Lemongrass plants are cultivated for their medicinal and mostly, culinary values. They can be found growing wildly especially in Southeast Asia where lemongrass thrives in warm weather. They are often added to stews, curries and teas for its citrusy flavour and fragrance.
zest of half a (fresh) lemon or lime to get its fragrance
The lemongrass plant grows well in tropical countries and can be found growing wildly and also in most home gardens. Due to the warm weather, they thrive easily. It may be mistaken for wild grass as its leaves are quite thin and long. This is not a surprise because lemongrass actually belongs to the grass family. In Asian countries, fresh lemongrass is sold at wet markets or supermarkets. In other parts of the world, it is sold as dried, frozen or even in powder form.
As an ingredient, lemongrass is commonly used in Southeast Asian cuisine. In Malaysia, Burma, Indonesia and Singapore, it is often blended together with other ingredients into a chilli paste to cook various types of curries. Lemongrass is also added to soups or eaten raw as it gives a light hint of citrus fragrance when bitten into. However, it does not contain any acid like that of a citrus fruit. The subtle hint of spiciness from the lemongrass adds a very pleasant flavour to dishes and even drinks such as cocktails. Its flavour and aroma are great when paired with ingredients like chillies, shallots, garlic and cilantro. Lemongrass goes well with sweet drinks and dishes.
In countries where lemongrass is a native plant, it is also used for its medicinal value. Sometimes eaten raw or further processed into oil, lemongrass has a vast value of benefits. Lemongrass is known to be an antibacterial and antifungal agent which is why it works great in treating infections such as skin fungal or yeast infection. Added to that, another study proved the anti-inflammatory effects in lemongrass is effective. Some lab rats were fed with hot water extract of dried lemongrass leaves and clear positive results have been recorded. In a study performed in 2011 proved that lemongrass extract can be used as antioxidant additives or as nutritional supplements. Although the antioxidant activities may not be as effective compared to synthetic supplements, this tropical plant is quite safe as their toxicity is a not a problem of concern, unlike synthetic supplements.
In traditional medicine, lemongrass is also used to cure a cold, cough and fever. Heinerman's Encyclopedia of Healing Herbs suggests consuming lemongrass water every four hours to cure fever. Other usages of lemongrass in traditional medicine include treatment for nervous and gastrointestinal disorders, nausea and menstruation problems and ailments like headaches, muscle cramps, spasms and rheumatisms. There are also claims on weight loss after drinking lemongrass tea as it has a low amount of calories and carbohydrate. However, there has not been any studies supporting these claims.
How to Choose
Choose lemongrass which is firm, tight and not wrinkly. It should not have any bruises especially at the bottom-most part of the plant. The outer layers of the lemongrass that are kept for a long period of time are dry and browned.
It's best to store lemongrass refrigerated in a container filled with water to keep them fresh longer. They usually last up to 1.5 months or more, Do change the water every 2 weeks.
Lemongrass kept in an air-tight container, ziplock bag or wrapped in plastic can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Although still edible, the outer layers of the lemongrass may dry up and begin to turn brown.
Freezing lemongrass for longer storage for up to 6 months is also possible. Slice the bottom-most part of lemongrass and let it air dry on a kitchen towel. It is best to store the sliced lemongrass flat in a plastic for easier usage. Instead of slicing, one can also freeze pureed lemongrass. Note that there may be minor changes to the aroma.
To dry lemongrass, separate the layers of the bottom-most part of a lemongrass and allow it to dry under the hot sun or in a dehydrator. Slice or cut it into smaller pieces if desired. Store in a dark place in an airtight container.
How to Use or Prepare
Step 1 of 3
Remove the bottom tip of the lemongrass stalk which may be browned or dry. Then, cut 6-8 cm of the stalk from the bottom.
Step 2 of 3
Remove the outer leaf which is usually hard to expose the softer leaves. The knife should be able to cut through the stem easily.
Step 3 of 3
Depending on the recipe, blend, pound or slice the lemongrass. If the intention is just to absorb its aroma, lightly pound the tip of the lemongrass and add it into your dish. It can also be used to brush oil onto food during grilling.