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Lemon Grass – Bringing the Tropics to Your Home Herb Garden

One thing that never ceases to amaze me is how keen gardeners will find ways to grow plants outside their native habitats. Lemon grass is an example.

This is a herb which is used widely in Thai cuisine and other Asian countries.  It is a native of a tropical climate where it flowers in summer.  However with a little gardening engineering it can be grown even in areas with cold winters. 

The lemon grass plant is a type of grass (Gramineae) which is harvested for it leaves, its stem and its seeds.   This grass does crawl along the ground like other grasses, it spreads into a clump.

The leaves are blade shaped like grass and grow out of a bulbous stem found at the base of the plant which resembles a spring onion.  It is this white bulbous part which, blended with other herbs, contributes to the distinctive flavor of Thai food.

Lemon grass is loved for its gentle lemon flavor without the acid bite of lemons.  In addition the flavor has a hint of ginger. 

The leaves are harvested for tea.  They can be cut straight from the garden, chopped up with scissors and placed in a cup.   Pour on boiling water and leave the herbs to infuse for a few minutes until the water has changed color and you have a delightfully refreshing lemon flavored tea.   Some people like to add mild and sugar.   To make iced tea is easy.  Take about 8 stalks of lemon grass and add them to about a quart (1 liter) of boiling water.   When the water color has changed, remove the leaves and add ice or place it in the refrigerator until it is cold. 

Lemon grass is used for poultry, fish, seafood, stews and soups.  In fact it adds its flavor to many cooked dishes.  It can be used in a marinade  and curries.   It is advisable to bruise it before adding  it to the liquid to bring out the flavor.  Many people in the west do not like to eat raw lemon grass although they do in Thailand.  If you want to use it in a salad it needs to be chopped very small. Some people put it into boiling water for a minute to soften it.

When lemon grass is used in cooking the stalk is  prepared by removing most of the leaf above the white  bulbous part of the stalk.  Remove the outer leaf and you are ready to use it.   It can be chopped into small rings if you do not intend to remove it from your dish.  Otherwise use longer pieces and remove them before you serve your dish as you would a fresh bouquet garni.    Because it is a tightly packed bulb, bruising it before you add it to your dish will release the flavors more effectively and faster.

Lemon grass is preserved by refrigeration. If you expect to use it within a couple of weeks, merely place it in a sealed plastic bag in the refrigerator.  Otherwise, prepare is as you will use it and then store it in the freezer where it will last for around five months.

Apart from its delightful taste, lemon grass is reputed to have many medical benefits. Basically it is used as a detox with the benefits for the body that that provides.  However it helps to fight fevers and the oil is used as a relaxant. Known as citronella, it is an important aroma used in soap and candles.

Lemon grass is easy to grow from a single bulb.  In fact if you are buying lemon grass in the market, look for bulbs that have not been trimmed too short.  There is a good chance that placed in a pot of water, this root will begin to grow.  The plant can also be grown from seed but the seeds need to be propagated in heat if you are not living in a tropical area. In colder areas it needs to be brought out of the cold in winter and so it is probably better grown in a container.  

Lemon grass looks good in the garden, tastes fantastic and is known to contain antioxidants and can be used to perfume your house.  Lastly it has insect repelling properties.  Lemon grass is definitely a plant you want to put into your home herb garden.

Good herbs gardening!