If you enjoy making foods from Southeast Asia, you will want to grow lemongrass. The tender portions of this aromatic grass provide a light lemon flavor used in teas, soups, and stir-fry dishes.
Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) grows in clumps of tightly wrapped leaves with a bulbous base. The inner core is pale green and tender, somewhat resembling the lower part of a green onion. The light green strap leaves are finely serrated. Lemongrass generally grows about 3 feet high, although it might grow to six feet high in ideal conditions.
Lemongrass needs little care and insects rarely attack the plant. Like most shallow-rooted grasses, it enjoys having regular water but once established it can manage just fine on occasional rain.
In late fall, trim your clump to about four inches from the ground. This will remove the leaves, which will be looking a bit tattered from the weather. If you see dead areas in the middle of the clump, that will be your clue that it is time to divide and replant the lemongrass. It will also stimulate new growth in the spring.
Lemongrass is regarded as a tender perennial in the Southwest. It is hardy only for Zones 10 and 11, but it will survive mild winters with brief frosts. Because of its size and frost sensitivity, you may want to grow it in a large container and place it where it will enjoy full sun. Water deeply and regularly. At the first sign of frost, bring lemongrass indoors for protection through the winter.
Always use gloves when handling lemongrass. The fine serration on the edges of the leaves can cut you before you know it. Lemongrass has also been known in rare cases to cause contact dermatitis (itching, reddening, even blisters), another good reason for those gloves. To harvest, grab several leaf clusters that are at least one-half inch in diameter at the base. Using a hand shovel or garden saw to assist, remove them from the main clump. Clip off all but 8 inches of the leaf base, discarding the tougher, less flavorful green leaves.
In the Kitchen
In the kitchen, lemongrass can provide a light lemon flavor to foods. It is a regular addition to Asian soups. Try it next time you make egg drop soup. Tender slices can be used in making herbal tea. You also can add it to instant pot recipes for a mild flavor boost.