Height 70 cm to 1.5 m; spread to 1 m.
Clump-forming, grass-like plant with slender, long-bladed leaves.
Cymbopogon citratus (West Indian lemongrass):
Cymbopogon flexuosus (East Indian lemongrass):
Start with young plants purchased from a garden centre; seed is not readily available.
How much: At least two plants.
When: After danger of frost has passed.
Where: Full sun. Prefers well-drained, sandy soil. Space plants 60 to 90 cm apart.
Care and Nurture
Lemongrass requires some care to grow well. It’s a thirsty plant, so water daily during hot spells. Dry plants won't look wilted, but they need water just the same. Don’t let lemongrass get waterlogged. Good drainage, whether lemongrass is grown indoors or out, is essential to prevent rotting. Plants should be brought indoors for winter; potted lemongrass will keep indoors in a brightly lit area. Propagate by dividing clumps. Lemongrass is susceptible to mites.
Only the bulbous growth of lemongrass is eaten. Cut the stem at the base of plant; discard any roots. Keep only the enlarged base and first 6 to 10 cm of the lower stalk. Discard the leaves and tough outer stalk.
For best flavour: Harvest lemongrass late in the season, when the bulbous bases are large and fleshy.
Leaves: Not eaten.
Flowers: Not eaten.
Preserving the Harvest
Lemongrass is best eaten fresh or preserved by freezing; dried lemongrass gets tough and fibrous. Wrap the peeled, whole base and lower stalk in plastic wrap and freeze in a plastic bag. Wrap well to prevent the strong flavour from infiltrating other foods.
- The outer sheaths of lemongrass are very tough. Peel the stalk to expose the more tender layers; pulverize it to release the flavour. Toss the tough remains on the barbecue coals to produce lemon-scented smoke.
- Use the dried leaf-blades in potpourris and sachets.
Lemongrass is steam-distilled to extract lemongrass oil, which is used in perfumes, soaps, hair oils, herbal baths, and cosmetics.
Lemongrass is also called citronella grass. Citronella oil is used in candles to repel mosquitos.