By JOYCE COMINGORE
Started this week with a runny, sniffling nose and raspy cough - I needed help. So, I thought, I can now try my lemongrass tea. Five years ago I bought two small pots of lemongrass from ECHO. I planted these and they grew into big clumps. I dug those up and took one clump north to my son's in Bradenton. Dividing the other one into three clumps and planting them in different flower beds, they are now huge clumps that should have been cut to the ground in early March. I went on line for a recipe for lemongrass tea, and imagine how I felt when the number one step to making tea was to put on gardening gloves. It seems, the leaves of these wonderful swaying grasses in my flowers bed have sharp edges and can cut. They are not as severe as pampas grass cuts, but painful.
I am now sipping a cup of tea on this hot day. It's not as strong as when I add lemon juice to hot water, but it is soothing.
Cymbopogon in the Poaceae family is a genus of 55 species of tall tender perennial grasses native to warm temperatures and tropical regions. Common named ones are lemongrass and citronella grass. Citronella grass, Cymbopogon nardus and Cymbopogon winterianus, are used to make citronella oil, a mosquito repellant. But I'm interested in the lemongrass, Cymbopogon flexuosus and Cymbopogon citratis, depending on the area where they are native in India, Thailand and Southeast Asia. C. citratis is most suited to cooking. Lemongrass is a rhizome that comes from an underground root system similar to bamboo. Grown in zones 8 to 11, this clumping grass with bulbous stems, can grow 4 feet tall and wide. Planted in an area that is sunny at least 6 hours a day, in well-drained soil that prevents them from getting waterlogged, spaced at least 4 feet apart because they will grow to full size in one season, lemongrass flourishes.
Not known to flower outside of its native areas, it will grow reasonably well in a semi- shaded area. Plant the bulbous end or clumps one inch deep in moist, humus soil. Keep moist until actively growing. It also does well as a potted plant if you don't have the space. In areas where it freezes the tender grass, the browned stems are left on in order to protect the plant from further freezes, then cut to its base after all freezes have past.
Here, where it seldom freezes, some of the stems brown and look messy, so clipping it back in early spring keeps the plant looking cleaner as the fresh green shoots take over. It renews and refreshes itself quite rapidly. If you don't use your lemongrass often enough, you will need to divide it and replant. I read where in Africa they use lemongrass to ring their garden to protect it from snakes.
Lemongrass has been used for centuries as the source of an aromatic oil that is used in perfumes, flavorings, and herbal medicine. I decided to use it when I read an article about lemongrass, known as Gavati Chaha in the Marathi language of the western and central India. They make a traditional herbal "soup" with it for relieving cough and nasal congestion, as part of their Ayurvedic medicine. Lemongrass has been used for centuries by herbalists. Considered a sacred herb by the ancients due to its magical healing and protecting properties, it is best known for its aromatic citrusy flavor that provides taste and aroma to food items.
I do feel better. I found it used in many of the Thai recipes I have been researching.
When I first planted my lemongrass, I read that you strip the tough outer leaves and use the white bulbous end for seasonings. I was later informed that the leaves were also used. They baked their meats on and under them, that the leaves chipped into 3-inch pieces could be put into jars of water to make lemony sun tea. I have been pulling the outer stems from their clump and peeling away the tough outer sheathes. I was afraid to add them to any food because of the difficulty in chewing or swallowing them. The bulbous end, above the rhizome, is tender and resembles tender green onions.
To buy it fresh in the markets, look for ones with plump bases and long green leaves. They are usually cut to about 6 inches from their base and sold in clusters. Strip off the tough outer leaves and the root base. Cut rings of the base about 1/4 inches, unless you are not going to strain them out. Then, cut them into longer pieces you can pick out. Bruise the pieces to bring out the flavor, before adding to recipes.
They can be stored in the refrigerator in plastic bags for up to two weeks, the freezer for five months, but I like putting a half inch of water at the bottom of a jar and putting my clusters down into it with a tad of the root end and placing the jar in my kitchen window. Ready when I am. This is also how some people propagate more shoots, if you don't have access to in the ground clumps. I find the easiest way is to grow new clusters from the in the ground clumps.
Earth Day falls on Good Friday this year. Hoping you support this special holiday, helping our environment become a cleaner place. THINK GREEN-Thank a tree for our oxygen.
Joyce Comingore is a master gardener, a national director of the American Hibiscus Society, a board member of the Fort Myers/Lee County Garden Council and a member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral.