markets or a sort of paste in the produce aisle, but I wouldn't bother with these impostors. A better idea is to grow your own!

New growth in spring.

See? It looks great even after a freeze.
In the Garden

When I first saw lemongrass, it was growing in poor sandy soil along the drive-through to a dry cleaner. I was taken aback by its architectural form and as I felt the blades between my thumb and forefingers, the scent of citrus was released. I was smitten. I've planted it at my mom's garden (my garden) and my mother in law's garden and have seen success in full sun and partial shade. I tried growing it on my balcony but the full shade made for lanky growth.

Lemongrass is winter hardy in zones eight and up, but I've heard reports of it returning from the ground in zone seven as well. Anywhere north of zone eight will generally want to grow these in large containers where their architectural form can be highlighted. You can cut back the plant to the stalks in winter to save space, letting the plant grow back to its former glory when frosts are no longer a threat.

Garden literature will often tell you that lemongrass likes moist soil. While I'm sure this is true in some situations, after watching two different lemongrass plants rot in wet soil for two consecutive winters, my personal experience has shown otherwise. While they take some moisture to get established, the star specimen of my front garden has sailed through droughts that have stressed out the sedums and liriope. Once lemongrass gets started, be sure to stand back and watch it blast off.

I would grow lemongrass even if it wasn't so yummy and useful, even if only for the wonderful fountain-like form it bestows upon the landscape. I've given mine the spotlight in my front garden where it forms a graceful and statuesque dome in the center of my other plantings. I've repeated the billowing form by using Liriope 'Evergreen Giant', daylilies and agapanthus in the foreground. Even though this is the driest part of the garden, it never fails to look like an oasis.

If you would like to grow your own lemongrass but can't find it offered at your local garden center, you can start it from one of those fabled stalks at the grocery store. Again, I haven't had much luck finding them. Once you get your mitts on a lemongrass stalk, it's fairly easy to root yourself by cutting the stalk in half and planting the rooted end in soil until new leaves emerge. If you'd like to play it on the safe side, root the stalk in water with a tablespoon of activated charcoal to keep the water 'sweet' and to keep the stalk from rotting. Carefully transplant the brittle rooted transplant to soil after it's established, and voila! Free plant.

To harvest lemongrass, remove the stalk at the ground right below the bulbous stalk and cut off the leaves just above the stalk, saving them for use in teas and soups. The stalks and leaves keep fresh for a long time, and will retain the citrus aroma even when dry. I recommend letting your clump of grass get nice and robust before you assault it with the clippers too much, since it would recover more quickly from the injury. Be sure to use a clean knife or heavy duty scissors marketed for kitchen or garden use.

If any of you lemongrass lovers have something to add, or if you're a lemongrass virgin and have a few questions, please leave your two cents in the comment form!


  1. It's great to wrap and tie off different types of eatable pockets. From stuffed wonton wrappers, to baked tortilla pockets. It works well at the grill, too. Wrap several strands in loops, and tie them to a bamboo stick. This homemade brush is a great way to add marinade or sauce, and the added zing of lemon essence is a plus . Another garden favorite!

  2. I have lemon grass planted in our backyard. It's good to spiced up native chicken soup. It will make the soup more delicious.

  3. I had Lemongrass in a pot in the polytunnel but it did'nt get beyond about 8 inches high. It finally died after the hard Winter frosts. I guess it's not for this area. I'm envious to see your huge Lemongrass plant. I can only dream!

    1. Why not buy a large pot and dig up the whole plant for overwintering..I do this with end of season sales and plant them the following summer and voala! B

  4. I cook with it, it is refreshing as a tea and I have just planted a small hedge of it.

  5. Your lemongrass looks great. I know these plants can get quite large but they do smell great.

  6. I have a vague feeling I've commented on lemongrass before. Not sure if it was your post on your MIL's garden. In any case, I would suggest, rubbing and stuffing chicken with lemongrass, onions, garlic, salt and pepper. Really fill the cavity. Then roast or grill the chicken. A very easy but very tasty dish. I don't even bother with any sauce but it is traditionally served with a light soy sauce.

  7. I'm really hungry now and want to plant some lemongrass!

  8. I have successfully grown lemon grass in pots for the past three years. I root it in a glass jar on the window sill transplant into soil and then transplant into a three gallon bucket. That way when frost threatens I can bring it inside and keep it fresh longer for cooking.

  9. I have had lemongrass in a part of the garden for about ten years where only it and rosemary grow. I was given one stalk with roots. I neglect it and it still grows well. Probably need to thin out. I use it regularly in cooking.

  10. I've just planted some and hoping it takes off. We are hot humid and tropical and it rains a lot so hoping its not drowned in my sticky soil. I planted it in the tortoises enclosure thinking they wont eat it all up. I think the smell might keep them away and the dense fountain (in my dreams at least) will make nice places for the torts to find a shady retreat. The tortoises don't like herbs or plants with smelly oils so maybe with this too. While I was selecting the plants down local market up to my arm pits in lemon grass the smell was quite gorgeous and refreshing in the balmy heat, I was fantasising for an ice cold fresh lime soda. But be aware the foliage is quite sharp, my arms were covered in small scratches, I only noticed afterwards, it didn't hurt, little cream and they went away. I chose twenty plants so I can make a nice curvy diagonal line of them. At three dollars a clump it wasn't much of an outlay and the potential rewards well worth the effort. Now to get them whooshing! Im not going to water just let nature do it or they might very well rot. In the dry season I probably will just lightly. Thanks for the tips!

  11. I bought my lemongrass in a small oriental food market. cheap and grew great!

  12. WOW! I googled for ginger root. I've been begging the Universe to tell me where to get seeds/plants/stuff I can grow on my patio in a pot. And here you are. I will plant the ginger root tomorrow, but how do I get lemongrass seeds or can I grow it from a cutting somehow?

    Help me PLEASE. I'll give you a couple of fermentation ideas that you will love once you follow through.

    Begging... loving... thanking, and in the world we live in, it's the best I can do at almost 1:00 a.m.


Please feel free to share your questions, ideas and suggestions!