A practical guide for nutritional and traditional health care.
Cymbopogon citratus, generally known as lemongrass, is a resourceful herb, a natural source of aroma, mosquito repellent as well as a plant that is widely used to decorate gardens. Lemongrass belongs to the grass or Poaceae family (formerly known as Gramineae) and has several functions - an effective herb, aromatic or container garden, or as a medication for various conditions. One may find a number of variety of lemongrass and each of them possessing dissimilar chemical compositions. However, citral is the major chemical ingredient found in all varieties of essential oils of lemongrass.
Lemongrass is native to tropical regions and grows in clusters. The plant has globular stems that eventually become leaf blades. This herb belongs to the herb family which also includes citronella and palma-rosa and possesses a lemon essence. When the leaves of the herb are compressed they release the aroma of lemon.
The lemongrass is a perennial plant with brawny stalks and somewhat broad and scented leaves. This species of plant is usually cultivated commercially for oil refinement and is different by its individual aroma and chemical composition of the oil. Apart from C. citratus, or Cymbopogon citratus, there are other varieties of lemongrass such as C. nardus (also known citronella grass that is a source of citronella oil), C. martini (known as ginger grass, palma-rosa or rusha) and C. winterianus (Java citronella oil).
Lemongrass is also a resourceful plant in the garden. This grass, native of the tropical regions, usually grows in thick bunches that often develop to a height of six feet (1.8 meters) and approximately four feet (1.2 meters) in breadth. The leaves of the plant are similar to straps and are 0.5 inch to 1 inch (1.3 cm to 2.5 cm) in width and around three feet (0.9 meter) in length, and possess stylish apexes. The plant bears leaves round the year and they are vivid bluish-green and when mashed they emit an aroma akin to lemons. The leaves of this plant are used for flavoring and also in the manufacture of medications. The leaves are refined by steam to obtain lemongrass oil - an old substitute in the perfume manufacturers' array of aroma. The most common type of lemongrass found is a variety of plants that originated and persisted under cultivation and do not usually bear flowers.
Over the years, lemongrass has fast turned out to be the most wanted plant for the American gardeners and this is attributed to the increasing popularity of Thai culinary in the United States. The aromatic lemongrass is considered to be of multi-purpose use in the kitchen as it is used in teas, drinks, herbal medications and the soups and delicacies originated in the Eastern region of the world and now popular all over. In fact, the worth of this aromatic and cosmetic plant was known to the ancient Greeks, Romans and Egyptians.
For hundreds of years, lemongrass has been a resource of natural aromatic oil that is primarily used in the manufacture of perfumes, adding essence as well as in the preparation of herbal medications. It is advisable to store some quantity of lemongrass in the house so that you may include a lemon lime essence to your ice tea and even put some zing to beat the fries. In order to collect the lemongrass, plow a cluster of the plant, divide the segments, and separate the roots and the tops maintaining around six inches (15 cm) of the pale hued plant base.
Cymbopogon nardus, a member a relative of lemongrass, is a fine resource of citronella oil, a substance that offers a special aroma (and also a strike), and is, therefore, widely used as a mosquito repellent. It is important to mention here that when candles enclosing the Citronella oil are lighted, hardly any mosquito ventures near and even if they do, none of them survive the strong scent. Presently candles made with Citronella are becoming increasingly popular for their ability to ‘naturally' control the mosquito menace and it is advisable that you may also have some of them at your terrace.
Dried above ground parts, the essential oil.
Apart from the herb's aromatic, ornamental and culinary uses, lemongrass also provides a number of therapeutic benefits. Lemongrass leaves and the essential oils extracted from them are utilized to cure grouchy conditions, nervous disorders, colds and weariness. It may be mentioned here that many massage oils and aromatherapy oils available in the market enclose lemongrass oil as an important ingredient. The essential oils extracted from lemongrass have a yellow or yellowish-brown hue and this liquid is known to be antiseptic. Very often the oil is applied externally to treat disorders like athlete's foot (tinea pedia). Among other things, lemongrass is also used as a carminative to emit digestive gas, a digestive tonic, a febrifuge or analgesic as well as an antifungal. In addition, lemongrass is prescribed to treat rheumatism and sprains, suppress coughs, and as a diuretic and sedative.
The stalks and leaves of the lemongrass are widely used in culinary in different Asian countries. The leaves and essential oils of the plant are also utilized in herbal medications. In addition, Cymbopogon citratus is extensively used by the cosmetic industry in the manufacture of soaps as well as hair care products. Finally, these days, lemongrass is being appreciated for its effectiveness in repelling mosquitoes. The essential oils of Cymbopogon species are basically used in the fragrance industry as they possess very restrained therapeutic uses.
Many gardeners in the sub-tropical climes grow lemongrass in the beds and borders with a view to decorate their plots. When planted along the walkways, lemongrass plants release a pleasant aroma when swept against by the passers-by creating wonderful environs. The plant also thrives well in tubs and containers. It is advisable to grow the plants in pots during the winter months and maintain them in vibrantly illuminated indoor areas. People residing in the frosty areas are able to enjoy the aromatic plant throughout the year.
As discussed earlier, lemongrass forms an important ingredient in Oriental cooking as this superb lemon-aromatic is a culinary delight. In fact, the lemongrass constitutes an essential element of the Vietnamese and Thai culinary as it reveals a satisfying essence to soups, sauces, curries and fish dishes. Additionally, a stimulating tea can also be prepared with lemongrass. Chefs in Thailand and Vietnam use lemongrass stalks to provide a lemon-like essence to their dishes. In fact, they only use the youngest part of the stems - usually 6 cm to 7 cm from the base of the plant. The process includes removing the outer leaves of the plant and cutting off both ends of the stem using the middle portion. While cooking with lemongrass stems, they should be cut into relatively longer pieces so that it is easier to remove them after the dish is prepared.
Cooks in China, Indonesia and Malaya use the dehydrated lemongrass leaves in the preparation of marinades for grilled meat and fish. On the other hand, French chefs use fresh lemongrass in some of their culinary. It may be mentioned here that lemongrass gels well with coconut, garlic, ginger, shallots and chili pepper.
Habitat and cultivation
Lemongrass is native to tropical Asian countries like Sri Lanka and India where it grows in abundance. While lemongrass grows naturally in tropical grasslands, it is also widely cultivated in all the tropical regions of Asia for commercial purpose. Presently, lemongrass is cultivated as a cash crop in different parts of the globe.
It may be mentioned here that different varieties of the species originate and are cultivated in different parts of tropical Asia. For instance, C. nardus grows naturally all over the tropical regions in Asia, C. martinii had its origin in India, but is now extensively cultivated in Malaysia and C. winterianus is a cultigen (a cultivated plant of unknown or obscure taxonomic origin) is now cultivated commercially in India as well as Indonesia.
For best growth, Cymbopogon citratus requires anything between bright sunlight and light shade and a damp soil having excellent drainage system. Nevertheless, the plant is able to endure several other kinds of soils; for instance, it grows well in sandy soil too provided proper care is taken. If you are growing the plant in a greenhouse, make sure to use a mixed soil comprising two parts of peat moss to two parts of clay to one fraction sand or perlite (amorphous volcanic glass). Although these plants are able to endure droughts, actually when there is such a situation, the plants have a dry and pale look. On the contrary, when grown in a greenhouse, the plants remain reasonably wet all the times and it is essential to add fertilizers to the soil on a regular basis every month in order to help them maintain a robust growth. Growing lemongrass in the middle of planting containers, along with basil, sage and creeping thyme presents an attractive look. When the plants are grown in tubs or containers, it is essential to divide them occasionally as the Cymbopogon citratus is known to have a belligerent growth. Although it is not advisable to water the plants during the winter months, it should also be noted that the plants should never be allowed to dehydrate completely.
Generally, this species of the plant is propagated by division of the mature bunches either during spring or summer. In addition, Cymbopogon citratus is also growth by means of its seeds, which are often quite difficult to get. The Cymbopogon citratus is a very sensitive plant that is often killed back to the roots owing to extreme freeze ups. The leaves of the plant are so tender that they often suffer severe damages owing to frosting.
The chemical composition of the essential oil extracted from lemongrass comprises huge quantities of citral (geranial, neral) as well as several other monoterpenoids. The main elements of citronella oil are geraniol, citronellal and citronellol.
Infusions prepared with the lemongrass leaves or the watered down essential oil from the plant may be ingested to cure a number of disorders. In addition, the essential oil may also be used externally to heal several discomforts.
Side effects and cautions
Extremely watered down essential oil extracted from lemongrass and citronella oil are used to add essence to foods and beverages. Nevertheless, using these oils in their pure form may prove to be venomous and if taken in excessive amounts orally, it may even become life threatening. Here is a word of caution. Pregnant women should never take these essential oils. It may be mentioned here that it is always essential to use lemongrass, also called oil grass and fever grass, only under the guidance of expert healthcare providers.
The essential oil extracted from lemongrass is believed to be non-poisonous, but it may still sensitize the skin in some people who may be having susceptible or damaged skin or people who may be enduring some kind of allergic reactions. Hence, it is important that people using lemongrass or its essential oil should do so adopting utmost caution. In addition, these substances should never be uses on small children. In fact, when using any essential oil people must seek professional guidance with a view to reduce the risks involved with them. This is all the more important when inexperienced people want to use the essential oil extracted from lemongrass.
The essential oil of lemongrass is extracted by refining the fresh or dehydrated leaves of the plant with steam. The extracted oil has a yellowish to amber hue and possesses an aroma that is similar to that of lemon, citrus or grass. It may be noted here that the essential oils obtained from the lemongrass species grown in the West Indian and East Indian regions have the same aroma and hue, but the oil extracted from the West Indian variety of lemongrass is comparatively wispier as well as more unsullied.
As discussed earlier, the essential oil extracted from lemongrass encloses several therapeutic properties and, hence, is extremely valuable for the human body. Lemongrass essential oil offers numerous health advantages, including preventing the body from being susceptible to ailments such as muscle aches, flatulence or pomposity, athlete's foot among others. At the same time, lemongrass essential oil is also very useful in healing skin problems like acne. In addition, it is also considered to be among the best medications to fight the problem of too much perspiration.
The essential oil extracted from lemongrass is also known to be a wonderful analgesic or painkiller. The substance possesses antiseptic, antifungal and antimicrobial characteristics and hence its demand has been soaring by the day. At the same time, this essential oil is also an exceptional astringent and is also known to possess the aptitude to tone the skin. It may be mentioned here that use of lemongrass oil also aids in avoiding panic, melancholy as well as nervousness. Massaging with lemongrass oil provides a calming and sleep-inducing effect. This is primarily owing to the fact that lemongrass oil functions as a potent sedative.
The popularity of lemongrass essential oil has been growing rapidly as people like its unsullied, plain and lemon-lime aroma, something which is just wonderful. A message with lemongrass oil is always very refreshing and helps to calm down the body after a day's hard work. It has been already discussed earlier that the most common technique of extracting lemongrass oil from the plant is by means of steam refinement or distillation. The hue of lemongrass oil normally varies from deep yellow and amber to red. As far as the thickness of lemongrass oil is concerned, it is diluted by nature and, hence, its stableness too is very delicate.
The lemongrass herb is popularly called "choomana poolu" in India and it often denotes the "Indian Melissa oil", which is widely used in Ayurveda - the ancient Indian medicine system. Ayurvedic medical practitioners extensively use the lemongrass essential oil to lower fevers and also prescribed it for curing infectious ailments. In addition to its use in preparation of medications, lemongrass essential oil is also extensively used by the cosmetic industry in the manufacture of lemon scented perfumes and soaps.
It may be noted here that many people have often held the use of lemongrass essential oil for resulting in inflammation of the skin. Hence, it is important that pregnant women are advised never to use this highly potent essential oil in any form.