The zestiest of grasses

Lemongrass is widely used in Asian cuisine,and it offers more than just lemony flavour.

Although, clump-forming grass that reaches 2m in height and over 1m in spread, lemongrass doesn’t look very appetising. And when you touch it, it feels far too rough and tough to eat, too. But break off a leaf and rub it between your fingers, and you will be rewarded with a deliciously lemony scent. Chew a bit and the lemon hit is backed up by gingery tones for an almost overwhelming flavour sensation. It is this flavour that has made lemongrass such a vital component of Thai cooking in particular, and Asian cooking in general. The best news? It’s almost impossible to kill in the garden!

An evergreen, lemongrass is very easy to grow, needing rich, well-draining soil and a moderate amount of water. Plant in full sun or morning sun with afternoon shade, and feed at the beginning of spring for optimal growth. This grass comes from the tropics, as you can see from the cuisine it features in, so it is not cut out for frost. It can survive light frost if you plant it in a protected spot and mulch the roots heavily over winter, or you can plant it in a container and move the pot into a sheltered position for the coldest months. It will most likely die back over winter but should sprout once again in spring. Plants should be cut back in spring to encourage new growth. 

Lemongrass is seldom affected by pests or diseases, but fungal diseases can be a problem during long rainy spells. The easiest cure for this is to cut the leaves right back and dispose of the affected matter.In the garden, you can use the cut leaves as an insect-repelling mulch around your ornamentals or other veg. It can be planted with other herbs, especially lemon balm and thyme or mint, and also does well when grown alongside lucerne. If you have a steep bank that needs stabilising, lemongrass could be the answer – it is used for this exact purpose in Asia, and can still be harvested for culinary use. To propagate, divide large plants, making sure that each clump has some intact rhizomatous roots. Plant the divisions and they should get going with alacrity in the right conditions. Another option is to grow your own crop from shop-bought pieces of stem. Root them by allowing water to just cover the base of the stems until roots develop. 

When cooking, it is the inner core of the bulbous part of the ‘stem’ just above the roots that is most prized. To use it, first peel it then slice or grind or pound before adding it to the lucky dish. It pairs very well with poultry, beef, fish and pork. You can also use a bunch of leaves, tied together, to flavour tea or milk or puddings. Lemongrass offers more than just a citrus flavour, and actually contains a number of beneficial compounds including vitamins A, B3, B6, B5, C and folate, and potassium, calcium, copper and magnesium. It can be used as a tea to treat microbial issues, sore throats, digestive and bladder issues, stress and rheumatism. It is also a popular plant for aromatherapy.

The Gardener