To continue my series of herbs that you can grow your own, namely culinary herbs the next one I would like to add is Lemon grass. This tough and hardy herb, is also an easy one to start with. Lemon grass or East Indian variety (Cymbopogon flexuosus) and the West Indian version (Cymbopogon citratus) is well known in Asian cooking can add a wonderful zesty citrus/lemon flavour to your stir fry or Asian soup. It is not one of those one-off crops where you’ll need to constantly replant, but something you can harvest over the years and at your own rate. In other words, “oh I really feel like some Chinese tonight, hey honey, do we have some lemon grass?”
Which is which?
To be specific, there are actually dozens and dozens of varieties of lemon grass found in many countries, and most would be fine, but here are two of the most common. To identify the East Indian lemon grass, used in both cooking and teas, look for the purple tinged one at the edge of the leaf or stalk etc., and it can also grow to 1.5 metres or 5′, and West Indian version, which can be used in cooking, teas and perfumes, only grows to about 90cm or 3′. I would personally just use whatever is easiest to get ahold of and go for it.
Which part do I use?
If you are making a tea/infusion or a decoction, cut off a leaf or two, finely chop them so that you have around about a tablespoon, place it in boiling hot water and allow to steep covered for about 10 minutes, and drink. For a stronger flavour, place the chopped lemon grass into room temperature water, and bring it to boil, then allow it to simmer for 10 to maybe 20 minutes, add a sweetener and enjoy. It can go well with lots of other herbs such as, chamomile, lemon balm and lavender. Why don’t you try a combination of your own and let me know. I often use it in a herbal tea with Lemon balm, Ribwort and a small squeeze of lemon juice.
To use it in cooking, dig down into the base of the clump, and pull out a few stems right from the base. Chop of any roots and leaves, peel off a few layers and your ready to chop. Don’t use the leaves in the cooking as they are quite tough, even a bit spikey and way too chewy when trying to eat your meal, and yep I’ve tried it, spent most of the time picking every little bit out.
How to grow it.
Lemon grass is reasonably tough and hard to kill, no not impossible, but hard. It loves summers that are wet, and cool drier winters, with good drainage as it doesn’t really like it’s roots sitting in water. It’ll grow in just about any soil, but it does prefer rich soil with a little compost or manure, as it is a ‘grass’ meaning it likes nitrogen. Probably the only real concern is frost, so don’t put it in hollows that collect cold air, or areas of still air.
Although just fine in the ground and lemon grass can add interest to any garden honestly, so you could place it in hard to maintain sections, but my preferred choice is to use a large pot, near or conveniently close to the kitchen. Choose a pot or container approximately 30cm or 12″ in diameter, or bigger if you want a bigger clump. Mine was just chucked into an old rectangular black storage tub, I added a little potting mix and I occasionally throw in some fertiliser, and water it from time to time, and there you are, free lemon grass year after year.
The easiest and quickest way to get your lemon grass going is from division. Depending how rough you are, break off a chunk of the clump, this can be one small individual piece or even one large group of stems, and so long as you have sufficient roots in good condition. Simply place the base of the stork of lemon grass with its roots into the mix and water it in well. Give it reasonable care for the next few weeks until it is settled and beware of winds and other weather conditions, which may knock it over for example. This can be remedied by simply putting in a stake and tying a little bit of cloth around them both.
Unless your region is very cold, you can plant seeds from spring to autumn, if you are very cold, plant either spring or summer, either way, don’t plant during winter as it really doesn’t like it, and it won’t germinate.
To get going fill almost to the top of a 100mm or 4″pot with vegetable potting mix and gently press down the mix, with your hands, then make four small holes about 75mm or 3″ apart at 6mm or 1/4″ deep with your finger and drop in 3 – 4 seeds per hole, cover over and water in.
Your cute little seedlings should pop out in about 14 – 21 days, if the temperature is above 20 C. If you have too many, just thin out the weaker looking ones without damaging the good strong ones. Place the container into full sun to part shade, water regularly and give it a little fertiliser every now and again.
As your lemon grass gets bigger all you need to do is transfer it into a larger container, add some fresh potting mix with some compost or manure, water it in and away you go, even more lemon grass to enjoy or share swap or trade with your neighbours.
Please remember, this blog cannot replace a health care professional, and is for informational and educational purposes only and is not for medical advice or treatment. If you have a known serious condition, or are pregnant, please consult your health care professional, before use.
Russell a.k.a The Herbarius