Lemongrass is not only a beautiful ornamental plant but also works miracles in the kitchen, providing a delicate lemony flavor when added to soups, teas, and other dishes.
Lemongrass creates a tall, billowy plant with long blades that resemble blades of grass that sway in the wind. It’s an easy-care plant that will increase the curb appeal of your home and the flavor of your meals.
Use our tips to grow your own amazing lemongrass plants, and to learn how to harvest it!
What Is Lemongrass?
Lemongrass is a plant renowned for its distinctive lemony scent. It is part of the grass family and is grown as a culinary herb.
Lemongrass is commonplace in many tropical climates and is popular in cuisines from Thailand, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and India.
Lemongrass’ Latin name is Cymbopogon citratus. There are many other useful Cymbopogon species, including:
- East Indian Lemongrass, also known as Malabar or Cochin grass (Cymbopogon flexousus). This plant is very similar to our common lemon grass except that it grows taller, tends to be more vigorous, and has red coloring at the base of its stems.
- Palmarosa (Cymbopogon martinii motia), also known as Indian Geranium. This is a clumping perennial plant also, but with finer leaves. It flowers several times a year with flowers that emit a beautiful rose-like fragrance. It is where palmarosa essential oil comes from.
- Citronella grass (Cymbopogon nardus). This grass is an extremely vigorous grower with red stems. It is where citronella oil comes from, well-known for its insect repellent properties. Citronella grass actually makes a great cup of tea!
What Does Lemongrass Taste Like?
Lemongrass has a distinctive lemony taste, and there is a fascinating reason for this!
It actually contains the same essential oil as lemons, hence the similarity in flavor.
Lemongrass also adds a hint of ginger to food and when fresh, it has a subtle floral, minty taste. Dried lemongrass tastes woodier than the fresh version.
What Is Lemongrass Good for?
There are many health benefits to lemongrass – it is thought to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and can help relieve muscle pain. It is also fantastic as a culinary herb, with many different uses.
Lemongrass can also be used to make essential oil, used in aromatherapy and cosmetics. It is also a potent insect repellent, especially when combined with citronella.
Lemongrass makes a great companion plant in fruit tree guilds and as a barrier to keep weeds from encroaching into your garden.
It’s useful as a snake barrier, too! Plant a thick layer of it if you want it to use it this way.
Lemongrass plants develop a thick, mat-like root system, which makes it excellent for erosion control. I’m currently using Vetiver grass for this purpose, but lemongrass would be a useful substitution.
Finally, lemongrass leaves make a great mulch. Use it for permaculture chop-and-drop, or simply chop the leaves where you want the mulch.
How to Use Lemongrass
Lemongrass can be used either fresh or dried.
The fresh variety is preferred for cooking, as the flavor is more complex and intense. The leaves can be used as a lemon flavoring in herbal teas.
When cooking with lemongrass, the lower bulbous part of the stalk is the most tender and flavorsome section. The upper woody part is normally trimmed off and discarded.
Most recipes ask for lemongrass to be used as a whole stalk. If this is the case, crush it gently beforehand to help release the flavors. The stalk is then removed from the dish when it is cooked.
If the recipe calls for lemongrass to be minced or finely sliced, this will not be removed from the dish before serving. In this situation, it is vital to avoid including any woody parts of the stem.
How to Grow Lemongrass
It can be tricky getting to grips with growing a tropical plant like lemongrass, but it is well worth the effort!
Fresh lemongrass is far superior to the dried version found in grocery stores, and you can dry the excess to use as tea and during the winter when the plant will be dormant.
These fresh lemongrass stalks can be used to propagate your own plants. Place them in a glass of water in a bright position indoors until they develop roots. Once they do, pot them into a good quality potting soil or your garden and water them regularly until they establish themselves.
Mulch well once planted and they will be a low-maintenance plant you'll enjoy for years to come.
Where to Grow Lemongrass
Lemongrass is a tropical plant and needs to be planted in a location that receives full sun.
Any location that receives less than 6-hours of direct sunlight each day will cause the plant to produce very few blades and make the plant weak and susceptible to pest infestation.
Lemongrass also needs heat and moisture to thrive. If your climate can provide this plant with an environment that mimics the tropics, lemongrass with grow beautifully for you.
If you aren’t in a hot climate, try growing it indoors in a warm, sunny location, a greenhouse, or a sunroom.
The Best Soil for Lemongrass
Rich, loamy, slightly sandy soil like you would find naturally in a tropical environment is lemongrass’ preferred soil condition.
Start with the soil you have and incorporate compost, well-rotted animal manure, leaf mold, and a little sand to meet the soil requirements. Fertile and well-draining soil is required – this plant will not tolerate soggy or compacted soil conditions.
Best Temperature for Growing Lemongrass
Warm, tropical temperature is required for healthy, productive lemongrass. When nighttime spring temperatures are in the 60s F, it’s time to plant.
The plant can be grown in-ground in climates with very mild winter weather but in cold climates lemongrass will need to be treated as an annual plant or grown in a container.
Bring containers of lemongrass indoors to overwinter before temperatures get into the 40s F at night and before the first frost in fall.
Fertilizing and Watering Lemongrass
All ornamental grasses need to be fed with nitrogen-rich fertilizer to enable the grass to produce its best top growth.
You can use a slow-release 6-4-0 fertilizer (organic or synthetic) that will keep the lemongrass fed throughout the growing season. Mix a 1/2-cup of 6-4-0 plant food into the soil at planting time and use it as a side-dressing for the grass once a month.
Use manure tea or seaweed solution for watering lemongrass once a week to keep the grass hydrated, nourished, and improve soil structure.
Make manure tea (or compost tea) by placing 1-cup of manure or compost is a piece of cheesecloth and tie the ends together to create a teabag. Place the teabag in a 5-gallon bucket of water and place the bucket in the sun for 2-3 days to steep.
Lemongrass is not a drought-tolerant plant and will need to be watered frequently to keep the soil moist.
How to Harvest Lemongrass
When your lemongrass plant is well established and has a good number of healthy stalks, you will be able to start harvesting the stalks and leaves.
As this plant has a short growing season, we want to make the most of the lemongrass during this time! Luckily, there are several ways that lemongrass can be preserved to enjoy it through the colder months too.
Use a hand-held garden trowel to remove individual stalks, roots and all, from a clump of lemongrass. The inner stalks are white, tender, and juicy, and can be chopped for immediate use or the stalks can be frozen whole for later use.
These pieces of lemongrass stalk with roots can be used to propagate lemongrass as well.
Replant the whole piece in another spot in your garden or a container. Water in with seaweed solution to reduce stress and keep your rooted cutting moist for a couple of weeks.
You can also harvest lemongrass by simply snipping a piece of stem, rather than digging out the whole clump. These pieces of stem last a few weeks in the fridge and they’re delicious in many meals!
The green leafy grass blades are too tough to eat but can be snipped off and used to make tea or broth, as well as garden mulch.
Harvesting Lemongrass for Tea
Lemongrass tea is generally made from dried leaves, but can also be made from fresh stalks.
For the dried leaf version (which is amazing to have in your pantry!), cut the lemongrass leaves into small pieces and lay them on a drying screen or paper towels in a warm, dry place, out of direct sunlight.
When the leaves are completely dry they can be stored in a jar in a cool dark place.
How to Make Lemongrass Tea
To make lemongrass tea:
- Cut a few long leaves (two or more) finely with scissors.
- Infuse the leaves in 1-2 cups of boiling water for 3-5 minutes.
- Strain the tea before serving to remove the leaves.
You can also make lemongrass tea from fresh stalks, by boiling them in water for ten minutes. This is a great way to make use of the woody part of the stem, which would otherwise be discarded.
Chilled lemongrass tea, sweetened with honey if you prefer, makes a great, refreshing drink to enjoy during the day. Boil up a big teapot in the morning and chore it in the fridge to drink throughout the day.
Supercharge your lemongrass iced tea with ginger or mint!
Harvesting Lemongrass Seeds
Lemongrass flowers in the fall and forms seeds during the winter months, so you will only be able to harvest the seeds if your plant is kept warm and thriving.
To harvest the seeds, wait until it has finished flowering and the seeds have formed. The seed heads are cut off the plant and hung by the stalks to dry.
Traditionally, the seeds would then be harvested by bashing the seed heads against the floor.
How to Store Lemongrass
Fresh lemongrass should be stored in the refrigerator, loosely wrapped in a plastic bag. It should stay good to eat for up to three weeks but if you are not going to use it all in this time, you can pop it in the freezer.
Freezing lemongrass helps to release the flavor of this versatile herb and means you can have a constant supply of fresh stalks right through the winter.
Dried lemongrass can last 2-3 years when you store in it an airtight container (or vacuum seal it!) at room temperature. Add some oxygen absorbers for long-term storage.
Frequently Asked Questions
We’re sure you’re bursting with questions about harvesting and using lemongrass! Here is everything else you might want to know about this incredibly culinary herb.
Do you grow your own lemongrass? How will you harvest it when the time comes?