Lemongrass and Its Many Uses in Food and Drinks

A Lemon-Flavored Herb With a Great Zing

Cut lemon grass
Cut lemongrass. GYRO PHOTOGRAPHY/Getty Images

Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) is a shrub-like herb with a distinct lemon aroma and flavor. It is native to the tropical regions of Asia and the Indian subcontinent. It's also relatively easy to grow in a home herb garden and is a nice plant for containers.

Dried or fresh lemongrass is commonly used to make herbal teas and other drinks. When cooking with lemongrass, you can use fresh, dried, or powdered leaves.

It is popular in many Asian cuisines and adds an intriguing flavor to soups and stews.

This herb has a pungent lemony, herbaceous, and sweetly floral flavor that works well with both sweet and savory foods and beverages. Some people say that its aroma is reminiscent of citronella. This is no coincidence because the two plants are closely related.

Lemongrass and Health

In some parts of India, lemongrass is considered to be an essential plant in the mind-body medicinal practice of Ayurveda. It is commonly used to alleviate colds and congestion and some people compare it to ginger in this regard. Interestingly enough, in Kerala, India, the name for lemongrass translates to "dried ginger coffee."

Lemongrass Tea

One of the most common ways to use lemongrass is in tisanes, which are often called herbal teas.

Fresh or dried lemongrass can be steeped or boiled to make an herbal infusion or decoction.

You can chop the fresh leaves or simply break up dried leaves. Generally speaking, about one teaspoon of lemongrass leaves per cup of boiling water is a good ratio. 

Lemongrass is also an ingredient in many herbal tea blends. It is particularly popular in green tea blends. Due to its healing properties, it's also found in detox teas.

At times, you might even find it in Americanized masala chai spice mixtures, especially those that include plenty of ginger.

Commercially available herbal tea blends that contain lemongrass include Mighty Leaf's Ginger Twist, Rishi Tea's Turmeric Ginger Chai, and Good Earth's Ginseng Green Tea.

You can also make your own herbal tea blends at home. The lemongrass iced tea and lemongrass-ginger iced tea are great recipes to start with. Iced lemongrass tea is delicious with peach nectar or sliced cucumber as well. For a soothing hot lemongrass tea, add ginger root along with either mint or cinnamon, or both.

Lemongrass Cocktails

Lemongrass is gaining some notoriety in adult beverages as well. There are a number of cocktail recipes that play off its pungent flavor. The Soho cocktail, for instance, combines the herb with ginger, mint, gin, and ginger ale. That famous duo of lemongrass and ginger can also be used to create an amazing tequila infusion.

When playing with herbal drink recipes, you'll also find that lemongrass pairs well with coconut milk, chili peppers, cucumber, and pear. Have fun with it, either using a chilled lemongrass tea or muddling it with other ingredients. Fresh lemongrass stems can even be used as a natural straw or stir stick for your drinks.

Lemongrass Foods

Lemongrass is a popular herb for cooking and it is used in a wide range of food recipes. It's common in Asian foods and found most often in Thai cuisine. Since it is rather fibrous and can even be woody, it's best when finely minced. Similar to bay leaves, if you use larger pieces, remove them before serving.

Lemongrass is a very nice complement to chicken and seafood. Try it in recipes like roasted lemongrass chicken, which has a sweet lime sauce, or the zesty Thai lemon-lime shrimp. Lemongrass can also be nice with beef, pork, or lamb. The lemongrass lamb chop recipe is one you won't want to pass up.

One of the best-known dishes is tom yum soup, a shrimp and vegetable soup with coconut milk, kaffir lime, garlic, and red chili peppers. The Thai chicken noodle soup with lemongrass recipe also uses coconut milk and is an interesting twist on a favorite soup.

For something even more unique, try a Thai carrot soup that includes that great combination of ginger and lemongrass.

Another Thai favorite is a traditional satay. One of the most authentic recipes uses a marinade that is dominated by lemongrass before the skewered meat is grilled to perfection then dipped in a peanut sauce.

Lemongrass also adds an excellent flavor to sauces. From the white wine and lemongrass sauce used for mussels to a simple lemongrass-ginger sauce for your favorite seafood or fish, it's sure to give your dish a great zing.