Cymbopogon citratus: Lemongrass

Family: Poaceae
Common name: Lemongrass, Lemon grass, West Indian lemongrass

Lemongrass was a very popular crop in Kerala during the olden days, homes having their own vats for lemongrass oil extraction, called Pul thailam. India is one of the largest producers of lemongrass, and most of the produce is exported.

These plants belong to the grass family of Poaceae, and grow to a height of 1-1.2 meters with long thin blades of leaves that are 80-90 cms long and 2-3 cms wide.

Lemongrass leaves do no have any stalk connecting them to the stem, and they taper well towards the tip resulting in a long, pointy end that droops down. They can form large clumps through small suckers that grow around the parent plant.

These plants produce flowers on long, slender spikes; and also long rice-like brown seeds. For harvesting, the entire inflorescence is cut, dried, and threshed to remove the seeds.

Common varieties used in cooking are East Indian lemongrass or Cymbopogon flexuosus and West Indian lemongrass or Cymbopogon citratus. The name citratus comes from the intense lemony odor of the leaves.

Cymbopogon is a genus of over 140 species, most of them clump-forming grasses with long, thin blades of leaves. Lemongrass has culinary as well as medicinal uses. It is used extensively in Asian cuisine, especially in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, India, and China.

The stem is used in chicken, pork, salads, coconut-based curries, and soups. Lemongrass tea is a refreshing drink that promotes digestion, helps lower blood pressure and cholesterol with its antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties.

The oil derived from lemongrass is a good mosquito repellent and pesticide. Hence it is a key ingredient in mosquito repellent products like vaporizer liquids and incense sticks. It is also used in aromatherapy, and in the production of perfumes, soaps, cosmetics, shampoos, hair care, and skincare products.

Lemongrass also has many medicinal uses in the treatment of digestive disorders, diabetes, hypertension, fever, headache, cough, vomiting, dysentery, stomach pain, oral thrush, and convulsions. Widely used in traditional herbal medicine, these plants help in relieving pain, inflammation, and stress.

Lemongrass grows well in warm, humid climates; and good sunlight. In India, East Indian and West Indian lemongrass is grown extensively in South Indian states like Kerala, Tamilnadu, and Karnataka.

Several new hybrids like Praman, Pragati, Jama Rosa, CKP 25, and RRL 16 have been developed, that give varying quantities of citral in essential oils.

Propagation is through seeds and root division.