No Spanish American’s herb garden was complete — at least here in California during the state’s early days — unless it contained te-de-limon, or lemongrass. Then, over the years, the plant, like so many other sources of natural drinks and “cures,” slowly faded from use and cultivation. Today’s renewed and still-growing interest in herbs and herb teas, however, is now bringing te-de-limon back once again: For the first time in years, dried lemongrass is being sold — and purchased! — in health food stores throughout southern California.
Although there seems to be little scientific basis for the claims, Mexican folk medicine holds that the benefits of lemongrass tea include: aiding digestion, calming nervous disorders and helping in the treatment of high blood pressure. Cymbopogon citratus — as the plant is known to the botanist — is also cultivated and distilled in Java, Ceylon, Malaysia and Central America for its oil (which is used in pharmaceutical preparations and skincare products). Furthermore, according to Dorothy Hall’s The Book of Herbs, lemongrass contains vitamin A and is good for “those who wish to have bright eyes and a clear skin.”
Well, I can't vouch for those claims, but I do know from firsthand experience that Cymbopogon citratus is a perennial grass that can be grown either in the garden or as an indoor (or outdoor) potted plant. It thrives in warm weather (it does not do well in extremely cold climates), grows from two to four feet tall, and — when used as a background for other plants — can add a tropical touch to the garden. Lemongrass seldom bears seeds and is almost always propagated from a section of root. That propagation, however, is easy: The plant thrives on nothing more than a sunny spot, rich soil, and plenty of water.
Just as its name implies, lemongrass easily brews up into a delightful, lemony-flavored tea. Cut several long blades of foliage from the plant, wash them, and chop them into inch-long pieces with a pair of scissors. Then cover the bits of grass with water, bring the liquid to a boil, and steep for 10 to fifteen minutes. Or if you prefer, you can place the cut-up foliage in a heated teapot, pour boiling water into the container, and steep until the resulting tea is as strong as you want it. Sweeten the hot drink with honey, or chill the tea and serve it cold.
I’m one of the growing number of devotees who think that lemongrass tea has a never-to-be-forgotten flavor. It was the memory of a “long ago” cup of the drink, in fact, that recently made me set out to purchase a Cymbopogon citratus for my San Diego garden. Imagine my dismay when I learned that no local plant nursery offered lemongrass for sale!
“Harumph,” I harumphed. “I’ll just start visiting all my elderly Mexican friends, until I find one who still has a treasured old te-de-limon growing away in one of the back corners of his or her vegetable patch. And then, maybe, he or she will offer me a root from the plant.”
And that’s exactly how I got my lemongrass start. You may not be as lucky as I was, though. To find lemongrass for your garden or yard, use the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Seed and Plant Finder.