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Lemongrass is a multi-functional 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 has been used in folk medicine to treat various health issues and continues to serve as a natural alternative to synthetic medicines.
This herb is available in many forms, including dried, fresh, oil, tea, and food supplement.
Nutritional Facts of Lemongrass
Vitamins, minerals, electrolytes, and other chemicals that act as antioxidants are abundant in all parts of lemongrass. (1) 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): 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 maintenance of the health of body tissues
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:
- Ornamental lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus), oil grass, or West Indian lemongrass is a tropical perennial grass that grows to produce blue-green leaves and flavorful stalks. It is a good source of essential oil, which exhibits strong antimicrobial and antioxidant activities, especially against L. monocytogenes and Escherichia coli.
- Citronella (Cymbopogon nardus), nard grass, or mana grass is most commonly used in insect repellents, perfumes, and cosmetics.
- East Indian lemongrass (Cymbopogon flexuosus) or Malabar grass is native to India, Myanmar, and Thailand and is widely used as a flavoring agent for meat, beverages, and soups. Its leaves are used to make a herbal tea that provides plenty of vitamin A.
- Java citronella (Cymbopogon winterianus) originates in Indonesia on Java Island. Its leaves produce the best-quality essential oil than any other lemongrass species, which is used in the manufacture of cosmetics and fragrances.
Health Benefits of Lemongrass
Lemongrass, or Cymbopogon citratus, offers many benefits besides flavoring foods. Here are some of them.
1. Controls dandruff
While some studies have attested to the same, more research is needed to confirm these claims.
How to use:
Dilute a few drops of lemongrass oil in a carrier oil and apply it to a small area of skin to rule out any allergic reactions. If you’re in the clear, you can use lemongrass oil-containing shampoo as directed on the label.
Hair products containing lemongrass oil often work better than regular hair tonics to fight dandruff due to its strong antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory effects.
2. Improves anemia
Anemia is a condition where the body lacks healthy red blood cells to carry enough oxygen to the tissues, leading to constant weakness and fatigue.
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. (4) More studies are needed to know to understand the actual extent and mechanism of this effect.
How to use:
Consume lemongrass tea or use lemongrass in cooking.
Lemongrass cannot treat anemia but can help stimulate the production of red blood cells to make the condition less severe.
3. May promote mental health
Lemongrass is known to have a positive impact on the functioning of the brain, thereby relieving stress and anxiety and improving your mood, confidence, and self-esteem. It can help relax your mind and induce better sleep to help you overcome insomnia. (5)
How to use:
Drink lemongrass tea or diffuse lemongrass oil for aromatherapy.
Studies on the clinical relevance of lemongrass to anxiety treatment have shown positive results.
4. Aids in dental treatment
Lemongrass can help fight periodontitis (inflammation of the gums), gum disease, and cavities through its antibacterial, antifungal, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties. (6)
How to use:
Lemongrass-based mouthwashes, toothpaste, medications, and essential oil can be used as an adjunct to root planing and other dental treatments to promote oral health. (7)(8) 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 indicated that lemongrass (Cymbopogon flexuosus) essential oil has anti-inflammatory effects on human skin cells and is a good therapeutic agent for the treatment of inflammatory skin conditions. (9)
- Decreases risk of cardiovascular disease by lowering cholesterol: Animal and human studies have demonstrated the cholesterol-lowering effect of lemongrass oil. (10)(11)
- Aids in holistic healing: Within the practice of Ayurvedic medicine, lemongrass is used to relieve 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.
- Works as a strong anti-viral agent: Some studies have shown the capability of lemongrass oil to kill the much-dreaded norovirus. (12)(13)
Uses of Lemongrass
Lemongrass may be utilized in the following ways:
- Cooking: Lemongrass is used in Asian cuisines to add a zesty lemon flavor and aroma and is especially popular in Thai dishes. It can also be used in fresh salads and sauces or infused in the liquid for steaming seafood such as clams and mussels.
- Beverages: Lemongrass is used as an ingredient in herbal tea, cocktails, iced tea, lemonade, and more.
- Aromatherapy: Lemongrass is found in deodorants, soaps, essential oils, and perfumes.
- Medication: The leaves and the oils of lemongrass are believed to relieve pain and swelling, reduce fever, improve lipid levels (cholesterol), monitor sugar levels, and stimulate menstrual flow and so are used in manufacturing medicine.
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. Stick to the recommended dosages when consuming lemongrass capsules, as lemongrass can increase the production of bilirubin and amylase.
Always consider your age, overall health, and 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.
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.
- 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.
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.
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 also have different cooking times.
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:
- 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.
Expert Answers (Q&A)
Answered by Dr. Sheri Weitz, CDE (Registered Dietitian Nutritionist)
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)
Lemongrass is a medicinal herb that is widely used for addressing various health disorders, without the risk of toxic side effects associated with synthetic formulations or chemical-based medicines.
Lemongrass is easy to grow in pots. In fact, if you walk around a suburban neighborhood, you just might see a lemongrass plant. Thus, this pharmacological treasure is easy to obtain.
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.