(Cymbopogon citratus) A tall
lemon-scented grass which multiplies into clumps as it grows. The leaves
are narrow and sharp-edged, with a central rib. Easy to propagate in
most warm climates with a little water and minimum care. It even grows
in temperate zones, given enough sun.
One of the most popular herbs of South East
Asia, mainly because lemons do not grow easily in the tropics. Used to
flavor curries and soups, and a vital flavor in Thai curry pastes. If
lemon grass is not available, it is quite acceptable to substitute 2 or
3 strips of thinly peeled lemon zest (no pith) for a stalk of lemon
If using lemon grass, the outer tougher
layers should be peeled away and only the pale lower portion of the stem
is used. Since it is a very fibrous plant, slice it very thinly
crossways so that there are no long fibers to spoil the finished dish.
Lemon grass purchased from markets is
usually devoid of leaves. Make sure the stem is firm and smooth. Avoid
those stems which look dry and wrinkled. If you grow lemon grass
yourself or someone offers you some from their clump, take care when
handling as the edges of the leaves are razor sharp and even brushing
past can cause almost invisible lacerations to exposed areas of skin.
With a sharp knife, cut a stem close to the ground and trim off the
grassy top section. The bulbous lower stem, creamy white to pale green
is the part to use.
The leaves may be used for infusions like
tea, but are not used much in cooking. Sometimes the whole stem, bruised
first so it imparts its fragrance readily, is simmered in a soup or
sauce and discarded before serving. For this, leave it long enough to
tie the bruised stem and leaves into a loose knot for ease of lifting
from the finished dish.
Lemon grass is usually sold in bunches of 3
or 4 stems, held together with a rubber band. Usually the stems are
about 40 cm in length of which only the lower half is used. They will
keep for weeks in a plastic bag in the refrigerator and can be kept
frozen for up to 6 months, well wrapped.
To simmer a dish, bruise the stem by
pounding with a pestle or mallet. Tie it in a loose knot so it is not
awkwardly long, and drop it into the dish to cook, removing it before
serving. If it is to be pounded or ground in a curry paste, first remove
the outer layer (or two if necessary) and slice off the hard root, then
cut in very thin crossways slices before putting it into an electric
If preparing lemon grass for a salad, peel
off outer layers and use only tender, white portion, very finely sliced.
The slicing is easily done in a food processor with fine slicing blade
attached. This is a procedure recommended even when grinding lemon grass
with other ingredients into a paste, because unless sliced crossways the
fine, strong fibers will survive blending and make their undesirable
presence felt in the finished dish.
In Chinese medicine a decoction made from
the plant is used to treat coughs, colds and blood in the sputum. The
roots induce sweating and act as a diuretic. In Asian countries, the
leaves in water are used in a bath to reduce swelling, remove body odor,
improve blood circulation and to treat cuts and wounds. In Western
herbal medicine, a tea is made from the leaves is used for stomach ache,
diarrhea, headaches, fevers and flu. The antiseptic oil is a treatment
for athlete's foot and acne, and is sprayed to reduce airborne
infections. In aromatherapy, the oil is said to improve circulation and