Herb Garden Essentials: Boost Your Zesty Lemongrass

This sturdy herb can easily be mistaken for a decorative grass, but unlike most other blossoms, this one is edible and is a staple in Asian Asian as well as other tropical cuisines. The plants usually hit 3 to 4 feet tall — a few take up even higher — and spread to 3 feet wide. The 1/2- to 1-inch-wide leaves and bulb-like base seem similar to those of a very green onion or leek.

Several species are available, however, the most commonly developed is West Indian lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus). You may discover seeds for East Indian lemongrass (C. flexaosus) as well. Another family member, C. nardus, is best recognized by its common name, citronella.

Missouri Botanical Garden

Light requirement: Full sun to partial shade
Water necessity: Regular
Prime rising season: Spring through autumn
Favorite: West Indian

Planting and maintenance: It is ideal to plant West Indian lemongrass from cuttings or divisions, though you can find seeds for East Indian lemongrass. You can also root lemongrass stalks you find in specialty markets and grocery stores.

Plant when the danger of frost has passed and the soil temperature reaches 55 degrees Fahrenheit (13 degrees Celsius). Select a spot in full sun to partial shade with well-composted soil. Bury stalks 3 inches deep or sow seeds two inches deep. Provide regular water and add a high-nitrogen fertilizer once a month throughout the growing season.

Lemongrass has antifungal and antibacterial qualities, and as a result is quite pest free. Take care when working around it, since the grass blades can have sharp edges and may lead to irritation.

Lemongrass, using its tropical origins in Southeast Asia, does best in very mild climates, though it is going to die back and reestablish in spring in somewhat colder climates. You can also grow it in a pot and bring it indoors during winter. Another choice is to grow it as an annual.

Harvest: You can begin to harvest when the plant reaches a foot in height and the blades are about 1/2 inch thick. Cut off the stalks just above floor level.

Utilize the bottom third of each stalk; the rest of the blade is very tough. Peel off the outer sheathing and pound or twist the inner stem to release the oils. You can also finely mince the inner stem to use in cooking, but it can be extremely hard to chew. Keep the bits really small or eliminate them before serving.

Lemongrass is best new, but you can dry or suspend the stalks to conserve them.

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