If you love Thai and Vietnamese cuisine, lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) is an essential herb to add to your recipes. Its flavor is strong and intense, which makes it a valuable ingredient in many recipes.
Besides adding its unique flavor to dishes, lemongrass is also an effective insect repellent. You can use the leaves to make a fresh tea or dry them in a jar for future use.
Lemongrass is a tropical plant from the Cymbopogon genus that has long been used in Asian cooking. It can be used fresh as an herb or dried to make tea. It is also an important ingredient in insect repellents and has many medicinal applications, including antibacterial, antifungal and antimicrobial properties.
Its leaves are often cut and used in cooking, especially in Southeast Asian cuisine, which typically pairs it with shellfish like clams and mussels. It is also sometimes ground into a powder and added to soups, sauces and stews.
To harvest fresh lemongrass, snap off the stems just above the base of the stalk, which will be fibrous and a bit tough. The tender inner core of the stalk will then develop and can be chopped or shredded to add flavor to dishes.
The lemongrass plant grows to about 5-6 feet tall and can be grown in a pot or planted in the garden. It is hardy in areas with plant hardiness zones 9 and 10.
In colder regions, it is possible to dig up clumps of lemongrass in the fall, and then grow them indoors during the winter, in a sunny windowsill that provides very little water. They will come back to life in spring and you can replant them outdoors when the weather warms up.
Before planting lemongrass in the garden, be sure to prepare the soil. This herb likes well-draining, fertile soil that is moderately acidic. In the landscape, lemongrass is often used to create an informal screen or edging in pots or beds.
When you buy lemongrass at the store, look for plants that are aromatic, firm, heavy and unblemished. They should be a creamy, pale yellow to bright green in color.
Once you have lemongrass in the garden, it is a pretty easy plant to care for. You can root stalks to save for future planting. Alternatively, you can transplant them to the garden and wait until they are mature to use them.
You can also freeze lemongrass and use it for recipes that call for frozen vegetables, such as a green curry. This is a great way to stock up on this tropical herb without having to worry about the cost of buying it every time you want to make a dish with it.
A stalk is the part of a lemongrass plant that’s most used for cooking and flavoring. It can be sliced, minced, or pounded and added to soups, stews, curries, and salads. Its bright, citrusy flavor masks fishy, musky, or pungent odors.
The outer layers of the stalks are a pale yellow color, while the inner core is green. They are tough and reed-like in appearance, but if peeled away they reveal the familiar white core that is best for cooking.
When shopping for lemongrass at your local grocery store or Asian market, choose plump, fresh stalks that are a good shade of green and have firm, fresh tops. Be sure to look for stalks that have not been treated with growth-inhibiting chemicals and are free of brown spots or bruising.
Once you have a bunch of lemongrass in your kitchen, you can either use it fresh, or freeze it for later use. Whole, unwashed lemongrass will keep for a couple of weeks when wrapped in a towel and stored in the refrigerator.
If you prefer to freeze it, cut the central stalks into pieces, then place them in zipper-seal bags. Then, when you’re ready to cook with it, just defrost it as needed.
You can also freeze the whole stalks for a year or so by storing them in a freezer. Just be sure to wrap the whole stalks in a paper towel before placing them in the freezer, as moisture from the air can spoil the flavor of the herb.
The easiest way to grow lemongrass is by propagating it from seeds or cuttings. These plants germinate easily in warm, moist conditions and will grow rapidly. They’re sensitive to climatic changes, so it’s recommended that they be planted in the spring when the weather is warm.
For best results, plant lemongrass in a well-drained, sunny area with rich soil and regular watering during the growing season. You can mix several inches of aged compost or other organic matter into your soil before planting.
When harvesting, pick the uppermost stalks when they’re about 12 inches tall and a half-inch wide at the base. The stalks should have a good layer of reddish-brown leaves on the bottom, but not be brittle and woody. They should have a tight texture and no bruising.
Lemongrass is an herbaceous perennial with stems that resemble a grass. It is prized for its bright, citrus flavor that can be used in Asian cuisine as well as in teas and sauces. It also makes an attractive landscape plant.
It grows best in warm, humid environments and is hardy to zones 9-11, although it can be brought indoors during the winter if you live in a cooler climate. It is tender, however, so it will need protection from frost. To protect your lemongrass, transplant it into a pot for outdoor use or into a greenhouse or conservatory that does not dip below 5degC.
Once you’ve chosen the right location for your lemongrass, prepare the soil. This tropical grass prefers a moist, nutrient-rich soil that is free of weeds and pests. Keep the ground evenly raked, and add aged manure as a top dressing to increase its moisture levels.
Seeds are a good way to propagate plants, and if you start with the seeds, lemongrass is ready for harvest within 75 days of sowing them. Alternatively, you can start with supermarket-bought stems and simply grow them from the base.
To start, scatter the seeds over a damp and sterile seed starting mix, then press them into the surface without covering them. Sow them in a sunny spot, and then water regularly to encourage them to sprout. Germination is usually complete within 5 to 21 days.
When the seedlings are small, you can transplant them into a pot of rich, moist soil. Water them often, and add a balanced fertilizer such as 10-10-10, once every week or two.
As your lemongrass plant matures, reduce watering and feed less frequently. If your weather conditions are harsh, you can cut back the plant to about 6 inches tall after it enters a dormant period in the fall, and move it to a spot with bright sunlight, but not temperatures below 10degC (50degF).
The serrated leaves of lemongrass can be sharp when they are handled carelessly, so always wear gloves when handling it. This herb can also cause digestive upset in animals, such as dogs and cats, and may be toxic to horses.
Whether you’re growing lemongrass for indoor use or to plant outdoors, it’s important to prepare the plant before transplanting. This herb loves a good start in rich, well-draining soil, and you’ll want to add composted manure or aged compost-enriched Miracle-Gro(r) Performance Organics(tm) All Purpose Container Mix to ensure it receives just the right amount of organic nutrition.
If you’re planting in containers, fill the pot with the potting mix and place it in a slightly protected spot that doesn’t experience extreme wind. It’s also a good idea to choose an area that has a lot of sunlight.
When plants are at least 12 inches tall, harvest lemongrass in the fall by cutting stem bases and snapping off stalks. You’ll be able to get about 6 to 7 inches of stalks, which are the most flavorful parts of the plant and can be used for cooking.
Once you’ve harvested lemongrass, you can freeze it for winter storage. Keep it in a dry place and it will last for up to six months.
You can also root fresh lemongrass by placing it in a jar with an inch or two of water, changing the water frequently to prevent bacterial growth. Within a few weeks, roots will appear.
In the spring, it’s time to plant your lemongrass out into a sunny location. The plant needs temperatures that are consistently above 40 degrees Fahrenheit to thrive. If you’re moving an indoor plant outdoors, gradually acclimate it to outdoor conditions by placing it in shade for a few days before exposing it to full sun.
Then, replant it in an area that gets plenty of direct sunlight and a rich, well-draining soil. You’ll need to fertilize this herb regularly with a balanced fertilizer such as Miracle-Gro(r) Performance Soil Everyting, but cut back on feeding in the fall when it’s growing slower.
In colder climates, dig a few lemongrass stalks from the garden and plant them in small containers indoors. You can also place the container in an unheated garage or shed that doesn’t freeze. Alternatively, you can transplant your lemongrass to its permanent spot once it’s grown a few leaves.