lemongrass: image by szefei

Lemon Grass

Lemon grass (Cymbopogon citratus), a native of India, is widely used in Thai and Vietnamese cooking.

Article by: Barbara Bowman

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About Lemongrass

Lemon grass (Cymbopogon citratus), a native of India, is widely used in Thai and Vietnamese cooking. Lemon grass is a perennial, which means once you plant it, the grass comes back year after year. Depending on the area you live in the plant will go dormant in the winter. In harsh climates the plant will need to be potted and wintered indoors. This aromatic herb is used in Caribbean and many types of Asian cooking and has become very popular in the United States. Most of the commercial crops for the United States are grown in California and Florida. Lemon grass is also used for medicinal purposes.

Other Names (from
French: Citronnelle
German: Zitronengras
Italian: erba di limone
Spanish: hierba de limon
Indian: bhustrina, sera
Indonesian: sere, sereh
Lao: bai mak nao
Malay: serai
Sinhalese: sera
Thai: takrai

Culinary Uses


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This is a very pungent herb and is normally used in small amounts. The entire stalk of the grass can be used.  The grass blade can be sliced very fine and added to soups.   The bulb can be bruised and minced for use in a variety of recipes. (See recipes at the bottom of this page). 

The light lemon flavor of this grass blends well with garlic, chilies, and cilantro.   The herb is frequently used in curries as well as in seafood soups. It is also used to make tea.

Buy And Store

Lemon grass is available in ethnic markets such as Asian and Mexican. Select fresh looking stalks that don't look dry or brittle. Store fresh lemon grass in the refrigerator in a tightly sealed plastic bag for up to 3 weeks. You can also freeze it for about 6 months without any flavor loss.

In addition to fresh, lemon grass may be purchased dried or powdered. The dried product has to be soaked in hot water and reconstituted before use. The powdered variety is useful in teas and curries but it's not a good substitute for the fresh product. For best results in recipes use the fresh herb.

Medicinal And Other Uses

This grass is rich in a substance called citral, the active ingredient in lemon peel. This substance is said to aid in digestion as well as relieve spasms, muscle cramps, rheumatism and headaches.

Lemon grass is also used commercially as the lemon scent in many products including soaps, perfumes and candles. A related plant, (Cymbopogon nardus) is the ingredient in citronella candles sold to ward off mosquitoes and other insects.

Featured Recipe

Lemon Grass Beef w/chili Bo Xao Xa Ot by Doug
2-3 pounds beef (or chicken)
4 cloves garlic
1 large yellow or white onion
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons minced lemon grass
1 teaspoon ground chilies (to taste)
4 tablespoon fish sauce (Nuoc Mam)
2-3 spring (green) onion stalks
2-3 tablespoons coarsely ground peanuts
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoons honey

Cut beef into small pieces (either "nuggets" or small strips).
Peel garlic and slice finely.
Cut onion into 1/2 inch strips.
Peel off the hard outer layers of lemon grass stalk and discard.
Peel off the medium layers of lemon grass stalk for stewing purposes
Mince the soft inner layers of the stalk.
Heat oil in large frying pan over medium heat.
Add salt, garlic and onion.
Fry over medium heat until onion is opaque.
Add lemon grass and chili.
Fry 1 - 2 minutes until fragrant.
Add beef and cook until lightly browned.
Mix in fish sauce, sugar and honey.
Cook until beef is the way you like it.
Stir occasionally and add water if necessary.
Remove the medium layers of lemon grass stalk before serving

Serving Instructions
Serve over white rice.  Garnish with peanuts and thin slices of spring onion stalk.   I like mine with a Vietnamese chili-garlic sauce (Tuong Ot Toi Viet Nam: it's the best hot sauce EVER- I sometimes use it in the recipe instead of the garlic and pepper).  (The above notes are provided by the recipe author)

Charmaine Solomon's Encyclopedia of Asian Food
This comprehensive reference book provides advice on buying, preparing, and storing ingredients, as well as explanations of Asian cooking techniques and guide to special utensils. More than 500 recipes, including the classic dishes of each country--are provided. 28 full-page color photos. 96 color illustrations $27.96
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Try this recipe for Steamed Mussels with Chile & Lemongrass: You can buy the classic seafood stock here:

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Lemon Grass Recipes

Grow Lemon Grass At Home

Germinate Seed
Morgan Thompson Seed

Sow from late January to March on the surface of a good seed compost just covering the seed with a thin layer of compost or vermiculite. Germination takes 21-40 days at 20-25C (70-75F). Sealing in a polyethylene bag after sowing is helpful. When large enough to handle, transplant the seedlings to boxes or 7.5cm (3in) pots. When well grown gradually acclimates to outdoor conditions and plant out in late spring 30cm (12in) apart after all risk of frost, in a warm, sheltered spot in full sun and moist, well drained soil. Keep well watered and give the occasional liquid feed. To over winter, lift in early autumn, pot up and grow through the winter in a greenhouse with a minimum winter temperature of 7C (45F).  Keep well watered throughout the summer, just moist through the winter.
 Lemon Grass Stalk
Freshly picked Lemon Grass Stalk

Pull a stalk up firmly close to the root end and snap it off.  Best picked just prior to using. 

Sources for Seeds & Live PlantsRenee's Garden - Sells small potted lemon grass plant
Seedman - Sells lemon grass seeds
Morgan Thompson Seed - Sells lemon grass seeds, ships worldwide
Mountain Valley Growers - sells live plants

Medicinal Uses and Related Information
Nuoc Mam - Read about this Vietnamese ingredient

Cooking Tip (Bruising)

"Bruising" is a common term found in recipes that call for using lemon grass. This process releases the flavor of the grass just as you would do with garlic.  Simply press down on the bulb end of the lemon grass with the side of a large knife (such as a Chef's knife) or pound lightly with a kitchen mallet.

Substitutions & Equivalents

You can substitute fresh lemon zest, Sereh powder, as well as lemon balm or lemon verbena.

One small trimmed stalk = 1 Tablespoon dried
Powdered lemon grass is found under the name "Sereh powder" and a teaspoon is = 1 small stalk.
Zest of 1 lemon =  2 small lemon grass stalks

Lemon grass Nutrition

1 tablespoon, raw
Total fat (g)
Saturated fat (g)0
Monounsaturated fat (g)0
Polyunsaturated fat (g)0
Dietary fiber (g)0
Protein (g).087
Carbohydrate (g)1.214
Cholesterol (mg)0
Sodium (mg)0.288
Vitamin C (mg)0.125