Lemon grass is exactly what the name suggests- a grass that smells of lemons. It is a native of the tropics and is said to originate in India and South East Asia. The tough stringy stalks are used in Thai and Vietnamese food.
Lemon grass is actually the name given to several grasses which contain essential oils with citral. This gives them their unique lemon scent which is most noticeable in the fresh leaves and stems.
Lemon grass is long, fibrous and coarse in texture. It has a bulbous portion at the root end, the insides of which are softer than the outside. It is this portion that is most often employed as a flavouring in food. This bulb-like portion can be sliced, minced, ground or pounded and added to food. The dried powder is called “Sereh powder”.
As with most herbs, fresh lemon grass is preferred to the dried stalks though this is also used. In their dried form the stalks are available cut or sliced, as a powder or as an essential oil.
Store lemon grass stems in a paper bag in the refrigerator. They can last upto 2 to 3 weeks like this. The grass can also be frozen, and will keep for upto three months but frozen lemon grass does not have such an intense aromatic flavour. The leaves should be stored in airtight containers separately from the stalks and also from other food that tends to absorb this strong aroma.
Lemon grass is inseparable from Thai, Malasian and Indonesian food and is also used in Sri Lankan and Indian cooking. Most often used in dishes like curries,(meat, poultry, seafood and vegetables) where coconut milk is used. It's lemon flavour provides balance to the unctuousness of that extract.
Lemon Grass stalks are also infused into teas, pickles and marinades.Sereh Powder is used along with other herbs and spices as a rub for grilled meats.
To use sereh-powder as a substitute, one teaspoon of the powder may be substituted for one stem of the fresh grass. If dried lemon grass is used, it must be soaked for two hours in tepid water before using in food.
An elegant and fragrant substitute for a satay stick is a stick of lemon grass which may be used to spear pieces of meat, poultry, seafood or vegetables before they are grilled.
Lemon grass essential oil is used in the following ways:-
- As a Digestive Aid the oil helps the digestion and is used as a treatment for colitis, indigestion and gastro-enteritis.
- As a Pain reliever: The topical application of the oil helps to relieve muscular pains, back-aches, rheumatic pains and headaches.
- As an anti depressant.
- It is also employed as a diuretic and to treat kidney infections.
- Its high Vitamin A content makes it an immune and circulatory booster.
- As a respiratory tonic it helps cure respiratory infections like sore throats, laryngitis and fever.
- It is also useful in the treatment of skin infections like acne and athlete's foot and scabies.
- In traditional Indian medicine, lemon grass and pepper are combined to treat menstrual problems and stomach ailments. This mixture also causes the patient to sweat, thereby cooling the body and bringing down a fever.
Use in Aromatherapy
Lemon Grass oil is used often in aromatherapy on account of its refreshing, rejuvenating and energising properties. It also helps restore balanced thinking. In skin care it is efficaccious for the treatment of oily, coarse, mature skin with conditions such as pore enlargement. Smalll amounts may be used to treat irritated skin as well.
Lemon grass oil is used in oil blends for therapies. It is comoonly mixed with the following oils- lavender, geranium, bergamot, frankincense, petitgrain, thyme, cinnamon, clove, basil, peppermint, rosemary, ylang ylang.
Lemon grass should be administered with extreme caution in cases where the skin is damaged or extremely sensitive. It should be avoided completely in the case of children and in cases where the patient has glaucoma. A sensitivity test must always be done in any case.
- The Book of Ingredients: Philip Dowell and Adrian Bailey; Penguin/ Mermaid Books 1993
- The Complete Book of Herbs; A practical guide to growing and using herbs: Lesley Bremness: Dorling Kindersley 1988