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Cymbopogon citratus (DC.) Stapf. 1906
(Poaceae – the grass family)
common name: Lemon Grass
Cymbopogon i s derived from the Greek κυμβη (kymbé), a boat, and πωγων (pogon), a beard, referring to the beardlike appearance of the inflorescences, and the boat-shaped spathes; citratus is Latin for ‘steeped in citrus-oil’.
This native of India is an aromatic tropical grass with clumped, bulbous stems that ultimately become leaf blades. It has a branched cluster of stalked flowers; but local clumps of the grass in our gardens here seem to flower only rarely. The clumps will grow up to almost 2 m in height, and all parts of the plant, when crushed, give off a lemon smell.
The grass is widely used in Asian cuisine. The part used for cooking is the lower part of the stem, including the bulbous end. Highly aromatic, it is used in soups, curries and savoury dishes. The stems are very tough. The rough outer leaf should first be removed, and the remaining stem chopped into small pieces. For use in curry pastes, the pieces should be ground with a mortar and pestle.
In Thailand, Lemon Grass is also used to make a refreshing cold drink called Nam Takrai. A simple use in western cooking is to place a few ‘bulbs’ under the skin of a leg of lamb before roasting it. The whole plant can be used to stuff a chicken. The core from an onion is removed, the bulb of the grass is inserted into the hole, and the leaves are wrapped around the outside of the onion.
Lemon grass oil is a yellow to amber liquid that is antiseptic. It is reputed to be very effective in the treatment of athlete’s foot. The plant is also used as an insect repellant and as a carminative†, and to treat cuts, asthma, and bladder disorders. As well, it is used in the cosmetic industry, particularly in soap and hair-care products. One of the most popular uses of the grass is as a herbal tea, made from the leaves. Either fresh or dried leaves may be used. It is said to relieve headaches, fevers and coughing, to aid digestion, and to reduce cholesterol levels. It is also believed that a few leaves of the grass placed near the bed will keep mosquitoes away during the night; and that a few leaves crushed and rubbed into the skin will act to keep them away during the day.
An interesting use of Lemon Grass oil is as a preservative. It is wiped on to the ancient palm-leaf manuscripts in India, at the oriental Research Institute of Mysore, the French Institute of Pondicherry, the Association for the Preservation of the Saint Thomas Christian Heritage in Kerala, and in many other manuscript collections. The oil injects natural fluidity into the brittle palm leaves, and the hydrophobic‡ nature of the oil keeps the manuscripts dry, so that the text is not lost to decay due to humidity.
I am told that if you wrap a few leaves of lemon grass in a piece of muslin and place them under your pillow, it will help you to attract a lover, or to keep the one you have – but no guarantees!
Ky Wilms, some of whose photographs are on this page, is a local artist. His website is here.
†causing the release of stomach or intestinal gas
‡ repelling water
Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.
Photographs taken 2010, 2012, Picnic Bay
Page last updated 11th November 2016