Grocery Store Gardener: Lemongrass
I hemmed and hawed growing Lemongrass for years. It was an exotic plant I wanted. That alone meant it was near the top of my must buy list every winter. Yes, I had visions of making some Southeast Asian cuisine. I just couldn’t bring myself to actually make any. I used Lemongrass as my excuse for not exploring this culture’s cooking in greater detail. To further add insult to this injury, I blamed not buying any from a catalog because it was so expensive. Thank goodness I finally decided to see what I could do with what was available in my neighborhood food co-op.
I’ll freely admit the fact that I am really tight with my money. I love my plants. I just don’t want to pay for them. That seems to be a common thread with most gardeners. One person will eventually bite the bullet and buy something a little different. Then, with a snip here and a cutting there and some seed saving, the plant makes the rounds. I think we all sit around winters and play the waiting game. We wait to hear who is buying what while we look through our catalogs and adjust our wish list accordingly.
This is a time to become a Grocery Store Gardener. Lemongrass is relatively inexpensive in the produce department. Why spend gobs of money or try to figure out how to bribe your friend for a start when you can include a piece or two in your grocery cart for a small amount.
History and Use
Lemongrass or Lemon Grass or Citronella Grass or any of its various known names has been a staple herb for considerable time. The first documented case for Lemongrass Oil was in the 17th Century. This may seem surprising. One would think that Lemongrass has been around longer than this. The oil first became commercially available at this time and that is why it began showing up in documents. It has been around thousands of years.
This plant is grown from India eastward through the Indonesian Islands. There is considerable health benefits attributed to this plant. Some sources list some and then others list different benefits. Lemongrass benefits can include breathing, gastronomical and even blood sugar regulation. Lemongrass has anti-fungal and other disinfecting qualities. And, except for one insect, is a pesticide.
Choose your Lemongrass carefully. Choose a piece that still tapers down at the end. These will probably root unless they have become too dried out. Think of the taper part as a proto root. Do not choose a piece that has been cut through so you can see a circular cross section. These probably will not root, no matter how fresh the piece.
Simply make a hole in your potting media with a pencil. Use any good quality media. Push the stalk into the soil so it is about 2 inches deep. Keep the soil moist but not sopping wet. Place the container in a well lit location. You should notice growth in a month or so.
Lemongrass is really a grass. It grows similarly to native versions in your garden. Up size your containers as your grass out grows the smaller containers. You will end up with the grass in a 5 gallon container quickly. To grow larger plants, which look fabulous in the house in the winter, you will want to grow your plant in even larger containers. A 6 foot tall clump will fill a 10 gallon container. The fountain like foliage fills a large area in the house in the winter with a graceful open feeling. You will be rewarded with a fresh lemony scent when you brush past it.
Every year or two and you will need to divide your Lemongrass. This is best done in the middle of the winter while the grass is semi dormant. The grass is never truly dormant. It does grow most rapidly in the spring and is the least active in the winter. Use a strong durable knife to cut your clump apart. Choose a half dozen or so stems for each new container with as many old roots as possible. This size seems to recover faster than if you divide it down into individual stems. Then cut back the foliage leaving a couple of feet. This will be where the leaves grow away from the stem.
Plant these in some new quality media and water well. It will take a couple of months to fully recuperate. Over watering can pose a problem, so pay attention. You will notice new growth activity by the time spring starts getting near. I have a Dendrobium orchid and a Hippeastrum (new world Amaryllis) that bloom just when these are taking off. It is just before the spring solstice.
Lemongrass should be grown in full sun during the summer. They will require quite a bit more water. Daily watering of the containers may be necessary. It is helpful to have the container sit in a saucer full of water. They won’t die with little water. They just won’t grow as well or strong.
Tea and Uses
Tea is a favorite drink made out of Lemongrass. A good recipe to evaluate and adjust to taste is to coarsely chop 10 leaves and steep in 2 cups of water. It helps to steep while the water is boiling. This tea is used for many healthful reasons from stomach to flu to gas to just about any human ailment. Some claim Lemongrass tea is a mild sleep aid. Adjust your recipe to taste. A bit of honey will round out the strong lemon flavor.
There may be a rare allergic reaction associated with Lemongrass. Stop using if you notice a rash or you begin to itch. There was one source that warned against blood sugar swings when drinking this tea. Both of these reactions are rare. There is no recorded death as the result of Lemongrass. Caution is always suggested when consuming any new food.
Be sure to visit your favorite book store. You have no reason not to buy that Thai Cook book you have had your eye on with your new inexhaustible supply of Lemongrass. Fresh Lemongrass has better flavor. Fresh is easier to process. It is easier to use than any that has dried in the produce department. Remember that Lemongrass is indigestible. Mince up your Lemongrass so it is not difficult to eat.
This is a very versatile plant. Generally spraying a tea will discourage a large number of insects in the garden. White Fly and other small flying insects don’t seem to care for the smell. However, there is one insect that is attracted to Lemongrass Oil. Bee Keepers can attract bees to vacant hives with this oil. The oil has a smell similar to a Queen’s pheromones. Check with your local extension agent or bee expert first. Unless you have plans to populate a hive it really isn’t advised to use Lemongrass Oil to bring bees into your garden. They will find your plants if there is something they are interested eating. To bring bees in just to have them in the garden without anything to eat will only weaken them.
There are plenty of reasons to grow Lemongrass as you can see. Why not stop by your produce section. Hold up each piece to get a clear look at them even if the clerk decides to keep you in a direct line of sight. Pick and choose carefully so that your new purchase will root. This is a great plant for children to grow too because it is so low maintenance. They may become distracted until the initial piece begins to grow. Help them out until it roots. Then your child will have no problem caring for this plant.