Lemongrass – growing natural resilience

Easy, undemanding and prolific, a clump of lemongrass is an investment in every garden, no matter how small!

A favourite in the herb garden, lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) has become more and more popular. It’s used fresh as a flavouring in many dishes and drinks, as an essential oil, and commercially as an ingredient in soaps, detergents, perfumes and a wide range of cosmetics, particularly men’s aftershaves. In the food industry lemongrass is extensively used as flavouring in sauces, syrups, alcoholic drinks and soft drinks, in a wide range of confectionery, and in baked goods and prepared desserts.


Lemongrass needs full sun, richly composted soil, and a long, slow weekly or twice- weekly watering. It withstands strong winds, hailstorms, intense heat and long periods of drought, and it even survives in light frost. Like all grasses it becomes dry and almost dormant in winter, and in very cold areas will need good protection. A mini-hothouse of thick clear plastic on a frame is ideal – lift it off in the sunny winter days and replace it for the cold nights.

A clump can be separated easily, and each piece carefully pulled away with roots at- tached. Replant in a long furrow of compost- rich, deeply-dug soil, spaced 1 metre apart.

Lemongrass is a vigorous perennial, and it can grow to around 75cm to one metre in height. Each spring give it at least two buckets of good compost, lightly dug in all around the clump, and water it in well by building up ‘dams’ around it so the water will be retained and can slowly soak in.


Fresh is best! The unique and delicious flavour of lemongrass can be enjoyed in many ways, and features strongly in many Oriental dishes. The finely chopped base of the leaf cluster is an essential ingredient in Thai cooking particularly, and it is delicious in stir fries, soups, stews, and both hot and cold drinks. Once you taste it you will never want to be without it, as there is no flavour quite like it, and it enhances every dish or drink it goes into. Add a lemongrass leaf to the water while cooking rice, millet or hulled buck- wheat, add chopped lemongrass leaf base to stir fries, cheese and egg dishes and fish dishes, or add it to marinades, rubs, salts, sauces and oils.

We have perfected our lemongrass cooldrink in my Herbal Centre restaurant, and it remains a favourite.

Lemongrass Tea

Pour 1 cup of boiling water over ¼ cup of chopped lemongrass leaf. Stir well, pressing the pieces of lemongrass thoroughly. Let stand for 5 minutes. Strain, sweeten with a touch of honey and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, and sip slowly, either hot or chilled.

Lemongrass Cooldrink (serves 4-6)

  • 1 cup fresh lemongrass leaves, chopped 1 litre boiling water
  • 1 litre unsweetened fruit juice, such as litchi, granadilla, grape or marula

Pour boiling water over the lemongrass leaves, let stand until cool, strain and add the fruit juice. If you want it sweetened, add stevia leaves, but boxed with unsweetened juices or your own fresh fruit juices, are usually sweet enough. Serve chilled on crushed ice.

Lemongrass salad oil

Not only is this exquisite lemongrass oil delicious as a dressing for salad, but it gives a fabulous taste to stir fries and to fried fish. Try lightly browning cooked potato wedges in it for a roast chicken Sunday lunch!

In a double boiler simmer 1 cup of fresh chopped lemongrass leaves and leaf base with 1½ cups of olive oil for 30 minutes, stirring frequently and pressing the lemongrass well. Then strain and pour the now richly flavoured oil into a dark glass bottle with a well- fitted lid. You’ll find that the taste this brings to ordinary dishes makes them something re- ally special, and it makes a wonderful gift too.

Lemongrass powder

Lemongrass powder, known as ‘sereh powder’, has been an ingredient in Asian cooking for centuries.

To make it, cut thick, pale lemongrass leaf bases into tiny slices and dry them thor- oughly. Once completely dry, pound in a big mortar with a heavy pestle until a fine ‘powder’ is formed. Seal in a glass jar and label. Use a little to flavour stews, stir fries and soups. Try adding a little crushed sea salt to the powder for fish dishes.


Lemongrass is an excellent digestive. It stimulates cell regeneration and soothes intestinal infections, acting quickly on pathogenic flora, even the dysentery bacillus, and the mucous membranes of the whole digestive system.

Lemongrass tea acts as a tonic, soothing fevers, gastric upsets, colitis, and digestive dis- turbances such as bloating, diarrhoea, gripe, colic and nausea.

For muscle pain after intense exertion, aching shoulders, backache, aching legs or muscular strains after sport, and for long-distance runners, a soothing massage cream made with fresh lemongrass has stood the test of time and remains as popular today as it was centuries ago.

Lemongrass essential oil has analgesic, anti-bacterial, antimicrobial and antiseptic prop- erties. It is a useful deodorant when made into a wash, has antidepressant properties, and is a valuable antioxidant with astringent, carminative, tonic and even sedative properties.

Cooled lemongrass tea can be used as a wash or lotion to treat most skin problems, from athlete’s foot (it makes a fantastic footbath!) to oily problem skin. It refines large pores, gives a sheen to dull dry hair, treats dry, itchy scalp, and can be used as a wash or spritz spray for sunburn, chafed skin and blisters. I also continue to make lemongrass soap. Safe, effective and refreshing, I regard it as the best soap there is for athletes and sportsmen, for gardeners, and for sunburn!

Lemongrass massage cream

  • 1 cup chopped lemongrass leaves
  • 1 cup good aqueous cream
  • 2 teaspoons vitamin E oil
  • 10 drops lemongrass or lemon essential oil

Simmer the chopped lemongrass leaves in a double boiler with the aqueous cream for 20 minutes, stirring frequently and pressing the leaves down well. Strain. Add the vitamin E oil and the lemongrass oil and mix thoroughly. Spoon into a sterilised glass jar with a well-fitted lid and label. Use warmed, by standing the jar in a bowl of hot water.

Lemongrass wash or spritz spray Simmer 3 cups of chopped lemongrass leaves in 4 litres of water for 30 minutes in a stainless steel pot, keeping the lid on and stirring frequently. Cool and strain. Use lavishly and make it fresh every time you need it, as a wash for the feet, the face and the hair, and as a soothing, refreshing underarm wash for excessive perspiration.


Lemongrass makes an effective insect repellant. Dilute lemongrass essential oil in al- mond oil – the ratio is usually 1 in 10 – and use it to keep mosquitoes, ticks and fleas at bay. It can be rubbed onto the legs and feet when hiking. Lemongrass can also be used to make a valuable insect-repelling spray in the garden. Splash or spray it over insect-infested plants, water it into beds where seeds are to be sown, or use as it a spritz spray to combat mildew and fungal attack. Soak seeds in the brew for an hour before sowing, and they will flourish!

Lemongrass Spray For the Garden

1 bucket of lemongrass leaves, roughly chopped and mixed with 1 bucket of marigold or khakibos leaves, sprigs and stalks. Cover with boiling water and stir well for 10 minutes. Cover and stand overnight, and strain it the next day. Use it lavishly everywhere, and dig the discarded lemongrass and khakibos into the compost heap!

Its wide range of applications makes the faithful lemongrass a true panacea – there is no other herb like it. With its incredible natural constituents of citral, linalool, geraniol and dipentene, all of which work on the musculature of the body as well as the circulatory, digestive and immune systems, lemongrass is not only a delight to have in the kitchen but stands out as a valuable natural medicine. It is a herb that no one should ever be without.

Ask for the well-established ready-to-use lemongrass plants at your local nursery under the Margaret Roberts Malanseuns label.


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Lemongrass – growing natural resilience

Margaret Roberts
About The Author
- The Late Margaret Roberts was a herbal pioneer in South Africa and lectures and consults on herbs, medicinal foods and environmentally safe natural insecticides at tertiary institutions countrywide and at her Herbal Centre at De Wildt. She has shared her knowledge through over 40 books and ongoing radio and television series. Margaret received a Laureate Award from Pretoria University in recognition of her outstanding contribution to this field. Remebering her with fondness. RIP