In this article:
- Lemongrass belongs to the family Poaceae, known as grasses. It has a lemony smell with a mild and sweet flavor.
- Lemongrass is also referred to as fever grass, ginger grass, or citronella grass.
- This herb is available in many forms, including dried, fresh, oil, tea, and food supplement.
- Out of all forms, lemongrass tea benefits the digestive system the most.
- Fruit of lemongrass is a caryopsis, which is dry one-seeded fruit that does not split open to release seeds.
A Malaysian folktale states that you will find treasure under a blooming lemongrass plant. Lemongrass is a multifunctional culinary perennial herb that originates in India and the tropical regions of Asia. It can live up to 4 years in the wild.
Lemongrass is added to many Asian dishes for a unique citrus-scent and tangy flavor. It is also used for the management of some health issues and in the cosmetic and perfume industries.
Another treasure in a blooming lemongrass plant is the rare sprouting of its small white, cream, or green flowers.
Nutritional Facts of Lemongrass
Vitamins, minerals, electrolytes, and other chemicals that act as antioxidants are abundant in all parts of lemongrass. (11) This herb is, therefore, highly beneficial for health.
Lemongrass leaves are high in crude fiber, a type of dietary fiber, making the herb high in carbohydrates. One hundred grams of lemongrass has 99 calories, but no cholesterol. Lemongrass also contains the following nutrients per 100 grams:
- Folate (75 µg; 19% of RDA): Vitamin B is present in the leaves and stems of lemongrass and is involved in cell division and DNA synthesis
- Vitamin C (2.6 mg; 4% of RDA): An antioxidant that repairs tissue and prevents scurvy
- Vitamin A (trace amounts): Aids in immune system maintenance, vision, and growth and development
- Magnesium (60 mg; 19% RDA): An important mineral for bone structure, protein synthesis, glycolysis (energy production), and muscle and nerve functions
- Selenium (trace amounts): An antioxidant that supports the immune system, cognitive function, and fertility
- Phosphorus (101 mg; 14% RDA): An essential mineral that aids in building bones, nucleic acids, and cell membranes
- Iron (8.17 mg; 45% RDA): A mineral that is part of hemoglobin, the protein that carries oxygen from the lungs to the tissues
- Zinc (2.23 mg; 27% RDA): An essential mineral involved in cellular metabolism that plays a role in protein synthesis, wound healing, DNA synthesis, and normal growth and development.
- B vitamins (trace amounts): Vitamins that are essential for energy metabolism, blood cell production, and maintaining the health of body tissues
Health Benefits of Lemongrass
Lemongrass, or Cymbopogon citratus, offers many benefits besides flavoring foods. Here are some of them.
1. Controls dandruff
Lemongrass essential oil has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties, and it is effective against infection caused by the fungus Malassezia furfur, which is associated with dandruff.
A 2011 study revealed that 2% lemongrass oil shampoo exhibited antifungal activity against M. furfur. (1)
How to use: Before using lemongrass oil, dilute a small amount in a carrier oil and apply it to a small area of skin to detect any allergic reactions. Use lemongrass oil-containing shampoo as directed on the label.
Lemongrass oil reduces dandruff through its antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. However, studies to establish its efficacy are still required.
2. Improves anemia
Anemia is a condition where one feels weak and tired due to a lack of healthy red blood cells to carry enough supply of oxygen to the body’s tissues.
A study found that lemongrass tea can boost erythropoiesis (production of red blood cells), possibly due to its nutritional content (folic acid, thiamine, copper, iron, zinc, etc.) and its antioxidant and pharmacologic properties. (3)
How to use: Consume lemongrass tea or use lemongrass in cooking.
Lemongrass cannot treat anemia but can help resolve it. More studies are needed to further investigate their erythropoiesis-boosting effect.
3. May promote mental health
The mental-strengthening effects of lemongrass can provide anxiety relief, a boost in self-esteem, and an increase in confidence and spirits. Lemongrass oil can be used in aromatherapy to relieve stress, anxiety, and insomnia. (4)
How to use: Drink lemongrass tea or diffuse lemongrass oil for therapy.
Studies on the clinical relevance of lemongrass to anxiety treatment have shown positive results.
4. Aids in dental treatment
How to use: Products that contain lemongrass are available to deliver treatment for periodontitis, serve as an adjunct to root planing, and promote overall oral health. These products include herbal mouthwashes, toothpaste, medications, and essential oil. (6)(7) Use these products as directed on the label.
The efficiency and role of lemongrass in oral health have been shown in some studies, but more are needed to understand the mechanism in depth.
Other Benefits of Lemongrass
Lemongrass also offers these additional benefits:
- Supports skin treatment: A study in 2017 indicated that lemongrass (Cymbopogonflexuosus) essential oil has anti-inflammatory effects on human skin cells and is a good therapeutic agent for the treatment of inflammatory skin conditions. (8)
- Decreases risk of cardiovascular disease by lowering cholesterol: Animal and human studies have demonstrated the cholesterol-lowering effect of lemongrass oil. (9)(10)
- Aids in holistic healing: Within the practice of Ayurvedic medicine, lemongrass is used to treat illnesses, including digestive issues, fevers, menstrual disorders, joint pain, inflammation, and nervous conditions.
- Acts as a bug repellent: Lemongrass is rich in citral and geraniol, compounds that repel insects. Lemongrass can repel mosquitoes, roaches, ants, beetles, and wasps.
There is not enough scientific information that provides dosing recommendations for the use of products containing lemongrass. Read product labels and directions for the appropriate use.
Always factor in age, overall health, and individual disease conditions when using a natural product. Consult a healthcare professional before using lemongrass or lemongrass products for health purposes or if skin alterations and allergic reactions occur.
Although studies have shown the health benefits of lemongrass, more research is needed to establish it as a treatment option for medical conditions. Hence, extra care is warranted when using lemongrass, especially in the following conditions:
- Avoid the use of lemongrass if pregnant or breastfeeding as information regarding its safety is lacking. Lemongrass can start menstrual flow, causing concern for a miscarriage.
- Antioxidant properties may reduce the effectiveness of chemotherapy agents. Consult your oncologist before using lemongrass for further information.
- Lemongrass may cause allergic reactions or skin rashes. See a doctor if this occurs.
Varieties of Lemongrass
There are more than 50 species of lemongrass. The most well-known variety is Cymbopogon citratus. Other varieties include Ornamental Lemongrass, Citronella, East Indian Lemongrass, and Java Citronella.
Here are some facts about the common varieties of lemongrass:
a. Ornamental Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus)
Cymbopogon citratus is a tropical perennial grass that grows to produce blue-green leaves and flavorful stalks. It can generally grow up to 6 feet tall and up to 3 feet wide. It grows best under direct sun and in soil consisting of fertile clay, sand, and humus.
The name of this variety is derived from its lemony scent and flavor. Ornamental lemongrass is also referred to as oil grass or West Indian lemongrass.
C.citratus is one of the most sourced plants in the world due to its distribution and application. It is a common ingredient in Thai, Vietnamese, and Cambodian cuisines.
This variety of lemongrass is a good source of essential oil. A natural and potent antimicrobial and antioxidant product, C.citratus essential oil is used in food preservatives with an effect against L. monocytogenes and E. coli.
b. Citronella (Cymbopogon nardus)
This variety of lemongrass is mostly used to produce insect repellent, perfumes, and cosmetics. It has many names, including nard grass and mana grass.
This aromatic variety of lemongrass grows well in the dry season with full sun. It is naturally dispersed from seed by wind, water, or grazing animals. It is often found in well-grazed pastures because it is unpalatable to cattle.
c. East Indian Lemongrass (Cymbopogon flexuosus)
This variety of lemongrass is widely used for oral consumption as a flavoring agent for meat, beverages, soups, and more. The leaves provide vitamin A through the intake of herbal tea.
Also known as Malabar grass, C. flexuosus is native to India, Myanmar, and Thailand. It produces tall attractive purple seed heads and can reach a height of up to 1.5 meters. It grows in a variety of soils but prefers wet loams.
d. Java Citronella (Cymbopogon winterianus)
This species originates in Indonesia on Java Island. Similar to the other varieties of lemongrass, this is a clump-forming species growing to as tall as 2.5 meters.
Its oil is extensively used in the cosmetic and perfume industry because it produces a higher quality of essential oil in its leaves than the other lemongrass species.
It grows best in elevated temperatures and prefers a pH range of 5-8. The crop lasts for 5 years.
Lemon Balm vs. Lemongrass
Although lemon balm and lemongrass are both citrus-scented herbs that are widely used in the kitchen, they are two different plants that come from different parts of the world. Here are the key differences between lemon balm and lemongrass.
|Minty undertone, sweet flavor||Astringent flavor|
|Originates in Europe and the Middle East||Originates in Southeast Asia|
|Cannot stand long cooking times||Can simmer for long periods|
Lemongrass and lemon balm are not interchangeable when preparing most dishes. Lemon balm produces a sweet flavor, whereas lemongrass produces an astringent flavor. The two plants have different cooking times.
Uses of Lemongrass
Lemongrass may be utilized in the following ways:
- Used in Asian cuisines to add a zesty lemon flavor and aroma.
- Popular in tom kha gai soup, Thai coconut curry, stir-fry, and meat marinades.
- Infused in liquid for steaming seafood such as clams and mussels.
- Chopped and combined with mayonnaise and chilies for a dipping sauce.
- Used in a fresh salad.
- Beverages: An ingredient in herbal tea, cocktails, iced tea, lemonade, and more.
- Aromatherapy: Found in deodorants, soaps, essential oils, and perfumes.
- Medication: The leaves and the oils are used in manufacturing medicine. It is said to relieve pain and swelling, reduce fever, improve lipid levels (cholesterol), monitor sugar levels, and stimulate menstrual flow.
Where to Find Lemongrass
Nowadays, lemongrass and its products are easily accessible.
- Grocery Stores: Found in the produce section year-round, displayed under specialty vegetables and fruits. Monitor freshness by looking at the product. Look for a firm, green bulb at the end.
Dried lemongrass produces woodsy flavor in soups and simmering dishes, whereas fresh lemongrass produces bright and strong flavors in stir-fries, curries, and marinades.
- Department Stores: Found in forms of essential oils and herbal teas.
Store fresh lemongrass in the fridge, loosely wrapped for up to several weeks.
Store chopped or minced lemongrass in the freezer, ready for dressings, marinades, and stir-fries.
Easy Recipes Using Lemongrass
1. Fresh Lemongrass Tea
- Three stalks fresh lemongrass
- Sugar or honey
- Lemon twists (optional)
- Place three stalks of lemongrass in 6 cups of boiling water and steep for 7-10 minutes.
- Filter the tea into a cup, and add a sweetening agent (sugar or honey).
- Top with lemon twists based on preference.
2. Vegan Stir-Fry with Lemongrass
- Tofu – 1 cup (cut in small pieces)
- Peanut oil – 3 tablespoons
- Chopped vegetables of choice (broccoli, carrots, bell pepper, beans) – ¼th cup each
- Salt – to taste
- Lime juice – 2 tablespoons
- Garlic – 4 cloves
- Lemongrass – 2 tablespoons
- Press tofu down to squeeze out the excess water to prevent it from crumbling when cooking.
- Add peanut oil to the pan and sauté the tofu until golden brown for about 4-6 minutes.
- Sauté in a few vegetables such as broccoli, bell peppers, chilies, carrots, and green beans, according to your choice.
- When the vegetables are cooked, add garlic and lemongrass and stir for a couple of minutes.
- Add a pinch of salt and lime juice.
- Turn off the heat, and allow it to cool down.
- Serve over steamed rice (brown or white).
3. Spicy Lemongrass Chicken
- Chicken pieces – 1 ½ cup
- Canola oil – 2 tablespoons
- Salt – 1 ½ teaspoon
- Pepper – ¾ teaspoon
- Lemongrass – 2 stalks
- Onion – 2 medium-sized
- Garlic – 2 teaspoons minced
- Wine – 1/4th cup
- Oyster sauce and Vietnamese stir-fry sauce – 1 tablespoon
- Scallions – 4
- Chili paste, jalapeno, and dried chilies – 1 ½ teaspoon
- Toss the chicken pieces, 2 tbsp canola oil, 1.5 tsp salt, and ¾ tsp pepper in a medium bowl.
- Put 2 tbsp of canola oil in a large wok or skillet and heat until it starts smoking.
- Put in half of the tossed chicken pieces and sauté over high heat until browned in spots, about 3-4 minutes.
- Place the cooked chicken on a plate and sauté the remaining half of the chicken pieces.
- Add another 2 tbsp of canola oil in the wok and heat it. To this, add the lemongrass, onion, and garlic, and cook on high flame, stirring the ingredients occasionally.
- Add in the wine and cook for about 1 minute.
- Add in the oyster sauce, Vietnamese stir-fry sauce, scallions, chili paste, jalapeno, and dried chilies and bring to a boil.
- Add the cooked chicken to the sauce mixture and simmer until heated and mixed thoroughly.
4. Lemongrass Juice
- 250 g chopped stalks lemongrass
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 L of water
- 150 g caster (or powdered) sugar
- 4 large ice cubes
- Heat 1 L of water in a large pan over medium heat.
- Add in the lemongrass and simmer for about 5-8 minutes.
- Strain the water into a pitcher or a large jug.
- Add the caster sugar and salt, stir well until dissolved, and pour the mixture into another pan.
- Bring to a boil (medium heat) and remove it from flame. Allow it to cool completely.
- Add some ice cubes to a glass and pour the juice over it.
- Serve chilled.
Lemongrass is widely used for its numerous pharmacological properties and potency in treating various health disorders.
Moreover, the use of natural herbs is preferred over synthetic chemicals, as the former has no side effects, are healthy and easy to obtain, and generate income for the farmers.
While a few studies enumerate the health benefits of lemongrass, more human trials are needed to establish its efficacy and use as a medicinal herb.
Expert Answers (Q&A)
Answered by Dr. Sheri Weitz, CDE (Registered Dietitian Nutritionist)
Lemongrass is easy to grow in pots. In fact, if you walk around a suburban neighborhood, you just might see a lemongrass plant. Some studies have shown the capability of lemongrass oil to kill the much-dreaded noro virus. (12)(13)
Lemongrass essential oil and capsules are very affordable. When taking lemongrass supplements orally, follow the dosage guidelines on the bottle. Taking lemongrass tea is also safe, but avoid if pregnant.
Consuming lemongrass is generally acceptable for the majority of the population. Do not take lemongrass internally if you are pregnant.
Stick to the recommended dosages when consuming lemongrass capsules, as lemongrass can increase the production of bilirubin and amylase. Also, topical application of lemongrass oil may trigger allergic reactions in some people.
Lemongrass may be consumed in a variety of ways, although it is extremely chewy when taken raw. Before consuming raw lemongrass, it is advised to remove the stalk to make it tender and easier to chew.
If you would like to impart the citrus-like unique flavor of lemongrass to your food, it should be cooked first.
Lemongrass contains anti-inflammatory properties that are beneficial for many aches and pains when used as a topical oil. The anti-inflammatory properties are even strong enough to give mild relief from rheumatoid arthritis pain.
Studies have shown a statistically significant decrease in arthritic pain in patients who applied the oil for 30 days straight. (14)
Lemongrass, when used as an ingredient in mosquito repellents, has been shown to repel mosquitoes. Its effect is comparable with that of commercial mosquito repellents. Lemongrass may be less toxic than regular mosquito repellents. (15)
About Dr. Sheri Weitz, RDN, CDE: Sheri is a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified diabetes educator. Sheri has a private practice in Los Angeles, California, and has been helping her clients “move to wellness” for more than two decades.