Loving Lemongrass Though Winter

I'm standing in waist high lemongrass (I'm 5'7")

Towards the end of October it was time to do something about the lush lemongrass that wouldn’t make it through the winter here in the Ozarks. While I’ve struggled before growing it from seed, this healthy crop was started with sets – highly recommended -by Louanne Lawson at Circle Yoga Shala. Aside from its wonderful culinary uses, associated with Asian cooking Thai, Malaysian and Vietnamese cuisines – lemongrass has medicinal uses, but before I get into all of that, let me show you how I prepped it to store over winter.

After a good rain I dug it up and potted some of the smaller plants after cutting it down to about 8 inches. That will go dormant indoors for planting out once warm spring temps arrive. The rest of it was frozen once I’d prepped it as follows:

To harvest pull a stalk up firmly close to the root end and snap it off.  Best picked just prior to using. Here’s what it looks like after breaking a piece off close to the soil:

Lemongrass before prepp

The stiff outer leaves need to be removed to reveal the white part:

Removing outer leaves around white inner core

Next, you cut off the white part, into chunks…seen in the food processor like this:

Edible lower portions

Edible lower portions

Its not necessary to chop it up. You could just freeze the chunks as is. But its useful to have finely chopped material ready at hand for cooking or making an infusion. Here’s what it looked like after chopping, ready to go into the freezer.

 

Finely chopped and ready to freeze

 

 

The remaining grassy blades were mulched back into the bed. However, they can be sliced thin and thrown into a soup base , remove before serving. I don’t think its worth preserving them for storage.

If you have a dryer, you can also dry it…though it tastes better frozen. If you dry it you’ll need to soak it a couple of hours in warm water before you can use it. That’s one reason the dried material is usually ground into a powder. One teaspoon of powder equals one stalk. Whatever its form, don’t store it next to other foods and spices because they’ll pick up its odor. The frozen lemongrass will last for six months without loss of flavor.

And then you can always just keep some of the fresh material for up to three weeks in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator.

Now, on to why we want to bother with all this fuss.

Cymbopogon citratus,

Medicinal Uses

There are several varieties of this aromatic plant, but for medicinal purposes see that you have Cymbopogon citratus. Its one of the most popular medicinal plants used in Brazil and along the Amazon (originally from India) where its used to treat nervous disorders, as a sedative, and for stomach problems. In one test-tube investigation, published in the medical journal Microbios in 1996, researchers demonstrated that lemongrass was effective against 22 strains of bacteria and 12 types of fungi. Scientific research has also bolstered the herb’s reputation as an analgesic and sedative.It makes a delicious infusion, taken with meals it will help digest fats. Its also a stimulating tonic for digestion, blood circulation, and lactation; and a diuretic. In Ayurveda its combined with pepper for menstrual problems and nausea. It makes a good detoxifier with cleansing action on the liver, pancreas, kidney, bladder and the digestive tract by reducing uric acid, cholesterol, excess fats and other toxins.

Myrcene, a chemical found in the essential oil of Cymbopogon citratus, was found in one study to act as a site-specific pain reliever. Unlike aspirin and similar analgesics, which tend to alleviate pain throughout the body, myrcene seems to work only on particular areas.

As with so many valuable herbs, clinical studies are few and far between, but some have been done that indicate antifungal and insecticidal efficiency as well as potential anticancer properties.

In the Philippines, studies were done at the Department of Science and Technology showing that every 100 grams of boiled lemongrass provides 24.205 micrograms of the antioxidant beta-carotene. They also found that the essential oil holds promise treating a tropical eye disease called keratomycosis.

The grass gives a feeling of coolness welcome in fevers. It will bring a temperature down due to the copious perspiration it causes. It also helps to loosen mucous.

Remember it if ringworm pops up. A paste of the leaves made with buttermilk is applied locally. Ringworm is a fungal infection, right up lemongrass’s alley.

Need help getting to sleep? Drink the infusion warm before bed.

Essential Oil

Some sources say that lemongrass oil and citronella oil are the same thing. But they aren’t. Citronella comes from a related plant called Cymbopogon nardus. Still, lemongrass does repel insects, but there’s a lot more to this oil:

  • Strengthens psychic awareness & purification
  • Athletes foot
  • Excessive perspiration
  • Scabies
  • Tissue Toner,poor circulation and muscle tone, (infusion works too)
  • Muscle Pain and headaches
  • Nervous exhaustion
  • Its used commercially to scent candles, soaps
  • Treats spasmodic affections of the bowels, gastric irritability and cholera
  • Mix the oil with twice its weight in coconut oil for a stimulating ointment for neuralgia, sprains, lumbago or any painful condition. If something stronger is needed its OK to apply undiluted lemongrass oil directly to the painful area.
  • Mix some oil into shampoo for oily hair.
  • Also used for oily skin or to close pores
  • It can be used as a deodorant to curb perspiration

Cautions:

Avoid excessive doses during pregnancy. Rare cases of hypersensitivity have been reported. Toxic alveolitis has been associated with inhalation of the oil.

Culinary Uses

Its commonly used with fish or poultry. It balances chili peppers and blends well with cilantro and garlic. Citral, an essential oil also found in lemon peel, is the constituent responsible for its taste and aroma as well as its actions aiding digestion as well as relieving spasms, muscle cramps, rheumatism and headaches. The amount of citral in its essential oils varies with the age of the grass.

“Bruising” is a common term found in recipes that call for using lemon grass. This releases the flavor of the grass.  Press down on the bulb end of the lemon grass with the side of a large knife (such as a Chef’s knife) or pound lightly with a kitchen mallet.

Nutrition in 1 tablespoon of raw lemongrass: 5 calories, no fat or fiber, 0.87 grams protein, 1.214 gram carbohydrate, 0.288 mg sodium, 0.125 mg vitamin C, beta-carotene (see above)

Misc. Uses

One of tricks for training dogs not to bark so much is to spray them with strong lemongrass infusion or diluted essential oil & water. They hate the smell of it. I’ve noticed cats don’t like it either but so far, no barking problem there.

Its handy to have growing in the garden to ward off insects. Just crush leaves up and rub on your skin.

Growing

Sow seed from late January to March on the surface of a good seed compost just covering the seed with a thin layer of compost or vermiculite. Germination takes 21-40 days at 20-25C (70-75F). Sealing in a polyethylene bag after sowing is helpful. When large enough to handle, transplant the seedlings to boxes or 7.5cm (3in) pots. When well grown gradually acclimates to outdoor conditions and plant out in late spring 30cm (12in) apart after all risk of frost, in a warm, sheltered spot in full sun and moist, well drained soil. Keep well watered and give the occasional liquid feed.

If you have a market that sells the stalks, try rooting one in water to get your starter plants going.

To over winter, lift in early autumn, pot up and grow through the winter in a greenhouse with a minimum winter temperature of 7C (45F).  Keep well watered throughout the summer, just moist through the winter.

Thanks Louanne for growing this marvelous plant, next year we’ll do it together and just maybe, have some extra to share!

 

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About dcoda

An herbalist for over 40 years, ten years spent alone in the Ozark Hurricane Creek Wilderness Preserve, working with its brilliant botanicals. I'm an instructor and co-founder of the Ozark Herbal Academy which offers training in medicinal and edible plants through hands-on workshops and online courses.

Posted on November 4, 2010, in Various Useful Plants and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Wishing you all a warm, cozy and delicious food-filled holiday season

  2. I have been looking for someone else in the ozarks that knows medicinal herbs. I finally found you. Thanx for being on the web to help people. I grow and sell lots of herbs myself.

    • And we’re glad to find you,too! There are many of us “grannywomen” here in the Ozarks, time to link arms & share what we’ve learned, eh? Hope to see a lot more of you.

  3. Hello I am doing a project for my Botnay class and I am trying to grow a lemongrass plant. Since mine will not be completly grown by the end of class, I was wondering if my group would be able to use some of the pictures on your wibsite. Please let me know… thank you!

  4. Hi, yes,you can use it. There’s a lot of spam that comes through (companies selling products) in comments so I moderate them…which means comments don’t appear until after I check my email & approve them. Good luck with your project, its a great plant to work with.

  5. Hi….Thank you so much for letting me use the pictures. It brings a lot of warmth to the page and it helps people in my class step by stap if they want to ever use lemongrass. Thank you once again, my partner and I really appreciate it. Plus we learned a lot from your page, we were having a hard time for a little while finding reliable sources…..Thanks again.

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