Days to germination: Not started by seed
Days to harvest: 100 days, when started by seedling
Light requirements: Full sun
Water requirements: Frequent watering
Soil: Well-drained and rich with organic material
Container: Yes, even indoors
Lemongrass has a strong flavor of lemon citrus and it can be brewed in tea as well as used as a herb for seasoning. The most common dishes that use lemongrass are Asian cuisine.
A native of India, you will have to live in at least zone 9 if you want to grow lemongrass outdoors. Each plant can grow to between 3 and 6 feet high if you do grow it outside. It will be somewhat smaller if you have to keep it inside.
There are 2 kinds of lemongrass: East Indian and West Indian but there is little difference between them in terms of culinary use and growing. There really isn’t much variety to choose from.
It’s a very nondescript plant, looking much like a very tall patch of grass that doesn’t often produce flowers. At the base of each group of leaves there is a fat stalk, similar to a spring onion bulb. The overall plant is made up a big cluster of these individual stalks.
The bulb or bottom part of each stalk is used for most cooking purposes, but the rest of the leaves can be used as well. Teas are usually brewed with the leaves.
Not only is the tea very zesty in flavor, it can also help settle upset stomachs and ease a cough. The oils in lemongrass have a number of homeopathic health uses, though most home-growers do not extract the essential oils from their plants. It’s mostly used as a flavoring.
Starting from Seed
Home gardeners don’t typically start lemongrass plants from seed because it is so easy to start by just rooting stalks or cuttings.
Actually, you may even be able to start a new lemongrass plant from fresh stalks you purchase at the regular grocery store. As long as they are still firm and green, you should be able to get them to root. Snip off an inch or two from the end of the leaves, and put the base end in a glass of water. Leave somewhere sunny, and you should start to see roots sprouting from the bottom of the stalk in about a week or two.
Once your stalk has roots at least an inch long, you can either plant it in a container for indoor growing or take it right out into the garden.
Keep your lemongrass plants at least 3 feet apart, and allow for a height of 6 feet (though you can trim it lower than that).
When you dig the holes for the plants, mix in a some compost or well-aged manure to help enrich the soil. The soil shouldn’t be too thick though, the water still has to drain to keep your plants healthy.
You should plant your stalks outside after your last frost date, if you live in an area that gets winter frosts (such as zone 9).
Lemongrass will need a lot of nitrogen, so you should fertilize at least monthly with either a standard or high-nitrogen formula. Water your plant regularly and don’t let it completely dry out, especially when the weather is very hot.
Once your plant gets to 3 feet or so in height, you may want to keep the tops of the leaves cut down even more than what you are taking for an actual harvest. This can help keep the size of the plant down. Lemongrass doesn’t grow branches so no other pruning is necessary.
Lemongrass can be grown in large pots, either indoors or out. Depending on your climate, you should try to let it have a few summer months outdoors to get extra sun. Considering its size, most people keep their lemongrass inside only during the winter.
Your plants can get quite large, so plant it in a 5 gallon pot or larger. If it does start to outgrow the pot, you can always separate off more stalks just to keep the plant under control. It’s not usually a problem with exclusively indoor plants.
While inside, a lemongrass plant needs as much sun as you can offer with a minimum of 6 hours a day. It may thrive as an indoor-only plant but you won’t get as many stalks from it.
Fertilize your container plants once every 2 weeks with a standard mix, though you can skip this during the winter months. Water frequently, 2 or 3 times a week.
Pests and Diseases
The lemon-scented oils in lemongrass are frequently used to make natural insect repellent, so you really won’t have much to worry about when it comes to those kinds of pests.
Leaf blight will sometimes hit lemongrass. The leaves can start to wilt and you will find brown or rust colored spots on the ends of the leaves. Pick away the infected leaves, and spray the whole plant with a natural fungicide that can be used on edible plants.
Cats have also been known to have a fondness for lemongrass and may chew on your plants if given the chance.
Harvest and Storage
You can trim leaves from the plant any time once the plant is at least a foot tall. To harvest entire stalks, use a sharp knife to slice each one off at the soil level. Take the outer stalks first, and they should be at least 1/2 inch thick before you cut them. Try not to just break them off or you could damage the rest of the plant.
You may have to peel off the tougher outer leaves before use. Store the entire stalk with leaves in the fridge to keep it fresh for several days. Keep it in a plastic bag with a damp paper towel for the best results. Chopped pieces of the stalk can be frozen for later use.
If you want to store just the leaves, then they preserve best when dried rather than frozen.
Whether you use it to add flavor to meat or fish, or just to brew tea, remember that it can be quite strong. It doesn’t take much.
Tips For Growing Lemongrass
Lemongrass, Achara, Citronella, Capim, Fever Tea, Oil Grass, Fever Grass
Lemongrass is a tropical grass that grows well in humid, warm environments. With possible origins in India and Sri Lanka, this aromatic herb has an extensive use throughout much of Asia as a flavorful cooking additive for salads and curries. It was also historically used in teas, cleaning materials, perfumes, soaps, creams and deodorants. South American folk medicine used the grass for treating treating hypertension, inflammation, nervousness, sleep disorders, infection, fevers and gastrointestinal disorders.
HERBAL PROPERTIES AND USES:
Lemongrass is considered a mild sedative, stomachic, diuretic, anti-parasitical, anti-bacterial, antifungal and antimicrobial agent. It is also a stimulant tonic with the known ability to break down fats and stimulate perspiration. The leaves and oils have been used to treat a variety of conditions, including colds, nervous system imbalances, dyspeptic conditions, generalized stress and exhaustion.
It has also been used as an insect repellent, a treatment for Athlete’s foot, headaches, muscle pain, circulation problems, respiratory conditions, sore throat and aids in the tonification of tissues. Recent studies support its use in lowering cholesterol levels. It also has a clear anti-bacterial effect on nematodes, as well an other bacterial infestations. What is more, five of the active constituents in lemongrass have been linked to the that inhibition of blood coagulation.
Lemongrass Cultivation and Growing Methods
Fertile, moist loams with a pH level of 6-7.8
Full sun and warmth.
Average of 2-3 feet, although it can grow up to 9 ft. in height in tropical regions.
24-36 in. (60-90 cm).
Grows in Zones 9b-11, and in most tropical areas of the world. Can grow well in-doors.
Early spring after danger of frost has passed. Best to first plant indoors in a warm, sunny environment and re-plant in late spring.
Propagates by dividing the root ball and replanting. Also by seed.
This grass rarely flowers, but is considered mature at 4-8 months.
Harvesting occurs when the plant is 4-8 months old, or when plant is approximately one foot tall. From thereon, lemongrass can be harvested every 3-4 months for approximately 4 years. This is done by cutting the entire stalks and using fresh in teas. Make sure to cut the stalks below the white swollen ends.
DRYING METHODS / YIELD:
Best used fresh. Cut individual stems from white ends, throwing away an discolored parts. Dry in a cool, dry place. Once dried, the stems can be cut into smaller pieces and used in teas.
One plant can provide an average of 30 inches of usable stalk, or 0.2-0.4% of essential oil.
PRESERVATION / PACKAGING METHODS:
Dried stalks may be stored in an airtight glass container for up to one year.
ESSENTIAL OIL USE:
A soothing, relaxing oil, lemongrass essential oil has been used to treat acne, Athlete’s foot, digestive upset, muscle ache, stress and overly oily skin and scabies.
This grass contains high levels of citral and many other monoterpenoids. These monoterpenoids may be related to the plants sedative, carminiative, antimicrobial and spasmolytic effects.
IS THIS AN EDIBLE PLANT:
CAUTIONS / CONTRAINDICATIONS:
It should not be used by pregnant and breast-feeding women. Avoid using the oil if you have glaucoma. Children can drink the tea, but not use the oil. Use with care in conditions of prostatic hyperplasia, hypersensitivity of the skin, or in cases of damaged skin.
No documented information on interaction, but consult your healthcare provider if you are currently taking medications.
Clinical Research About Lemongrass
- Elson, et. al. Impact of lemongrass oil, an essential oil, on serum cholesterol. Lipids. 1989 Aug;24(8):677-9. Department of Nutritional Sciences, University of Wisconsin, Madison 53706. [PMID: 2586227]
- Gray, Linda. Grow Your Own Pharmacy. 1992. http://www.botanical.com
- Your Backyard Herb Garden: A Gardener’s Guide to Growing Over 50 Herbs Plus. Miranda Smith. p. 126. http://books.google.com/books?id=Zxxm0awYC3QC&pg=RA1-PA126
- Medicinal plants of the world: an illustrated scientific guide to important. Ben-Erik Van Wyk, Michael Wink. p. 120. http://books.google.com/books?id=bTdoTayyVrEC&pg=PA120
- Julia Lawless, HYPERLINK “http://www.aromaweb.com/books/lawless.asp” The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils (Rockport, MA: Element Books, 1995), 56-67.]
- Robert Tisserand, HYPERLINK “http://www.aromaweb.com/books/tissera2.asp” Essential Oil Safety (United Kingdom: Churchill Livingstone, 1995), 82, 146.