to an ancient Malaysian legend, lemongrass was once considered
a sacred herb. Warriors believed that if they applied it
as a balm to their bodies—accompanied by a special
prayer, of course—it would prevent a sword from
penetrating their skin. While we are in no rush to test
this impregnable "magic cloak," we do appreciate
lemongrass for the other dangers it wards off: anxiety,
headaches, fever and a bad night's sleep, to name just a
people know lemongrass for the flavor it adds to Thai food.
It is the refreshing citrus nip that balances the hot chili
and creamy coconut milk in the ubiquitous Tom Kha Gai soup.
In fact, lemongrass originated in India, and then traveled
onto Southeast Asia, becoming a staple ingredient in the
cuisines of Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos
and Vietnam. It also crossed the oceans to the Caribbean,
where its lemony taste balances zesty island flavors.
food, lemongrass is remarkably adaptable. It can be used
fresh, dried or powdered; it complements pork, beef, fish,
poultry and seafood. It is equally versatile as a remedy
for everyday ailments, and its soft, citrus flavor and aroma
make using it a pleasant experience. In most instances,
you'll want to use the bruised stalk. To do this, take a
stalk, cut off the tip (at the root end), cut a piece from
the bottom approximately two inches long, peel off the dried
outer layer and then crush it lightly with a mortar and
pestle to release the oils.
or three of these bruised stalks, chopped into half inch
pieces and steeped in a pot of nearly boiling water, make
a tea to aid digestion, ease menstrual cramps, reduce stress
and promote a calm night's sleep. Take those same stalks
and rub their oil over your skin and you have a natural
mosquito repellent—lemongrass is a common ingredient
in candles and incense used to repel bugs. They can also
be used topically for anti-fungal and antiseptic purposes.
Yet another way to use the stalks is to tie them into a
sachet and drop them into a bathtub for a soothing aromatherapy
experience. Given the stress of modern life—and
the risks such as heart attacks that come with it—we consider these aids to relaxation as beneficial as the
Malay warriors surely found their use of lemongrass centuries
- Aids digestion
- Eases anxiety, stress and cramps
- Acts as a natural antibacterial, anti-fungal
- Reduces fever and flatulence
- Repels mosquitoes
- Can be used as a facial astringent
Although lemongrass thrives with full sun in a tropical
climate, it is now produced in countries as far-flung as China and England. It is a perennial, although in places
that get frost, it will act like an annual and go dormant
in the winter. Beware: while lemongrass is fun to harvest
at home because it's easy, it divides underground, spreads
through its roots and grows like a weed, which is why we
recommend cultivating it in a large pot.
Purchase three to five mature stalks. They should be fresh,
full at the bulb and moist. Try to select those with root
buds still visible.
2. Cut a few inches off the top of each stalk. Peel the
dry outer layers all the way to the bulb.
3. Put the stalks in a jar of room temperature water. Keep
the jar in a window in the sun. Make sure to keep the water
level up, so the stalks don't dry out.
4. In approximately one to two weeks, you will see roots.
When the roots are around an inch long, transfer the stalks
to a pot, using a sandy soil. Cover stalks about an inch
above the roots.
5. Keep the pot in a sunny place and keep the soil moist.
Before long, your few stalks will become a large cluster
that can be cut whenever you need. Keep the pot away from
cats, since they love it and will demolish it.
(Updated: 10/10/12 SG)