Garden View: Lemongrass for gardens, tea, cuisine and medicine

I had the opportunity to host three women farmers a few years ago for a morning. They were part of an agricultural exchange program sponsored by the Farm Bureau. One lady was from Egypt, one from Ecuador and one from Gabon, Africa. I took the ladies for a walk through a herb garden, and they were all thrilled to see lemongrass. For each of them, lemongrass was an important part of the medicinal and culinary culture of their respective countries. While the culinary uses varied, all of us used lemongrass tea to calm tummy aches and relieve fevers.ww As with many plants, lemongrass has probably traveled with traders to tropical areas around the world. It is likely native to tropical Africa and Asia, especially India and Sri Lanka. Several grasses in the Genus Cymbopogon have been used, most commonly Cymbopogon citratus and Cymbopogon flexuosus. Today, Cymbopogon flexuosus is usually used to produce essential oils for fragrance and Cymbopogon citratus is the popular plant used for tea and in culinary arts. Thai and Chinese cuisine would not be the same without lemongrass in soups and in stir fry, especially featuring seafood.

Lemongrass is easy to grow in full sun in the Rio Grande Valley. It requires well drained soils to thrive and will rot if the roots sit in water for more than a day or two. When planting, give it at least three feet from other plants so that it can reach its full potential.

It is nice to plant along a pathway so that the lemon fragrance is released when someone brushes against it.

Lemongrass will also adapt to containers, especially if there is concern about soil drainage. It will grow in South Texas for many years, as long as it receives deep irrigation twice a month during our warm months. Rainfall usually provides enough moisture during cooler months.

The tender, edible part of a stem is close to the ground. For culinary uses, harvest stems when they reach at least one fourth inch in diameter. Cut them off at the ground. The leaves may be used fresh in tea, or dried to use later. The bottom of the stem, where it is most tender, is the part that is usually sliced for use in cooking, especially in stir fry. Slice about one fourth inch thick and at an angle to get the most of the aroma.

Lemongrass has been shown to have both antifungal and antibacterial properties, which support its traditional uses. For teas, lemongrass can be used fresh or dried. It can also be used with other herbs, or with rose petals for additional benefits.

Today, lemongrass can be found at the Growing Growers Farmers Market in McAllen, both dried and fresh. The market also has recipes for a bit of inspiration in using this versatile herb. The Growing Growers Farmers Market is located in Firemen’s Park, 201 First Street, on the corner of Business 83. Market hours are 9 to noon. For more information about the Market, call (956) 3306410.

Barbara Storz is a local horticulturist. She can be reached by e-mail at barbarastorz@hotmail.com.